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Men’s National Championship Coaches – NCAA Lacrosse History

Editor’s note: Thanks for joining us over Memorial Day Weekend 2020 to help you heal those lax-blues… we didn’t even get to say goodbye… LaxAllStars.com and our social outlets will be pumping out a non-stop stream of content from Thursday until Monday completely focused on some of the greatest NCAA National Championship moments from the past. We hope you stick around.

Lacrosse has a habit of teams keeping the glory all to themselves. Through different spurts in history, a few programs have managed to collect the lion’s share of championship hardware. Yet, in more recent years, we’ve seen perennial powers like Syracuse and Princeton get replaced with a rotation of new faces like Ohio State, Loyola and Denver making it to the Memorial Day finale. For four-straight seasons from 2016 to 2019, we had a new face lifting the trophy as the head of their programs, a sign of the changing of the guard.

There’s a very short group of men on the list of NCAA National Championship coaches at the Division I level still competing in the game today. Eight total are still coaching at the DI level, seven at the same institution where they won their first title. Of the eight, only three have won multiple titles.

Although we are getting used to seeing new faces every Memorial Day, we aren’t getting afforded the chance in 2020, so let’s look back at the men who have accomplished what only a few could.

NCAA Championship Coaches

Bill Tierney

Current Program: Denver

First Championship Program: Princeton

First Championship: 1992

Next Championships: 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2015

Without a doubt, Bill Tierney is one of the greatest lacrosse figures to ever grace the game. A seven-time NCAA National Champion head coach, at the helm of Denver in 2015, Tierney became the first coach to win a title with two different programs, 13 seasons after his very first with Princeton.

Tierney actually won his first college championship as a player at then-Cortland State, capturing the 1973 USILA Small College National Championship. His first coaching job at the collegiate ranks started by taking RIT to its first two NCAA tournaments in 1983 and 1984. After 37 wins in three years, Tierney moved into an assistant role at Johns Hopkins, helping the Blue Jays Hopkins to a pair of national titles in 1985 and 1987. He was given the opportunity to take over at Princeton in 1988, a program that had no conference titles, no tournament appearances and no All-Americans in the prior two decades. After 22 years at the head of the program, he had six National Championships, 26 All-Americans and 14 Ivy League Championships to show for it.

To win Tierney’s first championship it would take double overtime, but Princeton defeated Syracuse 10-9 to win the 1992 national title. His second championship would come two seasons after with another overtime win over Virginia, 9-8. Two years later, it was overtime for a third round, again with Virginia, for Tierney’s third ring. The next year, the Tigers blew the doors off Maryland in the finals 19-7, before doing it again to secure the three-peat in 1998, 15-5, also over Maryland. Facing a rebuilding year in 1999, Princeton fell in the first round of the tournament. The hiccup was followed up with three-straight trips to the big game, all against Syracuse. The Tigers could only pull off winning one of the meetings, claiming yet another overtime win in 2001 for Tierney’s final title at Princeton. He would move on from the program after the 2009 season to become the third head coach in Denver’s Division I history. After just his sixth season with the Pioneers, Tierney would win not only the program’s first National Championship in 2006, but the first for any school west of the Mississippi River.

Two-time Division I Coach of the Year (1992, 2015), Division III Coach of the Year (1983), gold medalist with the US National Team (1998) and many-time Hall of Famer are just more accolades to tack onto Tierney’s illustrious resume. Inducted into the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2002, he was honored again in 2015 when the new lacrosse field at US Lacrosse headquarters was given his namesake.

John Desko

Head Coach: Syracuse

First Championship: 2000

Next Championships: 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009

A member of the newest class to be welcomed into the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame, John Desko stepped up to the task of filling some mighty shoes at Syracuse in 1999 and never looked back. Desko began his coaching career immediately after playing four years under the great Roy Simmons Jr. After 19 seasons as Simmons’ assistant, winning six championships together and helping build the program into a national brand, Desko was the easy choice to replace him. His first season at the helm in 1999 would fall two goals shy of a NCAA National Championship. The following campaign, the trophy was Desko’s to hold once again, this time as the leader of the pack, topping Princeton in the finale 13-7.

Princeton would get revenge in overtime the following title game, before the Orange would win the best of three with the Tigers, claiming the 2002 game 13-12 for Desko’s second championship. Falling short in 2003, Syracuse was back in the title match in 2004, winning a tight 14-13 shootout with Navy. Desko wouldn’t lead the Orange back to glory for four more seasons, until securing back-to-back runs in 2008 and 2009. He would capture his fourth championship over Johns Hopkins 13-10, following up with another overtime thriller, topping Cornell 10-9 for his fifth and the program’s most recent title.

Having led some of the greatest lacrosse players in history, John Desko can add two-time Division I Coach of the Year (2008, 2013), five-time conference coach of the year (2011, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018) and now US Lacrosse Hall of Famer to his accolades.

John Danowski

Head Coach: Duke

First Championship: 2010

Next Championships: 2013, 2014

People knew what John Danowski was doing at Hofstra was special, but when we was brought in to pick up the pieces of a Duke program in turmoil, no one expected an ACC title and trip to the NCAA National Championship in year one. The next two seasons would be more conference championships, yet  ended wuth consecutive shortcomings in the Final Four. After just four seasons, Danowski unexpetedly led the Blue Devils to the 2010 finale with Notre Dame and, after overtime, came home as NCAA National Champions. The 6-5 victory over the unseeded Irish was both Danowski and fifth-seed Duke’s first championship victories.

Stopped again in another pair of Final Four heartbreakers in 2011 and 2012, Duke was back in the title game to meet Syracuse for the 2013 edition. A 16-10 victory was followed up the next season by crushing Maryland in the finals 10-5 for Danowski and Duke’s third NCAA National Championships. In 2019, Danowski led Duke past Furman 17-9 to become the first Division I head coach to win 400 career games. Spanning his 14 seasons at Duke, Danowski has coached 78 All-Americans, 45 All-ACC selections, two Tewaaraton Trophy winners, and six positional player of the year recipients.

Prior to taking the job at Duke, Danowski was a rising star a the head of Hofstra from 1986 to 2007. Leading the Pride, Danowski crafted 34 All-Americans and one Tewaaraton Trophy winner in Doug Shanahan (2001). He finished at Hofstra with a 192-123 record after 21 seasons, earning conference coach of the year four times and winning the 2006 CAA Championship. Known as a premier passer in his playing days at Rutgers, Danowski turned his lacrosse IQ to after college by taking an assistant role at LIU-C.W. Post in 1982. The following season, he was promoted to head coach, leading the program for three campaigns and 27 wins.

A shoo-in future US Lacrosse Hall of Famer, Danowski became the first-ever coach of the US Men’s National Team to receive a second term after leading the United States to the gold medal in the 2018 FIL World Championship in Israel.

Charley Toomey

Head Coach: Loyola

First Championship: 2012

Charley Toomey is the embodiment of Loyola lacrosse, spanning back to his All-American career in cage for the Greyhounds from 1987-1990. A leader between the irons, Toomey backstopped his squad to the program’s first-ever NCAA National Championship appearance in 1990, falling 21-9 to Syracuse. 22 years later, he would get to finally raise the trophy above his head as champion. Before Loyola’s 9-3 handling of Maryland in the 2012 big game, Toomey and Loyola’s first and only titles, it was a long time coming for the coach and his beloved program.

2020 was Toomey’s 24th season with the Greyhounds, returning in 1999 to the program where he got his coaching start after a quick stint away to build his resume coaching at the prep school level and a brief period as an assistant at Navy. Back at Loyola, he served under his former coach and Hall of Famer, Dave Cottle, before taking over the program in 2006. Seven years of hard work would come to fruition in 2012 with an 18-1 season, a top ranking in the country and a trophy to match.

Of the 26 NCAA Tournament appearances in Loyola history, Toomey has been with the programs for 18 of them; three as a player, five as an assistant and 10 as head coach. He has helped craft 43 All-Americans, 77 all-conference selections, and a Tewaaraton Award winner in Pat Spencer (2019).

Joe Breschi

Head Coach: North Carolina

First Championship: 2016

Joe Breschi is a man of the people and when North Carolina finally won its a NCAA National Championship for the first time in 25 years, the entire lacrosse world celebrated (except Duke and Maryland fans). Beloved by his players and fans of the programs he’s coached, Breschi has built two Division I programs into yearly playoff contenders. After earning a spot as one of the top North Carolina lacrosse players in school history from 1987 to 1990, Breschi stuck around to join the coaching staff to win a National Championship as an assistant in 1991. After a two year stint at Brown as an assistant, Breschi was announced as the head coach at Ohio State in 1998, taking over a program with no postseason appearances. In the 2003 and 2004 seasons, he was able to accumulate two NCAA First Round berths leading to a NCAA quarterfinal appearance in 2008, his final season with the Buckeyes.

After four-straight winless ACC runs from 2005 to 2008, North Carolina was ready for new life. Proving his ability to create a proven team in Ohio State, UNC alum Joe Breschi was the easy choice to revive the program. In just his first season at the helm in 2009, the Tar Heels secured a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals on top of winning their first ACC Tournament game in 13 years. Through his first nine seasons at UNC, he coached 54 All-Americans and 31 All-ACC recipients.

Finally, in 2016, Joe Breschi became a National Champion. Unseeded North Carolina shocked the country as they stormed their way into the finals. Featuring a never-ending highlight reel in Canadian Chris Cloutier, the Heels outscored their opponent 46 to 29 in the first three games. The finale was a different story, tasked with undefeated #1 Maryland returning to the championship after coming up short in 2015 and carrying a 42-year title drought. Historic from the start, Maryland held the edge until two late goals from North Carolina knotted the score. At a stalemate for three more minutes, the contest would call for overtime. The Terps would draw an untimely flag and Cloutier would make it haunt them forever, sealing the game-winner for the school’s first championship since 1991 and fifth overall.

John Tillman

Head Coach: Maryland

First Championship: 2017

For being one of the most recognizable brands in the lacrosse world, Maryland sure had a knack for not finishing. From 1976 to 2016, the Terps would lose in the NCAA National Championship nine times, 11 total in program history. When John Tillman inherited the team from Dave Cottle in 2013, Maryland had been to the dance all eight years under Cottle’s direction, but couldn’t crack into the finals. Under immense pressure, Tillman stepped up to the task and immediately took the Terps to the National Championship in just his first season in-charge. But, still no dice. In year two, it was back to the finale. Again, runners-up. 2013 felt like a failure, despite an ACC Championship, the season ended in the postseason first round. A Final Four in 2014 was a turn back in the right direction, but two more back-to-back shortcomings on Memorial Day had everyone guessing if Maryland was cursed.

With an unfathomable amount of drive to finish what was started, Tillman finally led Maryland to the promise land over Ohio State 9-6 in 2017. The Terps haven’t been able to return to the finals since, but with the ever growing list of accolades Tillman is racking up in College Park, we can only imagine he’s not going anywhere without another ring.

We can’t forget the 58 All-Americans, 21 NCAA Tournament wins, and seven Final Fours over the past decade with Tillman leading the program. Top cap off a historic 2017, Tillman coached Matt Rambo to a school record for points (257) and goals (155) ending as Maryland’s first-ever Tewaaraton Award winner.

A 1991 Cornell graduate, Tillman began his career helping out at Ithaca College from 1992 to 1995 before moving to DI as an assistant for Navy. Leading the Midshipman offense, Tillman reached his first NCAA National Championship game in 2004, ending with a loss to Syracuse. In 2008, Tillman took over the program at Harvard and, in just three seasons, dramatically improved the status of the Crimson. From monumental program wins to a successful culture and highly touted recruiting, Harvard was on quick rise under Tillman. His time in Cambridge was cut short when the chance to lead one of the game’s most storied programs opened up in 2011.

Andy Shay

Head Coach: Yale

First Championship: 2018

For a small, three season window from 1988 to 1990, Yale were Ivy League Champions. In 1988, 1990 and 1992, they were participants of the big dance, going as far as the Final Four in 1990 under Coach Mike Waldvogel’s direction. In 2004, Yale took a gamble on a rising star in UMass assistant coach Andy Shay and hired him for his first DI head coaching role.

A 1994 grad of Le Moyne, Shay started his career at the helm of Morrisville Junior College for three years, building quick success, before catching on a sport on the Delaware staff in 1998. In 1999, he assisted the Blue Hens to an America East and spot in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in program history. That same season, Delaware head coach Bob Shillinglaw invited Shay to the Team USA staff for the world championships, where he earned the gold medal as the United States defeated Canada in a championship series. A few short month after, Shay would join the staff at UMass, helping the Minutemen reach consecutive NCAA quarterfinals and ECAC titles in 2002 and 2003. Shay would hone his craft as the defensive coordinator in Amherst before the opportunity to lead his own program at Yale would rear its head in 2004.

The first six seasons in New Haven didn’t produce the immediate results for Shay other championship coaches experienced in new roles, but he stayed the course and continued to mold a new culture for Yale. By the end of 2010, Shay became the first head coach to lead the Bulldogs to an Ivy League Tournament title. In the last decade under Andy Shay, now going into season 18, Yale has gone 118-44 with nine 10-win seasons amounting to one national championship. From 2015 to 2017, Yale collected the Ivy League Tournament hardware, but couldn’t break through the NCAA first round. The stars aligned in 2018 and the status of Yale lacrosse was forever elevated.

The Bulldogs to their first perfect Ivy League season since 1956 was capped off with the program’s first NCAA National Champions, USILA Division I Coach of the Year honors for Shay and the Tewaaraton Award for star attackman Ben Reeves. Coming into the tournament as a three seed, Yale fought through UMass, Loyola and Albany to square up with Duke in the final bout. Yale took the lead less than a minute into the game and never took the pedal off the medal. With all eyes on All-American Reeves, a four goal effort from Matt Gaudet and a hat trick from Jack Tigh would produce enough offensive steam to go the distance. Andy Shay and his Bulldogs almost made it a repeat in 2019, getting cut off by Virginia 13-9 to postpone Yale raising a second banner.

Lars Tiffany

Head Coach: Virginia

First Championship: 2019

No stranger to success at the Division I level, Lars Tiffany spent 15 seasons at the head of three programs before earning the right to lift the trophy. Following a different course, Tiffany’s first college coaching role came a couple years after his playing career at Brown wrapped up, serving as an assistant coach for Le Moyne men’s lacrosse and co-head coach of the women’s lacrosse team from 1994 to 1996. He then joined the Washington and Lee staff as an assistant for current PLL head coach Jim Stagnitta for 1997 and 1998, before leaping into DI in 1999 and 2000 as an assistant at Dartmouth. 2000 to 2004, Tiffany was on the sidelines helping Penn State run the defense and until a lead role at Stony Brook opened up.

Given the change to guide his own program, Tiffany took over the Seawolves and in short time led the program into the Top 20 for the first time ever, earned the 2005 America East Coach of the Year award, and crafted the number one ranked man-up unit in the country. With one of their own rising to coaching prominence, Brown was able to reel Tiffany back to Providence in 2007 to bring the Bears back to the top of the Ivy League. Starting in year two, Tiffany led the group to four Ivy League Championships (2008, 2010, 2015, and 2016), with three NCAA tournament bids, making it to the Final Four in 2016.

At the end of an illustrious tenure under the guide of Dom Starsia, Virginia was starting to spin its tires and no longer sat as king of the ACC. After 16 conference titles with Starsia, the program was falling to the bottom of the conference and in 2017, Virginia made the change to bring in Tiffany. Shocking to some at the time, Tiffany’s track record of building winning teams from scratch in no time was enough of a resume to sell Virginia on the up-and-comer.

Barely improving on previous results in his first season, Tiffany countered in 2018 with a trip back to the tournament, but still no conference glory. One year later, he would forever write his name into Memorial Day history. Nabbing the ACC Tournament championship with a 10-4 win over Notre Dame was the first stop. Awarded the third seed of the NCAA National Championships, Virginia faced one of the toughest paths through the bracket a champion has ever navigated. Robert Morris was the only breathing room allowed, because Maryland would take them to overtime to get through the quarterfinals. Duke added another layer of exhaustion onto the run, forcing double overtime on a sweltering Saturday afternoon to write up a tall task in order to survive Monday’s challenge. Facing an unfamiliar stage against Yale, a team who had learned what it takes the prior season, Virginia had to quickly rise to the occasion.

Three years after taking on some of the highest pressure to succeed a lacrosse program could provide, Lars Tiffany was a NCAA National Champion. As the 2020 season was cut short due to COVID-19, Tiffany and the Cavaliers will retain the bragging rights for another year. Get used to seeing him on your televisions every Memorial Day Weekend, the legacy of Lars Tiffany has only just begun.

The Most Honorable of Mentions

Dave Pietramala

Moving on from his long-held position at the top of Johns Hopkins lacrosse, Dave Pietramala was a NCAA National Champions as both player and coach of the Blue Jays. In 1987, Pietramala terrorized attackmen as one of the most terrifying defensemen to ever play the game and finished the season as a national champion. A three-time first-team All-Americans, he would earn the Schmeisser Award as the nation’s top defenseman in 1988 and 1989 along with the Enners Award as the nation’s top player in 1989.

Falling in the 2003 finale, he would nab his first of two National Championships as a head coach in 2005, returning to the spotlight in 2007. Not long after the 2020 lacrosse season was halted by COVID-19, Dave Pietramala stepped away from the Johns Hopkins program he was a part of for 33 years.

Dom Starsia

Still currently active, Dom Starsia is the only head coach in the Premier Lacrosse League to have won a NCAA Division I National Championship. From 1993 to 2006, Dom Starsia out together one of the most decorated careers in coaching history. Under Starsia, Virginia won four NCAA titles, reached the final four a staggering 13 times and compiled a 274-103 record. He helped guide 25 All-Americans, 71 All-ACC selections, eight ACC Rookies of the Year and seven ACC Players of the Year. To coincide with four championships, Starsia coached five NCAA Championship MVPs: Michael Watson (1996), Conor Gill (1999), Tillman Johnson (2003), Matt Ward (2006), and Colin Briggs (2011).

Starsia’s very first title came at the end of the 1999 season, meeting Syracuse in the finals. Led by Jay Jalbert, Conor Gil and Ryan Curtis, the star-studded roster of Virginia avenged their season-opening loss to the Orange to earn the Hoos their first National Championship since 1972, second in school history. Starsis kept up the winning ways in 2003, 2006 and 2011 before departing after 25 seasons. Starsia now serves as the inaugural head coach of the PLL’s Chrome LC, heading into their second season in 2020.

Mike Morgan

The funny thing about Mike Morgan is the fact he deserves to be a whole different list of his own. While he hasn’t accomplished what the others on this list have, a NCAA Division I National Championship, he has claimed back-to-back titles the last two year and is technically still the defending champ. What’s special about Morgan’s victories is their occurrence at the Division II level, steering Merrimack to consecutive titles before reclassifying for 2020. A Merrimack College graduate, Morgan returned to campus a few seasons down the road as an assistant before taking charge in 2008.

After 10 season under Morgan in DII, Merrimack made it to the top of the mountain in 2018 to capture their first-ever championship. Pressure to repeat was amplified as the Warriors faced their final season of Division II. Cementing their place into lacrosse history, Merrimack rose to the occasion and collected that second trophy before walking out the door. Unfortunately since Merrimack is withheld from the NCAA Tournament for four years as part of the mandated reclassification process, Morgan will have to wait unti at least 2024 to make another title run attmept.

 

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