Breschi breathing new life into Tar Heels

The Baltimore Sun

North Carolina lacrosse coach Joe Breschi got the perfect gift last Father's Day. On the bottom of a card from his wife, Julie, were these words: "I'm in."

The next day Breschi informed the Tar Heels about his intentions, and shortly afterward, he was announced as the 12th head coach in the team's history.

"I had been at Ohio State for 11 years and probably was going to stay there forever," said Breschi, 40, a 1990 Carolina graduate. "But if there was one place I would leave Ohio State for, it had to be a place that I had a passion about, a place where I had an extraordinary experience as a student-athlete."

Yes, Breschi is back home, and Carolina will eventually be alongside the Big Three - Johns Hopkins, Syracuse and Virginia - of college lacrosse. It might take two or three years, but Breschi is putting life and excitement into the program.

He has two outstanding recruiting classes coming, including oral commitments from five of the top 15-rated junior players in the country. Breschi is not just bumping heads, but winning.

"Joe has jumped onboard big-time and may, in fact, be taking it to a whole new level," Boys' Latin coach Bobby Shriver said. "He is trying to get some designated sophomores around the country interested and is having success doing it. Joe is a very good guy who works at one of the great schools with an awesome lacrosse tradition, especially from about 1978 until 1992."

What is there to not like about North Carolina?

It's generally regarded as one of the best academic colleges in the country, right up there with some Ivy League schools. The Raleigh-Durham area has good weather, and the campus has big-time football and basketball. Breschi's two predecessors, Dave Klarmann and John Haus, had problems recruiting players because they had dry and rigid personalities.

Breschi is different.

"Joe will exploit all that, something John wasn't great at because he wasn't a warm and fuzzy guy," Shriver said.

Breschi knew that, and he knows the local scene. He played high school lacrosse at Loyola. Even when he was at Ohio State, Breschi built strong relationships in the Baltimore area. The recruiting for blue-chip players will be a lot fiercer.

"Joe will do a great job at Carolina. He is a genuine, personable guy with deep roots in Chapel Hill. He does not need me saying nice things about him making his job easier," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "It will be nice to have someone else to blame for all this early recruiting. He has certainly gotten the attention of recruits and his peers with his aggressive start."

Breschi will get his share of the star players, and he'll develop the right team chemistry. As a Tar Heels player, he learned under Willie Scroggs, one of the best coaches in college lacrosse history. Breschi preached the family-and-team concept at Ohio State, and that philosophy won't change at North Carolina.

"I don't think Joe will have a problem getting his players to play hard for him," Maryland coach Dave Cottle said.

The only real question is whether Breschi can match X's & O's with Starsia, Dave Pietramala and John Desko. He'll get the pure athletic talent to pass up the Cornells, Georgetowns and possibly even Maryland.

At Ohio State, Breschi was 92-63. He shared the Great Western League title in 1999, 2003 and 2008 and won it outright in 2004. The Buckeyes made the NCAA tournament three times, winning a first-round game against Cornell in 2008.

But it will be different at Carolina. The Tar Heels are expected to, and should, challenge for the NCAA title every season.

Breschi said his style won't change, though. He will still play run-and-gun on offense and play pressure defense where he hopes to force turnovers and push the ball upfield. It's a style that fits programs such as Virginia and Syracuse, which have tremendous athletes.

Virginia and Syracuse, though, are the proven big boys. Carolina is trying to get back on top, trying to establish a new dominating era. From 1980 to 1993, Carolina made 12 Final Four appearances. Breschi was a big part of that run, first as a player and later as an assistant coach.

Now, he's the head man.

"We're in the toughest conference in the country, and we're a new staff with a new system with new faces," Breschi said. "I have told our kids they will be prepared to play every game, but right now we're going to take it one game at a time. And then we'll go from there. As of right now, I like the direction in which we're headed."

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