xml:space="preserve">
Ryan Wellner has been named interim head coach of Navy men's lacrosse. Wellner served as associate head coach and defensive coordinator throughout the eight-year tenure of Rick Sowell, who was fired as head coach last Thursday afternoon.
Ryan Wellner has been named interim head coach of Navy men's lacrosse. Wellner served as associate head coach and defensive coordinator throughout the eight-year tenure of Rick Sowell, who was fired as head coach last Thursday afternoon. (Phil Hoffmann / HANDOUT)

Thursday afternoon was extremely eventful for Navy assistant lacrosse coach Ryan Wellner.

First came the shocking news that his long-time boss and close friend had been fired.

Advertisement

Rick Sowell returned from a meeting with athletic director Chet Gladchuk and informed Wellner and fellow full-time assistant Rob Camposa that he had just been fired as head coach.

For Wellner, who has served as defensive coordinator under Sowell for 11 years at two different schools, it was like a punch in the gut. Camposa played for Sowell and Wellner as a goalie at Stony Brook and was in his third year on staff at Navy.

“Obviously, it was very, very tough. Rick and I have been together a long time and I’m used to always having him around,” Wellner said. “It’s difficult and obviously there are a lot of very real emotions involved. It’s not easy and we’re trying to do the best we can.”

Things became more complicated shortly thereafter when Gladchuk asked Wellner to serve as interim head coach. Of course, Wellner could have declined, but that would have meant he would have soon been out of a job.

Sowell has two years remaining on his contract and will be paid despite being fired, but his assistants don’t have the same security.

“Of course, the first thing I thought about was my family. I need a job so I can provide for them,” Wellner said. “I know Coach Sowell would say the same thing — to do what is best for the family.”

Gladchuk said he felt Navy lacrosse needed new leadership, direction

Athletic director Chet Gladchuk praised Rick Sowell for his performance as men's lacrosse during an eight-year tenure while at the same time stating the program needed new leadership and direction.

So Wellner accepted the interim tag and immediately got to work, spending most of last Thursday night calling Navy men’s lacrosse recruits. This week, he and Camposa are fanning out all over the country to meet in-person with those recruits and their families.

“Rob and I are going to hit the road recruiting,” Wellner said. “We’re going to see all our guys from the 2019 and 2020 classes. We want to tell them personally that they’re in good hands no matter who is going to wind up here.”

Wellner was headed to Atlanta on Tuesday, traveling to Delaware on Wednesday and planning to spend Saturday at the Naval Academy Prep School, where a large contingent of men’s lacrosse recruits are finishing out the academic school year.

“My main message to all these recruits is that the opportunity the Naval Academy offers is far greater than lacrosse,” Wellner said.

Wellner went to work for Sowell at Stony Brook in 2009 after previous stints as defensive coordinator at Washington & Lee and Stevens Institute of Technology.

When Sowell was hired at Navy in June, 2011, he brought Wellner along to serve as associate head coach and defensive coordinator. Wellner also holds the title of recruiting coordinator and has worked with the team’s faceoff specialists.

After eight years at the Naval Academy, Wellner really could not say no when asked to stay on as interim head coach.

“I have grown to love the Naval Academy and all of what it stands for. I love these young men we work with and I don’t think it would have been right to just walk away from them,” Wellner said.

Advertisement

Navy men’s lacrosse held a team meeting on Friday afternoon during which Gladchuk spoke to the players followed by Wellner.

Navy earns must-win triumph against Boston University in Patriot League men's lacrosse

Attackman Christian Daniel amassed a career-high eight points while goalkeeper Ryan Kern equaled a season-high with 18 saves as Navy upset No. 16 Boston University, 13-12, on Friday night.

“We have 53 players in this program who have thoughts, feelings and emotions about all this. We need to hold our locker room together,” Wellner said. “I’ve been talking to our players on a daily basis to provide reassurance and guidance. Our rising seniors are already rallying and are determined to move this program forward.”

Wellner has been preaching positivity and stressing that Navy lacrosse is much bigger than any one coach or player. The Long Island native, who played lacrosse at Chaminade High and Mary Washington College, has been telling everyone that everything will work out in the end.

“I know the Naval Academy Athletic Association is going to do what’s best for the men’s lacrosse program going forward. I feel confident with whatever will happen in the future,” Wellner said. “It’s going to be a roller coaster. There are going to be good and bad days. However, I believe through the darkness there could be some light that comes out of this.”

For the time being, Wellner is in command of the Navy lacrosse and is sinking all his energy and effort into doing what normally would be done at this time of the year. The Midshipmen finished with a 6-7 record and did not qualify for the Patriot League Tournament, bringing an abrupt end to the 2019 campaign.

It now falls to Wellner to conduct season-ending meetings with players, set up an off-season strength and conditioning program and plot a schedule for the summer recruiting circuit.

“We’re going to proceed as though I’m going to be here long-term,” Wellner said. “Chet said to keep pushing the program forward and to operate as though you are in charge. We’re going to do whatever is in the best interest of the program.”

Wellner did not hesitate when asked if he hoped to be considered a candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy.

“Absolutely, 100 percent,” Wellner responded. “I’ve made Chet aware that I would definitely love the opportunity to show that I am worthy of the job. I’ve been very transparent with my thoughts on that topic.”

If Wellner winds up moving on, he is confident the solid reputation he has built during a 19-year career in lacrosse coaching will ultimately enable him to land on his feet.

“Something I rest my hat on is my character and integrity. I’ve tried to be a good person and treat people with respect. Hopefully, that means something,” Wellner said. “I think there is a body of work, including my time here at the academy, that speaks for itself.”

Completely unsolicited, Sowell reached out to The Capital on Monday to voice his support for Wellner in the current situation and to express his approval that his longtime, loyal assistant is doing right by Navy lacrosse.

“I absolutely support Ryan staying on board and keeping the program afloat,” Sowell wrote in a text message. “First and foremost, Ryan needs to get paid. Secondly, the current team members and recruits need someone they can go to for necessary information.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement