Carl Runk nervously walked into the last-second meeting with his Towson University lacrosse team yesterday. He stumbled through a prepared speech about continuing to work hard on academics and lacrosse, and then he broke down.
Fighting back tears, Runk delivered the shocking announcement: He was resigning after 31 years and 422 games as coach of Towson. He quickly exited in a flurry of emotion as the Tigers gave him a standing ovation.
"After meetings with our president, Hoke Smith, and athletic director, Wayne Edwards, it is felt it's time for a change," said Runk 62, who will continue to teach three classes in the kinesiology department. "Above all else, I want what's best for this program. My stepping aside can allow for a new direction.
"Meeting with the team was a struggle for me. I didn't give much time to meet because it's awful hard to do. It's like going in and telling your wife that you're not coming back."
Runk ended his coaching era with a 261-161 record, becoming only one of seven active Division I coaches to win more than 200 games. He directed the Tigers to the Division II national title in 1974 and guided them to the Division I national championship game in 1991.
However, those games seem distant for Runk. Since taking the Tigers to the 1996 NCAA quarterfinals, he has had to endure back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in his Towson career.
"It's awful difficult to say that if we had a winning season that Carl Runk isn't gone," Runk said. "But I don't think a losing season helped me any."
Others have their own opinion about Runk's stepping down.
"I think the administration wanted a change," said assistant Jeff Clarke, who plans to apply for the vacancy. "The kids played well, and there were a lot of positive things that happened this year. Coach and I felt this was one of our most enjoyable years we've had coaching kids. But that didn't seem to be very important. It seemed to me maybe that the decision was made earlier before the season started."
Edwards denied that Runk was forced to resign.
Runk's resignation apparently stunned the Tigers. On Monday, Runk spoke with the entire team and scheduled another meeting for the following week.
But Runk met with president Smith the next day and called for a team meeting yesterday.
"All of sudden, he said he was going to retire. It's just crazy," junior defenseman John Campbell said. "Breaking down just isn't his style. He's one of the toughest men I've met in my life. He is a college lacrosse legend. To just be sitting in that room when he announced his retirement is a day I never thought I'd see coming."
Edwards said a search committee would be formed over the next few days and would begin looking for a new coach on Monday. A replacement is expected to be hired by the middle of June.
"Obviously, Carl leaves us a legacy," Edwards said. "He's brought a tremendous respect to the program. You don't replace Carl Runk. You just move forward. The program has to move forward."
Nevertheless, many people will be hard pressed to forget Runk.
Just last week in his final game, a fan from the stands yelled out to Runk. It turned out to be a player whom Runk had coached 36 years ago in Arizona.
He came out to tell Runk what an impact he made on his life and to share some memories.
"It's a difficult decision because of the relationship I have with my kids. I don't want to let them down," Runk said. "The kids I've coached, they're my best friends. I think the most rewarding factor I find is they're still behind the program and I just love them."
A look at Towson coach Carl Runk's accomplishments:
Winningest active Division I coaches
1. Roy Simmons .. .. .. ..289-95
2. Jack Emmer .. .. .. ..264-139
3. Carl Runk .. .. .. ...261-161
4. Dick Edell .. .. .. ..246-109
First win: 7-0 over Dartmouth (1968)
100th: 24-4 over Frostburg State (1978)
150th: 20-6 over Lehigh (1985)
200th: 22-2 over Drexel (1990)
250th: 13-12 over Hopkins (1996)
Pub Date: 5/07/98