AS LACROSSE coach Tony Seaman walked through the crowd outside Byrd Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the major difference between his former employer, Johns Hopkins, and his present one, Towson University, hit him as hard as the Hasim Rahman right hand that knocked out Lennox Lewis last month.
Towson alumni were engaged in a post-game party celebrating the Tigers' 12-11 win over Maryland in an NCAA Division I men's quarterfinal. With food spread out on card tables and beer the beverage of choice, several of them thanked Seaman for extending their party at least one more week into the final four Saturday, when Towson will play Princeton at Rutgers.
That would never happen at Hopkins. In the "mecca," semifinal appearances aren't good enough. John Haus led the Blue Jays to two straight semifinals in 1999 and 2000, and then took the North Carolina job. Think he heard the guillotine being sharpened? Runner-up status won't get it done, either. There is only one goal: Win the national championship that has eluded the Blue Jays since 1987.
Anything else is not enough. Anything else will eventually get you a pink slip.
Seaman, 48, was forced out of college lacrosse's top pressure cooker on June 23, 1998, when the school announced that he resigned. But that was a lot of smoke. Hopkins lacrosse alumni are like the Canadian Mounties. They always get their man, and they got Seaman fired after eight years, too.
But now he has become one of lacrosse's top success stories. Three years after moving five miles down Charles Street to his new offices, Seaman has Towson in the semifinals for only the second time in the school's history.
The Blue Jays will be home watching the Tigers on ESPN2.
"I won't call it redemption," Seaman said. "What happened at Hopkins was between me and a few people. I don't ever think there could be redemption. I like the word terrific, because this is great for the kids, the university and the program. A bunch of these kids were really good high school athletes, and some were highly recruited, but the majority of them weren't. Now they've had a chance to go out at the end of a game and shake hands and say, 'We beat you.'"
Seaman feels good about himself, too.
You can see it in his face. Those Hopkins stress wrinkles are gone. He looks 48 instead of 63. He has more spring in his walk, and he is extremely loose. All the defense mechanisms from any criticism of his program have been deactivated.
Gosh, he laughs a lot now.
"I think my daughter said it best when she said it's finally good to see me smile again," Seaman said.
Actually, what Seaman has done is improvise and impose his winning ways upon the Tigers, who have won 12 of their past 13 games. Towson has a lot of talent, but the Tigers are extremely young, with only six seniors on the 43-man roster. They just outwork a lot of teams.
Seaman had to work just as hard to get into the college coaching ranks. He spent 17 years at Lynbrook High on Long Island because he had no college experience and no one wanted to take a chance. Finally, C.W. Post, not exactly the "Mecca, Part II" of lacrosse, gave Seaman a job in 1982.
C.W. Post went 13-3.
"Blue collar is the way we play," Seaman said. "I was kind of raised that way, always kind of clawing and chewing at everything I've gotten. Nothing has been handed to me. The one year at C.W. Post pretty much turned things around."
Seaman took the job at Pennsylvania in 1983. Talk about another losing proposition. Seaman had to give away a free keg of beer to get fans out for the home games. True story.
He also improvised in other ways. Some of his successful Penn zone defenses were borrowed out of the playbook of Villanova basketball coach Rollie Massimino. Without much talent on offense, Seaman went deliberate. The Quakers used a lot of movement without the ball and used a lot of picks.
He stole that idea from the New York Knicks teams of the 1970s.
In seven years at Penn, Seaman led the Quakers to four Ivy League titles and six Division I tournament appearances. Penn has not been in the NCAA tournament since Seaman left in 1990 for Hopkins.
Seaman faced a similar task at Towson, but the Tigers were much more established under former coach Carl Runk. Seaman struggled his first two years at Towson, going 5-8 in 1999 and 3-10 last season. He lost five games each season by one goal.
"You don't go much lower without a shovel," Seaman said about his second season. "I was told I wasn't good enough over there [Hopkins], and then these were the first two times in my career, including high school, that I was under .500. It was a new experience for me, but I had to keep in mind that we were rebuilding."
It's almost complete now. The Tigers have as much speed as any team in the country, led by defensemen Adam Baxter, Danny Cocchi, Wesley Speaks, midfielders Neil Adams, Alex Fountain and Drew Pfarr. They have a powerful transition game paced by attackmen Brad Reppert and Kyle Campbell.
With a renovated stadium, a new field house and national exposure this weekend, Seaman should be able to sign another strong recruiting class. A Hopkins failure, one that had a 77-33 record and led the Blue Jays to eight straight NCAA tournaments, including four semifinal appearances, has become a Towson success story.
"My firing was a little bit different than most," said Seaman, who has a college career record of 186-94. "Most people get to talk to their wife and children before it's announced to the world, or to fellow employees before they get let go. Mine was on the news at noon. It was pretty unexpected. I had already been told by the athletic director I had been rehired for the year, what my salary was going to be and so forth, so it was a surprise.
"But it has worked out," Seaman said. "Maybe Towson and Notre Dame have entered the area where we're going to be around with the big guys for a while. I think we can do that. Our future is bright. There is nothing like winning to put a smile on a bunch of kids' faces."
And the coach finally has one again, too.