He's made three straight trips to the Final Four and won better than 90 percent of his games. His teams are known for their fundamentals and tenacity, and he's earned a reputation as a defensive whiz.
If only some of Dave Klarmann's actions didn't get in the way of his accomplishments.
Klarmann has been a second-team All-American, faithful assistant and demanding head coach. Those endeavors have been marked by Klarmann's intensity and honesty, traits that haven't endeared him to all.
After Princeton beat North Carolina in the 1992 NCAA semifinals, Klarmann was upset with the officials. He was heading their way when Phil Buttafuoco, an assistant director of NCAA championships, got in the way. There was contact by Klarmann -- some call it a shove -- and last summer he was suspended by the NCAA for North Carolina's next tournament game, which was last week's 14-5 win over Army.
"I made the mistake," Klarmann said Saturday from the roof of the Homewood Field press box, where he was scouting Hopkins and Virginia. "I learned from it."
On April 10, in the Tar Heels' only loss this season, Virginia's Tony Nugent tripped Ryan Wade, North Carolina's leading scorer and the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. By his own description, Klarmann was incensed, and Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia had to intervene.
"I stepped in between them [Klarmann and Nugent], but I'm not sure if it was going to come to anything," Starsia said. "If Dave has something to say, I want him to say it to me, not my player."
"I don't want people whip-kicking my guys," Klarmann said. "It should have been an unsportsmanlike, unreleasable penalty. There was no room for it in lacrosse. It could have ended Wade's career. It was not a manly thing to do."
Did we say Klarmann was direct?
"Dave's honest," said Willie Scroggs, his predecessor as Tar Heels coach and now an assistant athletic director at North Carolina and chairman of the NCAA lacrosse committee. dTC "Dishonest people have trouble with Dave."
Following stints in the Army and at Nassau (N.Y.) Community College,Klarmann, 42, was a second-team All-America defenseman on the first North Carolina team to make the NCAA tournament, in 1976. Scroggs was assembling the Tar Heels dynasty, and he hired Don Zimmerman and then Klarmann as assistants.
"We lived in an old farmhouse outside of Chapel Hill we called the Ponderosa," said Zimmerman, a Loyola assistant and former Hopkins head coach who over the past two decades has played and coached both with and against Klarmann. "As good as Dave was in lacrosse, he was better in deathball. It was no-rules water polo in the pool at the Ponderosa, and he was definitely the deathball king.
"He's a tough individual, and he's instilled a certain character in his teams. They play tough and hard."
North Carolina won the first of its four NCAA titles in 1981, a year after Klarmann joined the staff.
The last of the Tar Heels' four titles came in 1991, after Scroggs had retired from coaching and Klarmann had taken over. The Tar Heels went unbeaten, but Klarmann didn't enjoy the attention.
Compared with two years ago, when he said simply, "Great families, great kids," about his Baltimoreans before a trip north, Klarmann has become downright expansive in interviews. At Monday's Final Four teleconference, he said jokingly: "The team's going to vote on whether or not they want me to come. There's talk they're going to bump [assistant coach Rob] Russell over me."
Klarmann is the "other" Coach K on Tobacco Road, although Duke's Mike Krzyzewski can't touch his winning percentage (41-4, .911). Klarmann works on a campus where basketball center Eric Montross signs autographs in the classroom. There are fewer than 10 high schools playing lacrosse in North Carolina, and there are no Division I programs south of Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels are outside the Baltimore-Long Island-upstate New York loop, and Klarmann said, "Lacrosse is not that big a deal."
"Dave's developed a better rapport with the media, but he's not real revealing to begin with," Scroggs said. "To someone who doesn't know him, Dave can be so intense, it can be intimidating. He's not patient with people who are giving less than they absolutely can, and he does a good job of transferring his intensity to the team."
"He's a stern individual," said Alex Martin, an All-America defenseman from Gilman School. "Coming in as a freshman, you have to earn his respect. You have to produce in practice, on the field during games and in the classroom.
"He has a way of making you nervous. My left hand wasn't as good as my right, and he let me know it. He'd get me rattled, but it made me better. He makes you concentrate. As a freshman, I said there's no way I'd survive Coach K for four years. Now, it's a biased opinion, but I think he's the best college lacrosse coach in the country."
Klarmann is using approximately nine scholarships, below the NCAA limit of 12.6. The Tar Heels recruit good athletes, then make them better with the weight-training and fitness facilities available at a program with Division I-A football.
After 11 years as an assistant, Klarmann didn't see the need to fix anything Scroggs was doing. North Carolina's fundamentals remain renowned, and for all the stylistic comparisons to run-and-gun Syracuse, the Tar Heels are more disciplined.
Martin, Chuck Breschi and Greg Paradine are regarded as the best close defense in college. Wade, a graduate of Severn, and Donnie McNichol lead an eclectic midfield, Wade foiling teams with what might be the best shot in college and McNichol igniting the Tar Heels with his faceoffs and grit. When the transition game isn't there, John Webster guides a patient attack.
Everyone plays hard, or as Virginia's Starsia said: "They play the game with passion."
"You should see us scrimmage," Klarmann said. "How hard you play is what's important."
The Tar Heels have inherited his fire. Where did he get it?
"I don't know where it starts," Klarmann said. "My son's got it, and he's 5. Something in the genes."
What: NCAA men's lacrosse championships
Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park
Saturday: Division I semifinals: No. 4 Johns Hopkins (11-3) vs. No. 1 North Carolina (13-1), 1 p.m.
No. 3 Syracuse (10-2) vs.
No. 2 Princeton (13-1), 4 p.m.
Sunday: Division III final: Ohio Wesleyan (12-1) vs. Hobart (10-3), 3 p.m.
Monday: Division I final: noon
Tickets: Can be purchased in advance for all three days, $30 reserved and $25 general admission, plus $10 for pre-paid parking. Individual game tickets go on sale Saturday, at $15 for Saturday's games, $7 for Sunday and $12 for Monday. Call (301) 314-7070 or (800) 462-8377. All available at Lax World in Towson's Kenilworth Park Mall and Bacharach Rasin stores in Towson and Severna Park.
Coach: Dave Klarmann (41-4 in three years)
Scoring leaders: Senior attackman John Webster (24 goals, 23 assists), senior attackman Steve Speers (22, 13), senior attackman Dan Levy (20, 12), junior midfielder Ryan Wade (25, 6)
Faceoff specialist: Senior Donnie McNichol (96-29, .768 percentage)
Goalie: Junior Gary Lehrman (80 saves, 58 goals, .580 percentage)
Last Final Four appearance: 1992 (lost to Princeton in semifinals, 16-14)
NCAA titles: 1981, 1982, 1986 (coach Willie Scroggs), 1991 (Klarmann)
1993 results (13-1) 15 .. .. Mount St. Mary's .. 4
18 .. .. Stony Brook .. .. ..3
14 .. .. Syracuse .. .. .. ..10
25 .. .. Penn State.. .. .. ..3
17 .. .. Loyola .. .. .. .. ..8
7 .. .. Princeton.. .. .. ..5
12 .. .. Maryland .. .. .. .. 6
27 .. .. .. VMI .. .. .. .. ..6
14 .. .. Johns Hopkins.. .. ..9
12 .. .. Virginia .. .. .. ..13
13 .. .. .. Duke .. .. .. .. .9
13 .. .. .. Duke-x .. .. .. ..6
18 .. .. .. Maryland-x .. .. 10
14 .. .. .. .. Army-y .. .. ..5