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Mike Preston: Peter Milliman brings intuitive knowledge of lacrosse to role as Johns Hopkins’ new coach | COMMENTARY

New Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse coach Peter Milliman works with players during practice on Homewood Field. The season begins Saturday. February 12, 2021
New Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse coach Peter Milliman works with players during practice on Homewood Field. The season begins Saturday. February 12, 2021 (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun)

Within the last year, Peter Milliman’s father, James, passed away and he had to handle living in the locked-down city of Ithaca, New York, because of the coronavirus pandemic. A new daughter, Lake, was born and then Milliman had to move his family to Baltimore.

He also had to help his mom relocate to his new home city as well.

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At the same time, he had to take over as the coach of what many consider to be one of the best as well as the worst lacrosse programs in America. On Feb. 20, Milliman, 42 will begin his run as the 23rd head coach in the school’s history when Johns Hopkins hosts Ohio State.

“Yes, I would have to say the last year of my life has been pretty intense,” said Milliman, nonchalantly.

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That sentence and the manner of delivery are vintage Milliman because, according to those close to him, Milliman doesn’t like to talk about himself. As a leader, he appears to be more of an educator than a coach. He prides himself on building relationships with his players, much like his mentors, coaches Richie Moran of Cornell and Hank Janczyk of Gettysburg.

“Possibly the best part about him is his temperament,” said Hobart coach Greg Raymond, one of Milliman’s best friends and a former Blue Jays midfielder in the early 2000s. “You can’t rattle him. You’re not going to see him up too much or down too much. He is that next-play person. He is very even keeled, very easy to talk to, but underneath that humble demeanor is an extensive knowledge of the Xs and Os. There is a lot of intellect.”

That’s basically what you saw from Milliman’s Cornell teams the last three years. The Big Red was machine-like in so many ways, especially on offense. Cornell reminded you of the Marine recruit about to go into basic training.

The hair was tightly cropped and nothing out of line. Cornell seldom made bad passes or forced them inside. The shots were well calculated, and cuts were precise, both on and off ball.

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Cornell had a 28-10 overall record under Milliman. In 2019 the Big Red was fifth in scoring, averaging 14.3 goals a game. Last season Cornell was averaging 18.4 goals in a 5-0 start before the season was called off because of COVID-19 concerns.

But don’t get the impression Milliman doesn’t know about defense. He was a long-pole defenseman until he moved to midfield in his playing days at Gettysburg. Early in his sophomore year, Janczyk moved him to attack.

By the time he left, Milliman was a three-time All-American and was second in school history in points (202), fifth in goals (138) and third in assists (99). Milliman talks to Janczyk often, but it’s Janczyk who walks away with notes when it comes to lacrosse.

That’s a great compliment considering Janczyk is No. 2 in all-time college wins with 473, trailing only the 551 by Salisbury’s Jim Berkman.

“He had a great stick that was such a part of his body, so innate with the stickhandling ability,” Janczyk said. “He had such space awareness, probably beyond his years, knowing when to move, when to cut, when to get into certain areas. And he could tell his teammates about doing those things, and that has kind of carried over into his coaching.

“He is uncanny in that regard,” Janczyk said. “He has an intuitive way of understanding lacrosse that few people have.”

Milliman was in a great situation at Cornell, which has won three national championships. Since Milliman grew up in Rochester, New York, it seemed like he would stay at Cornell as long as he was successful, especially since he had an established friendship with Moran.

But once Hopkins called Milliman had to listen.

“I talked to him twice and his decision didn’t surprise me,” Janczyk said. “Very seldom is a place like Hopkins going to call you to apply and interview and then they offer you the job. That’s a hard job to turn down buddy.”

Maybe.

The Hopkins job is unique. The Blue Jays have their own building just for lacrosse and even have a homecoming game. The band plays at every game and nearly every alumnus who played at the school is either an expert, or believes he is one. When Hopkins wins, it’s a great day to be a Blue Jay.

When Hopkins loses, the coach just gets the blues. Just ask Hobart’s Raymond. He is as critical as anyone and he is a college head coach.

“It’s pounded into you,” Raymond said. “You play for tradition, play for the alumni and you feel their presence when you wear that jersey. So, when you leave, you take over that responsibility of that standard of playing to the highest level. There is a tone there that Pete is going to have to experience for himself. But he has thick skin and a sturdy head on his shoulder.”

Milliman’s wife, Megan, will help him keep things in perspective. When he gets overzealous about some of the perks of being the Hopkins coach, she calls him “Princess.” While the lacrosse regular season is only one game away, Milliman has had to think about other things.

Megan Milliman had to pour through job opportunities before becoming the girls lacrosse coach at Friends School. With two young daughters, Peter Milliman spends most of his free time at home. He has had some time to venture out for some crab cakes, but not any steamed crabs yet.

He once had hobbies like occasionally reading or playing golf in Lake Placid, but now just has a few minutes to listen to his favorite bands such as A Tribe Called Quest or Tool. It’s his family first, and then the second one, Hopkins lacrosse.

Milliman is spending more time teaching his players why they do certain things instead of just recalling them. Knowing the rationale allows the players to become more consistent and think faster and more clearly.

“Honestly, this was a tough decision to make,” Milliman said. “I was happy at Cornell, but this was the right fit for me at the right time. A strength right now is that we have a lot of players on this team, depth, a lot of capable players competing. I am not sure of what we’re capable of yet because we have only competed in practice, not on the field.

“But I want players to invest in the culture of this program first, and to build on that environment, we have to bring in the right people,” he said. “I don’t want to coach talent as much as I want to coach character and work ethic.”

Season opener

OHIO STATE@JOHNS HOPKINS

Feb. 20, noon

Streaming: ESPN3

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