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Steven Stillwell (No. 5) and Alec Burckley listen as Towson coach Shawn Nadelen works with players on the faceoff.
Steven Stillwell (No. 5) and Alec Burckley listen as Towson coach Shawn Nadelen works with players on the faceoff. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Tony Seaman has always enjoyed Shawn Nadelen’s philosophy on lacrosse at Towson University, and that might not be changing soon.

Nadelen, 38, is one of college lacrosse’s hottest coaches and recently turned down the head position at Michigan. The Wolverines had been courting Nadelen since shortly before the Tigers participated in the final four in Foxborough, Mass., in late May.

“It’s a very simple philosophy,” said Seaman, the former Towson head coach who hired Nadelen as an assistant before being replaced by him six years ago. “He lets them know there is only one way, and that’s his way. That’s the way it is going to be, and if you don’t like it, than you better find some other place to play.”

Towson athletic officials had to be relieved when they learned Nadelen was returning. Michigan probably put on a full-court press with its attractive Big Ten Conference affiliation and a $168 million sports complex that will house the lacrosse offices.

But Nadelen opted to stay at Towson, where he has a 65-37 record and won the Colonial Athletic Association title four times, including the last three. The Tigers advanced to the final four for the first time under Nadelen before losing to Ohio State in the semifinals.

Nadelen has guided the Tigers to four NCAA tournaments, knocking off the No. 2 seed each of the past two seasons.

“He is one of the best,” said Denver head coach Bill Tierney, who hired Nadelen as an assistant for two years when Tierney was running Princeton’s program. “Disciplined, a quality person, but he keeps it all in perspective.”

Nadelen’s teams reflect his personality. There is nothing flamboyant about Towson’s playing style. Everything is well-structured and fundamentally sound. The Tigers pride themselves on playing good defense and simply outworking an opponent. They don’t get blue chippers, just blue-collar players from a lot of public schools who were overlooked by major lacrosse powers.

That type of work ethic was instilled by Nadelen when he took over six years ago. That’s when he started those 5:30 a.m. practices for some of the troubled players on the roster. Some stuck it out; a lot quit.

“I just wanted to make sure we were doing the right things,” Nadelen said. “It was hard for everybody back then. We had to test the players in the program, and they tested my staff and they tested me. We kept asking, ‘When was this going to be turned around, when were they going to figure this out and buy into what we were asking?’ Hey, it may not have worked, but then we had to find new players or they had to find a new coach.”

Nadelen learned the tough approach from his father, Lon, an estimator for a construction company, and his mother, Cathy, a retired nurse. The game he learned from Seaman, Tierney and Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala.

At Hopkins, Nadelen played for Seaman and Pietramala. The tough disposition is definitely a Pietramala trait, but Nadelen is a complete coach. He does have a soft side.

“From Coach Pietramala, I learned discipline, competitiveness and passion,” Nadelen said. “He expects a lot, but cares a lot for his guys. Coach Seaman helped me get the bigger picture of sitting down in the office with a young man who just got in trouble. ‘Is he having problems at home, is there something else going on?’ He helped me to understand the individuals and how to get the best.

“Coach T [Tierney] helped me with communication and being able to read my team and see what we needed. He showed me the balance of life and coaching and that there was time for both of them when it came to family.”

Nadelen is always preaching family. His brother Chris is his best friend. During Towson’s lacrosse season, Nadelen can often be seen running from the Tigers practice fields to Lutherville, where he coaches his daughter’s team of 5- and 6-year-olds.

That was an adjustment.

“At first, I used to get frustrated because they can’t pitch and catch or they weren’t paying any attention to me,” Nadelen said, smiling. “But I had to check myself as to why I was there, and those little girls were just out there to have some fun.”

Nadelen has undergone the full evolution of a coach. When they are young, they have a no-nonsense approach. Everything is serious, every situation is a crisis. But as they get older, and children arrive, so does more perspective.

At Towson practices, there is no wasted time. There is constant motion and drilling as the loud music blares. Everything is regimented, and that had Tierney worried about Nadelen early in Nadelen’s career.

But he saw a different Nadelen earlier this year after Denver had beaten Towson, 12-11, ruining a strong Tigers comeback attempt.

“It was just one of those closely competitive games, a hard-fought loss for them,” Tierney said. “Shawn was walking around with that look that we’ve all walked around with after a tough game, and then his kids come running out and they are smiling, and he just runs to them and starts laughing.

“That’s when I said, ‘He gets it. He has this all in perspective.’”

And maybe that’s part of what kept him at Towson where his wife, Mary, is a member of the school’s kinesiology faculty.

“I’m very happy here,” Nadelen said recently. “My family is happy here, they are doing well and I like the direction that our program is headed. This is a good place to be right now.”

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