For decades, Mark “Red” Burnam patiently waited for his turn, uncertain of if it would ever come. In October, it did.
Red Burnam, who is the men’s lacrosse head coach at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, played in five World Lacrosse Championships in the purple and black from 1990 to 2006, captaining each squad, and was an assistant for two more in 2010 and 2014. This summer, he will finally have his chance to lead the Iroquois Nationals at the crowning international event in the sport.
“I always wanted to do it, but you can’t do it until you’re picked or offered and it’s your time. I guess this is my time,” he said. “It is such an honor for me. To coach the team I’ve been so much a part of and growing up in the organization, that made me really proud to accept.”
One of Burnam’s first tasks as head coach was to assemble a staff around him. He handpicked his self-described “all-star cast,” headlined by offensive coordinator Scott Marr, the head coach at the University of Albany, and defensive coordinator Lars Tiffany, the University of Virginia’s head coach.
Last season, Marr’s Albany led Division I in scoring offense, averaging 15.39 goals per game, an encouraging sign for a national program known for its high-octane offense.
“The style of play he plays is real fast with a lot of movement and off-ball picking,” Burnam said. “That’s the style I play down in IMG and that’s the style the Iroquois Nations play and always have. We’re well known for our stick skills and creative lacrosse, and I wanted a guy who could do that.”
Burnam is also excited about Tiffany, who is in his second season at Virginia. Before heading to Charlottesville, Tiffany spent 12 years at Brown, winning four regular-season Ivy League titles and earning three NCAA Championship berths.
“He looks at things differently,” Burnam said. “I think he’s a genius. The guy is one of the smartest guys I know. To have him on the staff is a no brainer.”
Tiffany said his goal will to have his defense playing as one and compared his defense’s united play to Russell Crowe’s rallying cry when forming the phalanx in The Gladiator.
“We are going to build a defensive slide scheme that is not leaving a man on an island,” Tiffany explained. “We’re not going to rely on winning one-on-one matchups all over the field. Instead, we’re going to rely on six men plus the goalie, all seven of us, to work together and to understand a slide scheme and principles that will not prevent shots, that will not deny shots, but will hopefully push our opponents into shots that we want our goalie to save. You will see a slide early and often to double the ball, and then rotate behind that to continue to put pressure on the next pass and the next pass.”
Marr and Tiffany bring more to the table than just lacrosse knowledge, though. Like Burnam, each have spent decades around Iroquois Lacrosse. Marr is well known for the Native pipeline he has built into his Albany program, namely Tehoka Nanticoke following Miles and Lyle Thompson. Tiffany was born and raised in Lafayette, New York, right next to the Onondaga Nation, and as a student at Lafayette High School, he played with and against many Haudenosaune athletes, while befriending even more.
When Tiffany was a child, his father donated some of their livestock from the family’s farm to their friends at Onondaga, further strengthening the bond between the family and their Native neighbors. He had sleepovers with his Native friends, played a whole host of sports with them, and even attended longhouse ceremonies, giving him glimpses into the Haudenosaunee lifestyle that most outsiders don’t get.
Now, Tiffany gets to represent his second family on an international stage, and it couldn’t mean more.
“It’s a wonderful stamp of approval for my own career,” he said. “When I received the call from the Iroquois national management offering me a spot with the nationals, there really was no choice to be had. I felt I was called home. I’ve been out on missions in a sense, and I was told it was time to come home and use my skills and experience I’ve gathered over the years to help my brothers and create the best team we can.”