When I took over this column in 1992, I knew that I would be wise to establish good rapport with the local lacrosse coaches. Ithaca loves its lax, and the demand would be high for any sports journalist to cover it often and with some degree of familiarity.
At that time, Jeff Long was five years into a 33-year coaching tenure at Ithaca College, and he was always an engaged and energetic advocate for his program. I connected with Jeff dozens of times over the years, and he was always ready to share what he knew and how he felt.
Frank Welch was 15 years into his 44 year stint at Ithaca High, and he too was always eager to get the word out about his program and his athletes.
Richie Moran had been the head coach at Cornell for 23 years at that point, he would be at the helm for 6 more, and to this day the three-time national title winning coach carries on as perhaps the sport’s preeminent ambassador.
Since Moran’s departure, Cornell has seen numerous coaches come and go, and when it was announced this week that Peter Milliman took the job at Johns Hopkins, I could feel the collective sigh emitted by Big Red Nation.
A month ago, the team was riding high at 5-0, ranked #2 and looking forward to making a run at a national title. As I wrote in this column, I felt so bad for those connected to the program, as their lives were turned upside down not only by the loss of their season of promise due to the public health crisis, but by the passing of their friend and trainer, Jim Case. Now this…
No reasonable person will fault Milliman for moving on to a position he feels is best for himself and his family, but that does not mean there is not a sense of loss. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Milliman was quoted as saying, “Cornell’s a great place, and I’m always going to have a love for what we did there. It’s just that sometimes an opportunity presents itself for your family, and it just feels like the right move, and to me, this is one that I couldn’t pass up. The opportunity to be the head coach at Johns Hopkins is a special opportunity, and it’s one that I feel very strongly about that was the right fit for me."
A lot of the current players chose Cornell so they could play for this dynamic and up and coming coach, because his system matched up with their preferred style of play, and now they are left to wonder what’s next. Change is tough. Uncertainty is tough.
Milliman will replace Dave Pietramala as JHU’s head coach, 19 years after Pietramala, ironically, left Cornell for that position. That move didn’t really surprise anyone, given Pietramala was an All-American defenseman for the Blue Jays in the 1980s. Under his leadership, Hopkins won two national titles (he also won one there as a player, in 1987), but the program stumbled to a 2-4 record this season before Covid-19 shut it down.
I caught up with Richie Moran, and I reminded him that his status as the Elder Statesman of Cornell lacrosse, maybe all of lacrosse, earned him a great deal of credibility, and I would like to hear what he might say to the team. The Hall of Fame coach replied, “My philosophy is that while the players are losing an outstanding coach—and it will no doubt sting for a while—they are a mature group and they will adjust.” Richie added, “In a time of transition like this, when there are familiar faces still there, the adjustment isn’t as tough as it would be if there was a clean slate.” Elaborating on his comment about “familiar faces,” Moran offered, “I hope Cornell will give serious consideration to Connor Buczek and Jordan Stevens (Milliman’s assistant coaches who have been with the program for several years). Buczek (class of ’15) played at Cornell and has been around the program as a volunteer assistant and as a paid assistant since he graduated, and has been an All-Star Major League Lacrosse player for the past several years. Stevens (also class of ’15) joined the Cornell men's lacrosse staff as assistant coach and defensive coordinator in July 2016, and after the 2017 season, he moved up to the first assistant coach position and took the reins as the program’s recruiting coordinator.
Moran has been around the game as a player, coach and mentor for well over 60 years, and he summed up his feelings about the change with these words: “Cornell lacrosse will still be Cornell lacrosse.”