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NEW COACH, NEW ACT AT HOPKINS Seaman will try to bring back lacrosse glory

THE BALTIMORE SUN

"When Tony Seaman took the Hopkins job, one of my worst fears was realized. Tony's a great recruiter and lacrosse mind. My assistant, John Desko, and I said if we could choose the Hopkins coach, one guy we'd hide would be Tony Seaman."

-- Roy Simmons Jr.,

Syracuse lacrosse coach

Tony Seaman's bag of coaching tricks never seems to come up empty. Poof. Goalkeepers who double team the ball from outside the crease. Poof. Matchup zone defenses. Poof. Four Ivy League titles and six National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I tournament appearances while at the University of Pennsylvania.

For his next trick, Seaman has to re-establish Johns Hopkins as a lacrosse power. The Blue Jays slipped to 6-5 a year ago, and made a first-round exit from the tournament, only the second time a Johns Hopkins team has done so since the tournament began in 1971.

The dismal record was part of the reason former coach Don Zimmerman was forced to resign last June.

Poof. Can Seaman pull off some more tricks at Johns Hopkins, or will he just blow smoke?

"Let's put it this way," said C.W. Mix, a long time Penn assistant who replaced Seaman as the Quakers' head coach. "At Penn, Tony didn't have any scholarships. We had to make players. Now he's going to get those scholarship players at Johns Hopkins. That's kind of frightening."

It's a fear that is being felt around the college lacrosse world because Seaman, 48, is one of the most respected coaches in the game.

The Blue Jays say they have a fine formula for success: Great tradition plus good coach equals national championships.

Or an ulcer.

"Every kid who dreams wants to play lacrosse at Hopkins, and every coach wants a shot at No. 1," said Seaman, who has devised a lot of his strategy from coaching and watching basketball. "That's why I took the job here. In the Ivy League, you get a shot at the national championship maybe every eight or nine years. Here, you always have a realistic shot.

"As for the pressure, I haven't met a lot of players or coaches that were good and didn't put pressure on themselves. My wife has always told me that I'm a different human being from January through June than any other time of the year."

But it's always been the same Seaman on the field: someone who is respected by his peers and liked by his players.

Before Seaman arrived at Penn for the 1983 season, the Quakers were 20-36 in the previous five years under coach Charlie Coker. In his first season, Seaman guided the Quakers to a 10-3 record and an Ivy League title. That was followed by a 12-2 season in 1984, another Ivy championship and a second straight Division I Coach of the Year honor.

But what made Seaman unique was his style. His match-up zone defenses, where one player pressures the ball and the other defenders play zone, was an idea he got from watching Villanova coach Rollie Massimino's basketball teams.

Penn's offense, which seldom used transition except for those 50- to 60-yard passes to settle the ball, consisted of movement without the ball and often used picks. The style, Seaman once admitted, came from the New York Knicks basketball teams of the early 1970s.

And get this: Seaman even made his short stick midfielders play defense.

"It's not like we sat around and said, 'Well, what kind of crazy idea can Tony come up with today,' " said Mix. "Tony always had well-conceived game plans. Everything he used, he practiced it for hours. It's just that he was always trying to find new ways to beat somebody."

Maybe no other coach had more trouble with Seaman and his slow down offense than Syracuse coach Roy Simmons Jr. In the last three years at Syracuse with the fabulous Gait brothers, the Orangemen won three national championships.

But in seven games and victories against Penn, the Orangemen won five by two goals or less.

"A Seaman-coached team is schooled in everything," said Princeton coach Bill Tierney. "What you really have to prepare for is the unexpected. There's always a gimmick goal, one that really hurts in one of those 9-8 ballgames."

But will Seaman's style work at Johns Hopkins?

The Blue Jays have never been a finesse team. They run and gun. Zone defenses? Are you kidding? Johns Hopkins also would wear teams down with man-to-man defenses.

"I've always been open to new ideas," said Seaman. "I know that Hopkins always came straight at you. But if you're going to be successful every year, you have to adjust to what your talent is and what you can get on the field. We're going to do things a little differently here than at Penn. The talent level is different and so is the entire coaching staff. We're going to have a pretty good mix."

Seaman's creativity played a strong role in him being hired by Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays initially offered the job to Tierney, a former Blue Jays assistant and close friend of Johns Hopkins athletic director Bob Scott. Tierney reportedly turned down the offer because he was not finished with his rebuilding job at Princeton.

But as soon as Tierney said no, he called Seaman, who had already been interviewed. Minutes later, Scott called Seaman.

"No doubt, when the job opened up, it was Bill Tierney's job," said Seaman. "He had worked here and had a great relationship with Scottie. When Scott called me, I was outside landscaping, dropping my last shovel of mulch. Then my wife said Mr. Scott was on the phone. I said, 'Oh, oh.' "

The hiring of Seaman shows just how far he has come in such a little time. In 1981, Seaman was still the varsity coach at Lynbrook High on Long Island looking for college head coaching job.

Seaman was hired by C.W. Post for the 1982 season, and he produced a 13-3 record and lured students to games with a free keg of beer. Months later, Penn athletic director Charles Harris hired Seaman.

"In short, I thought the guy was a genius," said Harris, now athletic director at Arizona State.

Scott had similar thoughts. Seaman is the first non-alumnus to coach at Johns Hopkins since Howdy Myers left in 1949.

"Everything about Tony came up positive," said Scott. "We knew he was a fine strategist, but the parents of former players always talked about his relationship with the players. They all said the kids loved to play for him."

So does this present Johns Hopkins bunch. Seaman, who wouldn't let Johns Hopkins announce his hiring until he phoned every Penn player including incoming recruits, is almost a complete opposite of Zimmerman.

Zimmerman had a fiery style, many rules and demanded perfection. There was no such thing as garbage time because Zimmerman was a fundamentalist. And Zimmerman worked countless hours.

Seaman is much more low-keyed. He'll let a player try a behind the back pass or an "Air Gait" maneuver. He'll change up practice procedures just to break the monotony. Seaman also likes to put in quite a few hours, but is more of a 9 to 5 than a 9 to 9 man.

Johns Hopkins players consider Seaman one of the guys.

"He's more of a players' coach than coach Zimmerman," said defender Brian Voelker. "Last year we had role players on offense. This year, we're doing more setups, more free-lancing, he's more trusting to the players. He's more encouraging and less scolding."

Said defender Billy Dwan: "We can't blame it all on Coach Zimmerman. It's just that once things started going bad, it NTC started to steamroll. There were times when we just didn't get the job done. There was a lot of pressure on everybody. We really needed a change and it's been refreshing. The seniors are trying to pull things together and we're all excited about this season."

Seaman knows that the comparisons with Zimmerman won't end for quite a while, just as they never ended for Zimmerman after he replaced Henry Ciccarone.

Ciccarone won three NCAA titles in nine years. Zimmerman won three in seven.

But this team is less talented than many of the Ciccarone-, Zimmerman-led teams.

Seaman already has lost two starters -- defender Dave Howland and midfielder John Sheehan -- for the season because of knee injuries sustained during the fall. The Blue Jays also have to replace All-America goalkeeper Quint Kessenich.

Remember, though, this is Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays still have two of the best defenders in the country in Dwan and Voelker. They also have their two top scorers back in attackmen Matt Panetta (20 goals, 16 assists) and Jeff Wills (19 goals, 12 assists).

Plus junior midfielders Adam Wright, Seth Tierney and Brian Lukacz are solid performers.

"It's all funny how this has worked out," said Seaman. "I first learned about lacrosse as a freshman at SUNY (Cortland) on the way to baseball practice. I just fell in love with the game at first sight. Then, I really wanted to become a basketball coach, get a Nike contract, become rich and all of that.

"But now, there's no other move for me. I can't think of a job in the country that could open up that could be better than the Hopkins position. This is where I want to be for a long time."

Poof. Maybe Seaman has looked into his crystal ball.

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