Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Stags' Men's Lax Coaching Update

I recently talked to Joe Lombardi again from the Journal News about the Fairfield men's lacrosse opening. He agrees (and so do I, for that matter) with Matt DeSilva's article in Lax Magazine that Fairfield needs to move quickly to avoid having to play too much catch-up in the fall.

He also sees a high-profile coach as a distinct possibility: "I think Gene Doris will proceed the way he did with the men's hoops opening - namely aim high. As you recall, Fran Fraschilla and Pete Gillen were some of the names that first surfaced after Tim O'Toole's departure."

Here's his thoughts on some of the top candidates in the vacancy:

Scott Marr, Albany: "I think Marr would certainly consider it but probably we need to see that there is administrative support of the program and a few other things, etc. My sense though is that he may have taken Albany's program as far as it could go and he may be interested in a new challenge."

Mike Pressler, Bryant: "I'm not sure how locked in Pressler is at Bryant. I know he is loyal to them because they gave him the opportunity after the Duke situation - and he and his family love Rhode Island. But he is a Wilton High grad and Fairfield could very well be intriguing for him"

As for some top assistants from premier programs (i.e. Ed Cooley three years ago), Lombardi mentioned Hopkins associate head coach Bill Dwan as a hot name among in D-I circles as an up-and-coming stud head coach.

Clearly Cleary is reading the Mirror Blog

A few days after our post on Mr. Blaney, Tom Cleary (who is now the Executive Editor in 'The Mirror' hierarchy) puts out a fantastic article in the Hartford Courant on the newly acquired assistant coach with deep New England routes. Interesting fact: Papa George Blaney, UConn's associate head coach, was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003, and boasts 459 wins in his career.

Not a bad pedigree.

Best Cooleyism in the article: "Knowing the league is important, and (Loyola Md.) beat us twice in the quarterfinals, so hey, if you can't beat 'em, take someone from them." Let the rivalry talk continue.

Friday, July 25, 2008

An early peek at the Stags' schedule

Currently Scheduled Games:
Nov. 14 - @ Memphis
Nov 20-23 – Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic (Seton Hall, Virginia Tech, Memphis, Xavier, USC, Missouri and Hofstra)
Nov. 26 – Western Michigan
Dec. 1 - @ Holy Cross
Dec. 10 - @ Fordham
Dec. 27 - @ UConn

Yet to be scheduled games for the Arena at Harbor Yard:
Sacred Heart
St. Francis (Alumni Hall?)
America (AH?)
TBD (Army, Cornell, Rhode Island are distinct possibilities)

A few thoughts: First of all, talk about back-to-back home runs for the season opener - last year at Winston-Salem for Skip Prosser Night, and now on the road vs. Memphis for the team's first game since the National Championship. Wow.

As for the actual schedule, I noticed that the majority of "tough winnables" or games against top teams from premier conferences are still there, as in Cooley Year 1 and Year 2, but the majority of games against other mid-majors come later in the out-of-conference schedule (with the exception of UConn). In past years, games against Holy Cross, Yale, and Central Arkansas were jumbled with games against BC, UConn, and Providence. Translation: inconsistency.

I'd like to think that getting the most challenging games "out of the way" first to boost up the confidence and experience levels can only be a benefit. One person close to the team told me that the order of games in the schedule "is no coincidence".

Cooley: "There are some heavy hitters (early on) and I hope the people at the university know that there's a good chance I could come out of (Puerto Rico) 0-4." Throw in Memphis and that could be rough early season start #3 for the Cooley era.

Still, if the team can somehow upset, say, a Seton Hall type, or at the very least is ready to roll and building confidence come Holy Cross, Sacred Heart, and, eventually, the MAAC schedule, it will be well worth the trip.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Welcome to the crew, Brian Blaney

Thought I'd change it up a little bit and blog about men's basketball for a change... given that it is the preeminent sport on North Benson Rd. anyway.

Referring back to that Sunday Q&A Chris Elsberry did with head coach Ed Cooley, it was officially revealed that the Stags have hired former Loyola associate head coach Brian Blaney to take over for Aki Collins as an assistant coach.

Locally, Blaney is renown for being the son of UConn associate head coach George Blaney, who has been Jim Calhoun's right hand man for going on eight years. Ironically, Fairfield is scheduled to head up to Storrs to play the Huskies on December 27.

What I found fascinating was the manner in which this hiring went down. According to Cooley's words, Blaney called him "out of the blue", and cited his new marriage and family as a reason to settle down home in the Connecticut area. Cooley said that Blaney wasn't even "on (his) radar".

So Jimmy Patsos' main assistant gives a call to Ed Cooley to come join his staff, even though its a lesser position? Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I do find this to an interesting way to add fuel to the Fairfield/Loyola fire. Maybe Cooley and Blaney are indeed good friends who go way back, or maybe Blaney felt that a change of scenery (a.k.a. somewhere away from Jimmy) was needed for more than just family reasons. But it's worth noting that Cooley is known around coaching circles as a well-respected voice. Patsos, on the other hand, is sometimes not viewed in the same manner (just ask Joe Mihalich).

My favorite Cooleyism in this article: "Brian's about to get married and Jimmy (Patsos) wants some younger, single guys that will run around and go crazy and Brian's trying to settle his life down."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

DeSilva: Stags need to act quickly

LaxMagazine columinst Matt DeSilva summed things up nicely in today's column regarding Ted Spencer and the Fairfield job opening: 1) people would love to have the job, and 2) Fairfield needs to act quickly to avoid wasting an entire summer of recruiting and training.

DeSilva cites Harvard's transition last season as enough evidence that Doris and Co. must act now:

"But the Crimson is a prime example of why the Stags should act quickly. Tillman inherited a team in mid-September minus a staff, faceoff specialist and its top scorer. He had to hire assistants on the fly and implement a new, motion offense with just 12 fall practices, followed by a comparatively late Feb. 1 start, as per Ivy League mandates for spring sports. "

As for DeSilva's list of candidates, they are more or less the same that I put together a few days ago and what I've been reading about lately in blogs and forums.

We agree on a potential obvious choice and early leader (Andy Towers) and some interest from Andy Shay moving down I-95 from Yale. A few other interesting names DeSilva adds: former Butler coach Stan Ross, a runner-up for the Ohio State job, and Johns Hopkins associate head coach Bill Dwan, a name that Joe Lombardi mentioned to me a few days ago as a sleeper.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Marr Another Big Possibility

While much of the attention regarding a big-name coach coming to the Stags this summer has been given to Bryant coach Mike Pressler (and rightfully so, given his track record and high-profile), or even John Haus, he may not be the only premier college coach in line/interested in the Fairfield position.

I've been trading e-mails and calls with Joe Lombardi, a writer for the Journal News (Lower Hudson, N.Y.). Lombardi was once a longtime college lacrosse and basketball beat writer for CBS Sports and knows the Fairfield program fairly well.

A name he mentioned to keep in mind: Albany head coach Scott Marr. The Great Danes finished 8-8 in '08, but finished 11th overall in LaxPower rankings and had led the team to three consecutive America East Conference Tournament championships and NCAA berths.

Lombardi: "If I were a D-I college AD and had a head coaching vacancy one of the first names I would dial up would be Scott Marr at Albany. I have to believe that given Fairfield's location and newly aligned conference, he may have some interest if he were approached. But again, that's just speculation on my part. His résumé at Albany certainly couldn't be any more impressive."

Which leads me to my next question: Based on candidates and recent trends, What will Doris do?

The Connecticut Lax Pipeline

No, this may not be about hiring the coach from Bryant (a Wilton, CT native) or negotiations with a coach at Yale or Quinnipiac, but the Stags have once again gone to the cupboard to recruit a highly-talented local product. The Norwalk Citizen-News has the story.

Seems as if Brett Adams gave up playing football for a D-I or D-I AA school to play lacrosse at Fairfield. And, as the article shows from the outset, he's got a pretty sweet family pedigree... for lacrosse, that is.

More to come on the coaching search tonight.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Full Court Press(ler)?

With the "national search" now underway for Ted Spencer's replacement, I figured I'd dig through some potential candidates and figure out who makes the most sense for the Stags:

The Sleeper:
  • Mike Pressler, current Bryant head coach - Bryant University? It's a little known D-II school on the verge of going into the fledgling NEC division. Why? Pressler, that's why. The former Duke lacrosse coach got a bad wrap based on the Duke rape scandal, but the success he achieved in Cameron is unquestioned (153-82 in 16 seasons, 3x ACC Coach of the Year). He makes sense for a lot of reasons:
    • Bryant may have been his version of a temp job. At the time, it was the only school that would offer him a position. Now, with the team about to make the jump into Division-I, he must decide whether to see it through to maturity or jump to another program and make an immediate mark.
    • Pressler proved that he did not live off of talent alone at Duke. He went 11-4 in his first year at Bryant and the team won its division.
    • Pressler is a native of Wilton, Conn., and has obvious ties to the New England region.
The Safe Choices:
  • Darryl Delia, former Fairfield assistant coach - Six years as Ted Spencer's right hand man is about as good of a resume as you can get. Aside from being an "offensive specialist", Delia also proved he can be the main man when he led the Yale Bulldogs to a 9-5 record as an interim head coach in 2003.
  • Andy Towers, current Dartmouth assistant coach - Towers has been all over the Division I lacrosse world, but his ties to Fairfield are his strongest asset. An offense and face-off specialist, Towers has had stints as an assistant at Brown, Yale, Fairfield (2002 and 2003), and, most recently, Dartmouth.
Wild Cards:
  • John Haus, former North Carolina head coach - Recently ousted in favor of Ohio State head coach, Haus has a world of experience, a more than decent track record of turnaround success (4-1o in '04 to 10-6 in '06) for the Tar Heels, and connections to the mid-Atlantic that Fairfield would love.
  • Matt Kerwick, former Hobart head coach - Another sound choice from a prestigious lacrosse school. Mild success as a head coach, though.
  • Andy Shay, head coach Yale - Limited success with the Bulldogs (25-26 in first five seasons), but obviously a strong affiliation with Connecticut and the New England region.
  • Lelan Rogers, assistant Syracuse - Aside from an impressive pedigree, Rogers has proven he can coach not only at a premier program, but also as the head of a program on the D-III level. He went 76-17 in five years at Cortland College.
Personally, I don't see how you don't at least call Pressler to gauge his interest. Same goes for Haus. As for the others, it's hard to see one that sticks out to you that would not be considered a retread (Kerwick, Shay) or no significant upgrade from Spencer (Delia).

In that case, I'd say Towers is the logical choice, with Pressler as a fan's hope.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Morning Links

Ted Spencer called it a career on Friday, and said in a letter to family and friends he made his choice with "a heavy heart". He left an indelible mark on the men's lacrosse program in 13 seasons.

Head coaches from all across Division I may already be lining up to stake claim to the Stags' job opening, Lax Magazine has the story.

The magazine's reasoning: it's the top sport at Fairfield (maybe 1 and 1a with men's basketball), it is fully funded with a myriad of scholarship money, owns billing as the premier spring sport, and has prime location close to NYC/New England.

Basketball News:
Chris Elsberry sat down with Ed Cooley for an off-season Q&A (something 'The Mirror' has been trying to do for some time now). Plenty of updates on off-season workouts, Greg Nero, the Memphis Tigers, the problems of scheduling, a trip to Puerto Rico, and a new assistant coach.

Old pal Ben Doody is back to blogging, and did a great Q&A with MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor regarding the switch of locations of the 2009 MAAC tournament from Trenton, NJ back up to Albany. He has the answer and much, much more.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Reflections on Spencer/Men's Lax

Now that the dust has settled and reality is beginning to kick in, here's a few things that have been kicking around in my head over the past 24 hours about Ted Spencer and his new position at FU:

  • I can't say that this is bizarre timing given the end of his contract, coupled with the realignment of Men's Lacrosse divisions, especially the ECAC. The Stags have been overly unimpressive since moving into the division in 2006, finishing with a cumulative 8-13 conference record no higher than tied for fourth overall. Maybe Doris and Co. felt a change was needed to take "the next step".
  • 13 seasons is an awfully long time for anyone to be a head coach at one school. Dianne Nolan and the Coach K's and Jim Calhouns of the world aside, Spencer should be considered a tenured and successful face of the program.
  • Spencer's coaching career was a remarkable run that will be remembered as a watershed moment for Fairfield Athletics. Before Spencer, Fairfield lax was an infant; today, its a national powerhouse. That alone is his legacy, and he earned every bit of it.
  • Did the game pass him by? Doubtful, but sometimes a new voice is needed. I can remember sitting in the stands with Tom Cleary (we used to sit in the parents section for a different angle) late last season and hearing a few voices of displeasure at the team's offensive schemes against the Loyola zone defense. Some of that was probably due to the five freshman on the field on offense, but it's possible coaching had something to do with it.
  • Favorite Spencer story: Coach and I would talk about once a week in his office during lax season about the team, upcoming games, and other random stuff. He was really a genuinely great guy who would love to sit down and talk about his passion. Anyway, one day my freshman year I made the mistake of wearing a 'WE ARE ND' green shirt to his office (I'm a big Irish football fan. I know, I know...) I could tell he noticed - he kept glancing at it the entire interview. Finally, at the end of our talk, he stopped me as I walked out and pointed to a picture of the game winning goal in South Bend from back in 2002. "Greatest game of my career," he said with a huge smile. "Remember now, Keith, you're a Stag now," he threw in for good measure. It was the first time I really fell apart of the Fairfield family.
  • For those who were unhappy with the team's progress (see above about Loyola game), than maybe this move is a necessary evil. But you have to say this about Spencer: even in the face of an expiring contract and after a comeback from cancer, he still had the presence of mind to begin a youth movement and turn to a talented freshman class last year. It must've been challenging - imagine that conversation with Matt Scanlon or Chris Atwell - but he did not shy away from going young on the field (especially on offense). Whoever inherits this team gets some fantastic underclassmen and (from what I'm hearing) another impressive incoming group.

Which brings me to my next topic: Who is next in line?

More to come.

Friday, July 18, 2008

It's Official: Spencer Retires

Just received this press release from the desk of Jack Jones, director of Sports Information department at Fairfield University:

"FAIRFIELD, Conn. -Coach Ted Spencer has decided to retire after serving 13 seasons as Fairfield University's head men's lacrosse coach, and has accepted an administrative position as Associate Director of Athletics at the school. The change will allow Spencer to remain at the
University while he continues to regain his health from his battle with cancer.

"I am pleased that Ted will remain part of the Fairfield athletics family by accepting the associate director of athletics position," Director of Athletics Gene Doris said. "I am grateful for his hard work and dedication that built our men's lacrosse program into a competitive and respected program both regionally and nationally. Ted's decision to retire from coaching was a difficult one, but I am sure he will bring the same vigor to his new position that has made him
successful in everything he has done. This position has been in our athletics strategic plan and it became obvious that Ted is the right person to fill it. He will continue to have our support in his fight against cancer and will take some well earned time for himself before transitioning into his new role."

"This was a difficult choice for me, but in the end, I had to do what was best for me and my family," Spencer said. "I feel a strong commitment to the student athletes who I recruited this past spring and who will return for the 2009 season. In speaking with the team, I know that I have their support in making this change and I am thankful to have been associated with such a group of fine young men."

Spencer completed his 13th season at the helm of the Fairfield University lacrosse program in 2008 and owned a 93-90 overall record at the school. He coached the team during the spring despite undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments for cancer. The team finished the
campaign with a 4-9 overall record and a 1-5 mark in its third season as a member of the ECAC Lacrosse League.

With Spencer at the helm, the Stags competed in two NCAA tournaments (2005 and 2002), as well as to two Great Western Lacrosse League (GWLL) titles. He was named the GWLL Coach of the Year in both of those seasons.

Before joining the GWLL, Spencer led the program to three Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) championships (1996-98). The program qualified for four straight ECAC tournament appearances from 1996-99, and captured the tourney title in 1998 and 1999. He was named the MAAC Coach of the Year in 1996.

Players have flourished under his guidance and three have earned All-American Honorable Mention honors. Seven continued their playing careers in Major League Lacrosse, including Greg Downing, Mike Bocklet, and Nate Bauers in 2007.

Spencer's new duties as associate director of athletics will include general athletic administrative oversight responsibilities and support of the athletic department's external relations including the support of student-athlete recruitment programs, representing the Director of Athletics at external functions, and working with the University's Advancement Division on development activities in support of Fairfield Athletics.

Doris said that the University will immediately begin a national search for the head men's lacrosse position."


A month ago, I would've said that this would have been an absolute shock to me. Spencer was the face of the Fairfield lacrosse program, and it seemed as if his recent bout with cancer was a triumph that would lead him to dozens of more seasons behind the bench.

The past month's events, though, led me to believe that this new course is the one the school would take. I talked to a family friend a few weeks ago with a son who was being recruited by Fairfield who said the program had already "moved on" and that Spencer was out at head coach.

One week later, despite not being able to get in contact with Spencer and receiving denials from SID, the ECAC was completely restructured. To me, a clear sign of change was coming.

Much, much more on the way - including a possible interview with Spencer, fallout from players, and the search for a new coach.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

ECAC Lacrosse gets a face-life

Just received an official press release from associate director of Sports Information Chris O'Connor:


ECAC Commissioner Rudy Keeling announced the addition of five new members to the ECAC Lacrosse League. Beginning in 2010, Fairfield University, along with current members, Loyola College and Hobart University, will be joined by the United States Air Force Academy, Bellarmine University, University of Denver, Ohio State University and Quinnipiac University to form one of the top lacrosse conferences in the nation.

"We are excited about the direction of the ECAC Lacrosse League," said Fairfield Director of Athletics Eugene P. Doris. "We have played some memorable games with Denver and Ohio State, both 2008 NCAA Tournament teams, as well as Air Force, in the past and look forward to renewing those rivalries, as well as establishing new ones."

Three of the eight teams in the newly constituted league qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season: Denver, Loyola and Ohio State. The ECAC has enjoyed 19 NCAA Tournament bids in its nine-year history, with more than two-thirds (68%) having been at-large selections.

"The lacrosse world is going through a metamorphosis and the ECAC Lacrosse League has emerged stronger than ever," said Keeling. "The combination of the teams from the ECAC and the Great Western Lacrosse League will make us one of the power lacrosse conferences in the country."

The 2008 season marked the Stags third season as a member of the ECAC Lacrosse League. Fairfield has made two NCAA Tournament appearances, earning an automatic bid as the champion of the GWLL in 2002 and 2005. In each of the last two seasons the Stags have been nationally ranked at some point in the year, including a program-best ranking of 12th in the March 19, 2007 USILA national poll."


Interesting news, though I can't say we didn't see this one coming. In the coming days, I'll be sure to get you some reactions and quotes. Not too familiar with GWLL lacrosse, but I'll pass along some stats and their thoughts as I get them.

Still waiting to hear back from head coach Ted Spencer, who was believed to be in limbo after a recent story in Lacrosse Magazine claimed Fairfield had offered him the position of assistant athletic director. Chris O'Connor had no news to report on that situation. I'd love to hear his take on this (no more UMass rivalry).

Still, now that a league change has occurred, it makes you wonder if Doris and Co. think that this may be the time to make other changes to the Men's Lax program.

More to come.

Welcome Back!

As we begin our preparation for covering the 2008-09 Fairfield Athletics season, the first place to "refresh our batteries" is a little update for our blog. As always, we'd like this to be your go-to source for up-to-the-minute and breaking insider news regarding the Stags.

This summer, beginning Monday, July 14th, Mirror Sports is bringing you 'Stags' Summer Weekday Wire', a daily update on the state of the Stags.

It could be any sort of news, on any sport, or maybe even a random thought, but the updates are on the way.

More to come.