The past 30 days have been a whirlwind for Kevin Conry. Just weeks after helping Maryland capture its first NCAA men’s lacrosse championship since 1975, the Terps associate head coach and defensive coordinator was named the new head coach at Michigan on June 21. Nine days later, he and wife Elizabeth welcomed their third daughter Charlotte to join big sisters Isabelle (4 years old) and Lily (2). “I’m riding high. It’s been a heck of a couple of months here,” Conry said Thursday morning before participating in a Q&A about leaving the Terps, staying in the Big Ten, and trying to lift the Wolverines into contention.
With Maryland fresh off of winning the national title and with the defense expected to return four of seven starters, what made this the right time to move to Michigan?
When you make a move and you look around, I think timing is important, but it’s also the opportunities that are in front of you. I think when Michigan became available, regardless of what was happening at Maryland, I saw a special opportunity there. I felt like I was ready to be a head coach, and I wanted to challenge myself in another avenue where I could lead a program and take it to the next level. I’m really excited about this opportunity, and when it became available, I just wanted to check it out. I wanted to come out here and see what Michigan was all about. I had heard so many unbelievable things about it from the people who have been at Michigan, and everything they say is true and then some. The town itself, the facilities here on campus, the people in the community, it’s a special place here, and I’m really excited to kind of take the reins and move it forward.
Did you have any reservations about staying in the Big Ten and facing Maryland and Johns Hopkins, your alma mater?
Not at all. I respect them. You look at your schedule in the Big Ten, and you realize, ‘Geez, this is the best lacrosse conference in the country.’ If you look at last year’s teams, three out of the six teams in the Big Ten held the No. 1 ranking [in the Inside Lacrosse media poll]. As someone on the outside looking into it, you might think, ‘Oh man, that could be daunting.’ But the competitor inside of you says, ‘That’s awesome.’ We get to compete against the best of the best, and we’re going to take this program and match it up and prove our mettle against them.
Are you finding that the transition is easier than you anticipated? More difficult?
I think whenever you take on a new challenge, there are always some things that you don’t expect that come up. For me, I don’t look at it as difficult. I just look at it is another challenge. The competitor inside of me says, ‘OK, it’s time to compete today.’ I think the biggest thing for me is I’m farther away from my family right now because they haven’t moved out. I think that’s been the biggest thing on my mind. But honestly, there’s a lot of things that I did expect about the challenges, but at the same time, it’s all good things, and it’s all positive things and we’re moving forward in a positive direction.
When will the family join you?
We are looking not at next week, but the week after as long as everything comes together with the movers and all that.
Given that you worked with Terps coach John Tillman for five seasons, what advice would you give the next defensive coordinator?
John’s an incredible mentor, and he’s a really good friend and I valued my time there. The one piece of advice I would give is, just absorb it all because you’re going to be a better person on the other side. He does a lot of great things behind the scenes for various individuals. I can’t thank him enough for the opportunities that he gave me and the mentorship that he showed me. He taught me how to refine this and how to be a head coach and how to be ready to go and sit in this chair. So I have a lot of respect for John and what he’s been able to do, and I appreciate what he has done for me.
What will be the challenge for your successor at Maryland?
Nothing in life is easy, especially in the Big Ten. Every day is a slugfest, and I think managing the day-to-day operations and getting guys through it is the biggest challenge there. The next man will recognize that there’s a lot of talent on that roster and opening up the competition for a lot of those guys would be my advice.
You take over a Wolverines team that set new school single-season records this past spring for wins (eight), road victories (five), points (237) and assists (89), but failed to collect a victory in five conference games. What are your top priorities in the coming months?
I think the message is very important. First and foremost, everybody has a clean slate. We’re going to take a step back and say, ‘Yes, the past six years were very important because we laid a very solid foundation.’ [Previous head coach] John Paul did an unbelievable job of creating this program, laying the foundation, and bringing it to this level. But we’re going to take a step back and give everybody a clean slate. We’re going to compete for every aspect of the program. We’re going to compete with our players on the roster, we’re going to look to compete against our competition. So that’s my biggest thing. We’re going to clean the slate, give everybody an opportunity, increase the competition here early in the fall, and try to create a culture of competition.
Can your resume as the defensive coordinator who helped Maryland claim the NCAA championship help make an impact with potential recruits?
I think Michigan itself sells most of the recruiting process. When you look at the scope and what Michigan can bring to the table not only in athletics but also in academics, I think that’s the real sell, not necessarily me. I’m just the guy in a chair here. Obviously, I’m the one that’s leading this program, but for the most part, Michigan itself is going to be the one that sells it.
Do you have a benchmark for the 2018 season?
I try not to think that far ahead. I’m trying to think about today and getting the guys organized for their first day. We’re going to take it day by day and not worry about the endgame, but we’re going to be really focused on the journey. For us, if we look too far ahead, then we’re going to miss something important and those little details are going to make us successful. So I’m not really focusing on the endgame. We’re more focused on the first workout, the first individual session, the first meeting. If we can focus on the first day and the first workout and the first aspect of every workout, the endgame will work itself out. So that’s more of the message for us.
With an emphasis on instant results in athletics, do you feel pressure to immediately transform Michigan into a contender in the Big Ten?
I wouldn’t say that we feel the pressure. It’s not about instant gratification. We talked a lot in the office this year about what the message is going to be. We have talked about how because there’s been a change, it’s not just going to happen for us. What is going to be important is creating that culture and that workmanlike effort to make sure that we don’t talk about the instant gratification, that we talk about the process and the journey together to our ultimate goals.