By Aaron Kasinitz, The Baltimore Sun
7:48 PM EDT, July 5, 2013
At first glance, it may seem peculiar that the Ohio Machine hired a high school coach on June 24 to replace Ted Garber as its head coach. But to Machine general manager John Algie, the decision to bring in Archbishop Spalding's Bear Davis midway through the Major League Lacrosse season was a no-brainer.
Davis, after all, has a track record of building teams from scratch, which makes him an ideal fit for the Machine, a squad that has won three total games since joining the league in 2012.
Davis became the first coach of Wheeling Jesuit — a Division II program — in 2000 and the team earned a No. 10 ranking in national polls just three years later. Then in 2004, Davis left to help start Robert Morris' program. By 2010, the Colonials were a top-20 team and led the nation in scoring.
Toss in Davis' local roots as a Hilliard, Ohio, native and his propensity for constructing high-flying offenses and Algie had found "the perfect hire".
"We wanted someone who had a lot of experience on the offensive side of the ball and I was impressed with his time at Robert Morris," Algie said of Davis, whose Machine (1-8) host the Bayhawks (5-4) Saturday night. "He was one of the first people we reached out to."
Davis will remain the coach and associate athletic director at Archbishop Spalding, but he jumped at the opportunity to coach professionally in his home state during the summer. Though Davis' MLL debut ended in a 13-10 loss to the Boston Cannons this past Saturday, Algie was pleased with the performance.
Despite the loss, Ohio posted its second-highest scoring total of the season and Algie lauded Davis' extensive pre-game preparation. Saturday's game reassured the general manager's confidence that Davis will improve the Machine's offense, which has scored a league-low 70 goals this season.
Davis, meanwhile, saw Saturday's game as just the first step in the transition from the MIAA sidelines to the MLL.
"You know going into a situation like this, there's going to be some glitches and you're going to make some errors," Davis said. "I just don't want to make the same one twice."
The veteran coach maintains that the steep leap to the professional game isn't overwhelming. Nor is the assignment of jolting a franchise on pace for its second last place finish in its second year of existence.
Davis has earned a reputation for quick improvements after his work at Wheeling Jesuit and Robert Morris. He has validated that in Severn, where he took an Archbishop Spalding team that finished with three wins in 2011 and morphed them into a 12-win squad by 2013.
Drawing on those experiences, Davis has an idea of how he'd like to start the rebuilding process in Ohio.
"Right now my primary goal is to make sure the players understand what their roles are in the organization and let them perfect their role," Davis said. "When you're young, you got to simplify it and give them a vision of what we need to do."
Machine midfielder Kiel Matisz, who played for Davis at Robert Morris, said the coach's concepts contrast with Garber's less structured coaching style. But both Matisz and Davis said the team has been receptive to the changes.
"As a whole, I'd say the guys are enjoying the extra preparation and structure he brings," Matisz said.
The Machine will have to be patient in waiting for the results of Davis' system as they sit three games back of a playoff spot with just five contests left, making a late-season playoff run unlikely.
Still, Matisz said his teammates have a "positive outlook" on the future under Davis. And they aren't the only ones.
"I mean he's had success everywhere he's been," said Jeff Parsons, Archbishop Spalding's athletic director. "He was the right choice for Ohio. He had success at Wheeling Jesuit, he had success at Robert Morris and we're hopeful he'll have more success at Spalding."
Davis left Robert Morris in 2011 to alleviate the rigorous demands placed on a Division I coach and to coach his stepson at Archbishop Spalding. He remains committed to the Cavaliers, but concedes he'll need to lean on his assistants once the MLL slate begins in late April. At that time, Davis will be in Ohio for one game and one practice each week.
During the summer, though, Davis is intent on resurrecting his hometown Machine. While his job isn't labeled as interim and he seems to have Algie's full support, Davis is approaching the season's final five games as an audition. He feels the team needs to make marked improvements so management will want him back.
That appears to be a tall task for a team that has given up 48 more goals than it has scored through the first nine games this year. But Davis doesn't see a need to fret.
He's been there before.
"When we started at Robert Morris we didn't win a Division I game the first two years," Davis said. "Ohio has struggled in the MLL, but we have a similar recipe in place for how to grow and gain some confidence."
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