Justin Turri is entering his first year as head coach of the St John’s Red Storm. The Long Island native played at Duke, where he was a two-time All-American midfielder and helped the Blue Devils win the 2010 National Championship. Turri also played nine years in both the MLL and PLL, earning the Most Improved Player Award in 2014.
Turri has had previous coaching stops at Providence, Harvard, Army, and most recently was the Offensive Coordinator at the University of Michigan. He now comes home to Long Island to help restore the St. John’s Men’s Lacrosse program. I sat down with Coach Turri to see what drew him back to Long Island and what his vision is for the Red Storm going forward.
What excited/motivated you about the St. John’s Men’s Lacrosse job?
There are a couple of things. There’s great opportunity within the university and the athletic department itself. A couple of things that really stood out, it’s a Big East athletic department and a really successful athletic department overall. I mean, our sports compete at the highest level. Everyone sees basketball first, but men’s soccer has won an NCAA National Championship in the past, and then the women’s program is great year in and year out. Our baseball team has been outstanding. Our volleyball team has a Big East Championship and is an NCAA tournament team. Tennis is really successful. So, every sport is really successful. So that was kind of one clue into it.
I was also really excited and impressed with the leadership that our school has and our athletic department, which I believe, and everyone around here believes, is the best it’s ever been. Both with Father Shanley, our president who came over from Providence in 2021, and Mike Cragg who is in his fourth year now. He was formerly at Duke for 30 years in a number of roles but ended up as the Senior Associate AD for basketball. Mike knows how to build, knows how to win, knows how to build through basketball, which is which caters directly to our department. Both of them are really aligned, really caring, and understanding of how valuable lacrosse is in our area, along with how much it can raise the profile of the university overall when we are really successful.
Who did you chat with or get advice from about becoming a Division 1 head coach for the first time?
I’ve been fortunate over my career to date to have some tremendous mentors and in my playing career, make some tremendous friends that are now in the coaching profession that are either head coaches or in the process of it, so it was actually kind of interesting. Brad Ross, the new Head Coach at Bryant, him and I were both going through concurrent processes. He was a senior at Duke when I was a freshman and we we were on the same midfield line. We became really tight and have obviously since throughout our coaching careers. We were leaning on each other quite a bit.
I was certainly talking to Coach John Danowski (Duke), Coach Alberici (Army) and Coach Conry (Michigan). They were all extremely helpful in my preparation.
Your brother came over from Hobart to be your defensive coordinator, what was the process for selecting your staff?
It was exciting. It was nerve-racking. For me, people are the most important part of our program, they come first, second, and third. That was my first big recruiting job. I needed to get the right people who share similar values but are different from me that I know I can trust. That was really important with this first step, getting it right.
Certainly, there’s a level and layer of trust with blood. My brother and I have always talked about working together one day and I knew he was my first call. As I started to have an idea that I was going to get offered a head coaching job, I kind of floated the idea to him. Both him and his wife being from Long Island definitely played in my favor. He was in such an amazing position at Hobart under Coach Raymond, who has been so good to him over the past five years. I think I was lucky that our relationship was the main reason he considered the job and ended up taking it.
I know these guys can coach, but I know that they’re also going to be in line with how I view not only the game but how I view the development of young men. I also know they’re going to challenge me and speak their minds. We talk about absolutely everything together, every little thing that we do is a conversation. That’s a fun piece about starting something and building it. I don’t want all the ideas to be uniquely my own. I want to hear their perspectives and input so that we can come to the best solution. So that was a lot of fun to put together.
What is your vision to restore St. John’s place in the Big East?
We’re interested in building a sustainable championship level of excellence. You can’t do that overnight. We really don’t ever talk about winning games and winning championships or anything. We certainly have goals that our staff believes are realistic that we see for the program. The immediate goal in front of us is just continuously improving daily, competing internally with yourself, and competing in practice.
Georgetown right now has it rolling about as well as anyone does. You still look at Denver, who has been a national champion and a top-five program for the past decade. Villanova’s always in the top-twenty Marquette has been an NCAA tournament team. Providence is in a good spot with what they’re going to do under Bobby and his new staff. It’s competitive and we want guys who are where we are right now. We want guys who want to build something great and who understand the challenge that’s in front of us.
So we set small goals for ourselves internally throughout. I mean, we want to make the Big East tournament and we want to be competing for the conference championship. Once you hit the NCAA Tournament, anything can happen.
Recruiting wise, who makes up a St. John’s Men’s Lacrosse player?
What’s interesting about our location is that it appeals to both near and far. The area that we’re in is one of the greatest lacrosse hotbeds in the country. You look at Long Island, you look at Connecticut, Fairfield County, Westchester, Jersey, and Philly all in the tri-state area. You can pull from a lot of great areas that are within an hour away.
At the same time, because of the proximity of our alumni, the draw of being 10 miles from downtown Manhattan, and the draw of playing in the Big East, we can recruit from all other areas of the country as well as the world. We’re a really diverse school so it’ll be a mix. There will be a little bit of 50 different flavors, which we really like and that’s also really representative of not only our school, but the area that we’re in. So I think you’ll see a little bit of that reflected in our recruiting process and in our roster.
I feel like since your arrival to St. John’s you, the program has upped its social media game. Thoughts?
I love that you noticed that. It is one thing I noticed in the recruiting process and even growing up on Long Island. I grew up 45 minutes from St. John’s campus and I never walked through the entire campus. I didn’t truly know what was inside the gates.
We have a lot of incredible things here. We have a top-thirty business program in the country. We have Big East athletics. We have an incredible alumni base. While everyone says we’re a city school, we’re located in a residential neighborhood in Queens and a nice one at that.
There’s no better way to tell your story and to sell yourself than social media because of the capabilities that we can do with the camera on an iPhone and what we can put out into the world. I think that there’s definitely a major recruiting piece that social media falls under. We’d be missing something major if we weren’t putting a lot of effort and time into social media. I think it’s also how you sell yourself; you can really show who you are through social media and build your brand along the way.
The fact that we can highlight our players and give a look into the behind-the-scenes day-to-day life of being a St. John’s Men’s Lacrosse player is extremely valuable. Showcasing the players in an environment that you don’t see from the outside, here and there, have a little fun with it here. There are things that people want to see, want to engage with, and not only recruits but people that follow the program.