UMBC men’s soccer coach Pete Caringi Jr. was a member of the school’s search committee that eventually hired Don Zimmerman as the head coach of the men’s lacrosse program. And when Zimmerman arrived at the campus in Catonsville in September 1993, the Baltimore natives felt an immediate kinship with each other.
“I knew of Pete and the great job he had done as a player and as a coach,” recalled Zimmerman, a St. Paul’s and Johns Hopkins graduate. “We just kind of started talking, two Baltimore guys. If you were from out of town, you probably couldn’t understand the conversation.”
“He came here on campus, and as he said, we both hit it off,” said Caringi, a Calvert Hall and University of Baltimore graduate. “Two Baltimore guys.”
Caringi and Zimmerman reminisced Wednesday a little more than two weeks away from their induction to the university’s Hall of Fame on April 5. The class will also include Marcus Gross, who was a three-time America East Conference first-team selection at fullback and a 2005 Hermann Award candidate for Caringi’s soccer program, and Drew Westervelt, a four-time America East honoree at attack for Zimmerman’s lacrosse team.
A significant amount of attention will be devoted to Caringi and Zimmerman, and for good reason. Caringi, 63, has guided the soccer program to 16 Northeast Conference and America East championships and six NCAA tournament appearances, including one Final Four berth in 2014. His teams have compiled a record of 293-177-4 in his 28 years at the helm.
Zimmerman, 66, took the lacrosse program to four consecutive NCAA tournaments from 2006 to 2009 and three America East tournament crowns in four years. He amassed a career mark of 237-171 in 23 seasons before retiring on July 1, 2016.
Caringi and Zimmerman have been close throughout their time with the Retrievers, congratulating each other after important milestones and consoling the other after the loss of a parent. They have also been linked by an indelible sense of defiance regarding UMBC’s standing in the state among its larger Division I brethren.
“Both of our objectives were to try to build them into national powers, and we knew we had some hills to climb,” Caringi said. “After a win, he would always send us a little note or be there and vice versa. I think we’ve always had a great connection.”
Westervelt, a Bel Air native and John Carroll graduate, remembered a home game in 2007 against Towson in which several Tigers players wore track suits. Not only did that contradict Zimmerman’s policy of coats and ties for road trips, but he also used it as motivation.
“The message in the locker room was, ‘Hey, these guys are ripe for the picking, and they’re not ready to play,’ ” Westervelt said of that game, which UMBC won, 11-9. “And that was Zim, and we really bought into that because we wanted to beat people that we weren’t supposed to.”
Before the construction of the UMBC Event Center, the athletic offices were housed in the Retriever Activities Center. The soccer coaches were located one floor above the lacrosse office, which was located next to an indoor track overlooking the basketball court.
After a long day, Caringi and Zimmerman would often congregate on the track, taking in a practice or game and begin conversing.
“We would come out, and we would kind of lean over the rail and just start talking,” Zimmerman said. “Nothing technical about soccer or lacrosse, but just about kids and how you manage kids and the issues that can sometimes arise, things of that nature.”
Zimmerman said what he most appreciated about Caringi was his ability to keep the atmosphere light compared to his brooding intensity. That prompted Caringi to share a memory in which he tried to enter the men’s locker room to retrieve a pair of shoes one hour before the lacrosse team was to play a game.
“They were very much like, ‘You can’t go in there because Coach Zim is getting ready for a game,’ ” Caringi said. “I was like, ‘Alright. I just want to get my pair of shoes, and then I’ll get out.’ ”
Zimmerman quickly reminded listeners that Caringi got his shoes. “Nobody was telling Pete Caringi that he couldn’t go into the coaches’ room to get his shoes,” Zimmerman quipped.
Zimmerman joked that the four-member induction class will make for a smoother evening, noting that a larger group might cause the ceremony to drag on. Caringi said he considers himself blessed to join Zimmerman in the same class.
“When you look back on it, our legacy will be, we didn’t always have the greatest of everything or anything, but we had a mentality,” he said. “Our players were going to go in and they were going to play hard. We were playing for ourselves and our school. … To this day, there’s always that little chip on your shoulder because as high as we’ve been, we always want to prove who we are and what we’re doing.”