When Michael Phipps was previously part of the Navy men’s lacrosse coaching staff, he did not have a title. The lifelong Annapolis resident was simply an assistant under head coach Rick Sowell, primarily working with the offense but not given full control.
Phipps left the academy to get a title and the valuable experience that goes along with it. Georgetown head coach Kevin Warne hired Phipps as offensive coordinator and allowed him to learn on the job.
“I grew a ton while I was at Georgetown,” Phipps said. “Coach Warne took a chance by allowing me to run the offense and always supported me through the good and the bad, the ups and the downs.”
Phipps steadily built the Georgetown offense into one of the most prolific in Division I. The Hoyas consistently ranked top 10 nationally in numerous offensive categories, while averaging more than 14 goals per game over the past four seasons.
Along the way, Warne promoted Phipps to associate head coach in recognition of his contributions to the program’s success.
Five years after leaving to evolve as a coach, Phipps is returning to Navy, this time holding the title of offensive coordinator. Fourth-year head coach Joe Amplo had an impressive list of applicants to choose from and said Phipps stood out for several reasons.
After Amplo was hired at Navy in June 2019, he considered Phipps for the offensive coordinator position. Both men agreed the timing wasn’t right and Amplo hired Brad Ross, who left Navy to become head coach at Bryant.
“I met with Michael when I first got hired at Navy, and he just wasn’t ready yet. Michael wanted to prove himself more at Georgetown,” Amplo said. “I’ve had my eye on Michael ever since and I know he played a big part in putting Georgetown on the trajectory it is now.”
Georgetown has become a consistent Top 10 program and NCAA Tournament contender. The Hoyas tied a program record with 13 wins and advanced to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals in 2021, then went 15-1 and were ranked No. 2 nationally after capturing the Big East Conference Tournament in 2022.
“Georgetown has transformed that from a good program to a great one and Kevin will tell you that Michael played a pivotal role,” Amplo said. “Michael has proved himself as an offensive innovator, a strategic recruiter and a master of developing players.”
Some will say Phipps was blessed to work with talented players such as All-Americans Daniel Bucaro, Jake Carraway and Graham Bundy Jr. Amplo points out that Phipps was responsible for their improvement.
“Jake Carraway was just a spot-up shooter when he got to Georgetown and Michael transformed him into a really dynamic attackman,” Amplo said of the former St. Mary’s High standout who now plays in the Premier Lacrosse League.
Amplo was particularly impressed Georgetown increased its goals per game average last season despite losing Carraway and several other offensive starters. Phipps plugged in Dylan Watson and T.J. Haley on attack and they led the Hoyas in goals and assists, respectively.
“Dylan Watson was a decent left-handed attackman who was given a greater role and became an All-American. T.J. Haley was a freshman who became the team’s playmaker because Michael put him in the right spots and gave him the confidence to lead the offense,” Amplo said.
“Michael knows how to maximize and best utilize the available talent.”
Amplo noted the key to success in college lacrosse is to manufacture goals outside of the traditional half-field set. Navy needs to score more goals in unsettled situations or in transition, Ampo said.
“Michael figured out ways for Georgetown to play fast in a disciplined way. They scored goals in so many different ways,” said Amplo, adding that Phipps will be given “full autonomy” to run the offense as he sees fit. “Michael knows how to get goals in those gray areas of the game.”
Phipps has no preconceived notions about what type of offense he’ll employ at Navy and said it would be wrong to draw comparisons to the schemes he used at Georgetown.
While the Severn School graduate has a basic offensive philosophy, he made annual adjustments to the playbook to take advantage of the available personnel.
“I’m going to get to know the Navy players on a personal level, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses then go from there,” he said. “We’ll put together an offense that takes advantage of the skill sets of the players we have.”
Phipps watched Navy beat Johns Hopkins last season and since being hired has reviewed a considerable amount of tape. He’s impressed by the array of offensive talent led by All-American midfielder Patrick Skalniak leading the way.
Other productive players returning on the offensive side include starting attackman Henry Tolker, backup attackman Jon Jarosz (Severn School) along with first line midfielders Dane Swanson and Max Hewitt.
“I think Navy has some outstanding offensive players,” Phipps said. “There is definitely talent there. It’s all a matter of how we want to use it and how quickly can we develop some chemistry.”
This was a tough move for Phipps because he was so heavily invested in Georgetown lacrosse and had such a close relationship with Warne. Adding to the intrigue is the fact Amplo and Warne are best friends, having played lacrosse together at Hofstra.
“It was probably the most difficult decision I’ve had to make career-wise. That’s because of what we had going at Georgetown and all the relationships I made there,” Phipps said. “There was only one job I would leave Georgetown for and this was the one. I know and love Navy.”
Three generations of Phipps men have been part of Navy lacrosse. Louis “Buster” Phipps was a Navy assistant during the glory years under legendary head coach Willis Bilderback, serving from 1959-72.
Michael Phipps grew up hearing about the “Decade of Dominance” and such Hall of Fame players as Jimmy Lewis and Carl Tamulevich from his grandfather. Wilson Phipps, Michael’s father, worked under head coach Bryan Matthews from 1981-85.
Amplo cited that family legacy when admitting he “got chills” the day he brought Michael Phipps into the Navy lacrosse office and officially offered him the job.
“When you talk to Michael you can just feel how much he loves this institution. To me, that passion for the Naval Academy is the most important factor,” Amplo said.