Before the National Lacrosse League had the opportunity to announce their shift in focus from the halt of the current campaign toward the 2020-2021 season, the New York Riptide made more than a statement regarding their plans for the future of the organization. In a surprise announcement yesterday morning, GF Sports Executive Vice President Rich Lisk and the Riptide enacted the immediate removal of the current coaching staff and the lacrosse operations department leading into an open search for the new General Manager, Head Coach and support staff. Without even a full season completed in the record books, the wholesale change of the floor-focused staff comes as a shock to those who have been trusting the stability and constant growth of the NLL.
Yet, the change was a result of a lack of lacrosse-focused results, not a waiver of progress the league has experienced. Underwhelmed by the 1-12 record the newly formed expansion produced in their inaugural run, Lisk brought forth the motion to clean house and take on the upcoming season with a new team of leadership at the helm.
Lisk made it clear that the decision ultimately started with him, before being approved by the Board of Directors to enact.
“I did have the opportunity to speak with our coaching staff and our GM, and assistant GM,” Lisk noted in Wednesday’s Zoom call with the media. “I also had the opportunity to speak with our players and get feedback on that also. And when I put all of the feedback together, my, Rich Lisk’s, recommendation to the board was to to move in another direction from our lacrosse operations department. I presented that to the to the board and it was not a hasty decision at all.”
According to Lisk, his role upon arrival to New York was to observe from the outside looking in, taking note of how the organization operated on and off of the floor. On April 15th, GF Sports announced that Rich Lisk, an Executive Vice President for the company, would be expanding his role to oversee all lacrosse and business operations for the New York Riptide. Lisk joined the GF Sports team in January of 2020 after serving as the New England Black Wolves General Manager, where he helped transition the franchise from Philadelphia to Connecticut, earning recognition as the NLL’s 2016 General Manager of the Year for his work.
With the new responsibilities came inside access to how everything operated. His initial focus was to examine the procedures and policies of lacrosse operations and provide recommendations on how to improve the current structure. Lisk then compiled his findings into a final report to present to the board after also reviewing protocol and output with the coaching staff, players, and front office.
Opportunities to provide rebuttal to the feedback given to the former staff were reviewed, but ultimately the course of action presented did not feel adequate to the standards and expectations of Lisk and the GF Sports board.
“Did we give them an opportunity to correct anything?” Lisk recounted. “Yes. Yes, we did. We gave them an opportunity to talk about how the year went and look at what the future could look like. And those those things went into the decision process.”
The staff that was relieved of their service include: Regy Thorpe, GM and Head Coach; Joe Smith, defensive coordinator; Lance Basler, Assistant General Manager and Director of Lacrosse Operations; Brian Hobart, Director of Scouting; and Jake Henhawk, Director of Player Development.
Thorpe was named the first head coach and general manager in Riptide history on February 16, 2019. He was instrumental in the crafting of the Riptide’s original roster, leading the on-floor focus. Prior to accepting the Riptide position, Thorpe had spent recent years away from the NLL, serving as an assistant-turned-associate head coach with the Syracuse women’s program from 2010 to 2019. In 2017, Thorpe made his return to the box as the head coach and director of the U.S. National Indoor team ahead of the 2019 World Indoor Lacrosse Championships. Thorpe will forever be recognized as an American pioneer for box lacrosse, playing 15 seasons for the Rochester Knighthawks, where he captained NLL championships in 1997 and 2007, eventually serving as the league’s first and only player-GM at the end of his playing career in 2008 and 2009.
Right now, guessing who will fill the vacancies is speculation at best. When IL Indoor’s Stephen Stamp questioned Lisk on his potential to take on a role himself, Lisk was clear that he is by no means in the field of coaching candidates but did not rule out general manager.
“As you know, I came from a GM background, so I do have that,” Lisk reminded his audience. “But, if I find the right candidate that could be a GM and a head coach, then I’ll look at that direction. If I find a candidate that is just a good head coach and not a GM, then I’ll look in that area. There’s nothing closed. There’s no pathway that I’m saying this is the only way we’re going to look for something. We’re gonna keep everything open, because I think that gives us the best opportunity to find the best candidate for this organization.”
Lisk did not mince words as he consistently reiterated that no stone would be left unturned in the search. The hunt wasn’t focused on coaches with New York roots, proven NLL leaders, or any defined mold. Lisk vows to follow every lead that could steer him to the new leadership, looking into the potential of discovering the next big name in coaching by exploring track records of NLL assistants, leaders of the MSL, WLA and junior lacrosse, and beyond.
Although the NLL experienced a revolving door of teams and cities through the 1990s and 2000s, for the most part, the bench bosses and folks in suits have stayed pretty consistent through the recent seasons. Very few of the current franchises have made drastic changes to their staffs in the past few years and so far, New York is the only team to remove a head coach or general manager after relocation or expansion in the past five seasons.
The first time a current NLL franchise nixed their head coach in the inaugural season was Colorado in 2003, replacing Rod Jensen with Jamie Batley after a 4-6 start to NLL debut. Like Colorado, New England wasn’t a fresh expansion but a relocation and rebranding of a former team. Unlike the Mammoth, the Black Wolves waited until the end of their first season in Connecticut to depart with Blane Harrison following a disappointing 4-14 mark for the 2015 season.
Like the Riptide, the Halifax Thunderbirds and re-formed Rochester Knighthawks also started play in 2020 but found better on-floor results. While the former Knighthawks completely rebranded as the Thunderbirds, coach Mike Hasen didn’t follow suit, rather staying behind where he led Rochester to three championships under his watch from 2011 to 2019. Halifax started new with former assistant to Hasen, Mike Accursi, steering the ship to a promising 8-4 start in Nova Scotia, while Hasen only managed a 2-8 record with his new squad before the season was ended.
Now at the end of their second seasons following expansion, both Philadelphia and San Diego have formed records on the winning-side of .500 under their chosen leaders. San Diego jumped off to a hot start in their first season, finishing with a 10-8 record under Patrick Merrill and a trip to the postseason. While Philadelphia finished at the bottom of the East in 2019, the Wings improved their 4-14 result to 8-6 under Coach Paul Day before the abrupt ending to 2020.
Also with a new look and new face for 2019, when Vancouver moved the team downtown and transitioned from the Stealth to Warriors, Chris Gill was called upon to lead the squad. A 5-13 record at the end of year one didn’t elevate Vancouver from the pit of the West Division and their 4-9 start to 2020 didn’t bring new hope to a dismal situation.
- December 12, 2018 – New York announced as 13th NLL team, playing on Long Island
- February 16, 2019 – Regy Thorpe announced as new head coach & general manager
- February 17, 2019 – New York announces Riptide name, logo and colors
- December 7, 2019 – Riptide play first game, losing at Halifax, 12-4.
- December 28, 2019 – Riptide play first home game, losing to Saskatchewan, 11-4.
- January 18, 2020 – Riptide get first and only win, topping Georgia at home, 13-12, in overtime.
- January 7, 2020 – Rich Lisk Hired by GF Sports
- March 12, 2020 – NLL suspends play due to COVID-19 pandemic
- April 8, 2020 – NLL cancels the rest of the regular season games
- April 15, 2020 – Rich Lisk promoted
- June 3, 2020 – Riptide announce removal of coaching staff and lacrosse operations
- June 4, 2020 – NLL announces 2019-2020 ended, focuses on next season