In 28 years of leading the Johns Hopkins women’s lacrosse program, Janine Tucker has consistently preached to her players the tenets of practicing honesty and forthrightness with themselves and the people in their daily lives.
Earlier this month, Tucker took a page out of her own playbook when she came to the growing realization that she was nearing her end as the Blue Jays head coach.
“I always said when I got that feeling, that was going to be it,” she said Friday. “I wasn’t going to try to go through the motions in any way, shape or form with my career or my profession. It’s just kind of a good time in my life.”
On Friday afternoon, Tucker, who turned 54 in June, informed her players that the 2022 season will be her final one at Johns Hopkins. That she told her players on Homewood Field near a statue of legendary men’s lacrosse coach Bob Scott, who as the university’s athletic director hired the former assistant coach from Loyola Maryland in 1993, was meaningful for Tucker.
“It doesn’t feel good to say this out loud, but it feels right,” said Tucker, who is already the longest tenured head coach in program history and the second-longest tenured women’s coach in any sport in school history. “I have thought a lot about when it would ever feel good to tell my girls, and it seemed the answer was never. So I’m going to acknowledge that. It was difficult to make this decision, but it feels very right to me.”
Tucker will enter her final season as the program’s all-time winningest coach with a 303-171 record, including a 235-155 mark at the NCAA Division I level. Under Tucker, the Blue Jays have racked up 22 years of double-digit victories, nine NCAA Division I tournament appearances and four Division III tournament berths.
In the previous seven seasons (not including the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season), Tucker guided Johns Hopkins to 79 wins against 48 losses and six trips to the NCAA postseason.
“We are truly thankful to Janine for not just the highly-successful program she has built, but also the first-class manner in which she and her players have represented Johns Hopkins on and off the field,” athletic director Jennifer S. Baker said in a statement distributed by the university. “I look forward to enjoying her final year as our head coach and utilizing her nearly three decades of experience to help us craft a vision for the future of the program she built.”
Tucker said the idea of retirement was a gradual process. But as she sought to take care of her 87-year-old father, Steve Kormanik, who is living with her in Towson and attended the wedding of son Ryan in July with her other son Devin, Tucker understood that feeling gnawing away at her.
“I missed a lot of my children’s lives when they were growing up, and now they are the greatest and coolest human beings to be around,” she said. “I don’t want to feel badly saying that I’m psyched for that. That wedding that I was down there on the Eastern Shore with my boys and Ryan’s fiancé and Devin’s girlfriend and my sisters and brothers, that was the best four days of my life. It was definitely a piece of it. Being able to spend more time with my family, my two boys, the people in their lives, my dad, it is 100% of what helped me make this decision.”
Tucker hosted the incoming freshmen and their families at her home last week and then the sophomores and their families Thursday night. She admitted that it was difficult to withhold her announcement from them, but wanted to address both classes along with the juniors and seniors on Friday.
“I’m going to have to ask for a little forgiveness from my freshmen and sophomore families, but I’m hoping they’ll understand how important it was for me to speak to my girls first,” said Tucker, who said she plans to reach out to the high school seniors who have committed to the Blue Jays. “I just could not go into a recruiting cycle or be with my girls all fall and all spring knowing that I felt this way without sharing it. Could I have made the decision over this summer and sat on it? Sure, but that didn’t feel right to me, and I didn’t feel it would be appropriate at all to not be transparent about where I knew I was. Time just kind of worked out that way.”
A 1989 graduate of Loyola Maryland where she was an assistant coach for the women’s program from 1990 to 1993 and a member of that school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, Tucker became only the ninth coach in Division I history to reach the 300-victory milestone when the Blue Jays defeated Penn State, 13-11, on April 18. She has been named Mid-Atlantic Coach of the Year by the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association five times, her most recent occurring in 2014 after that squad went 15-5 and snapped a six-year drought from the NCAA tournament.
Tucker, who was inducted into the US Lacrosse Greater Baltimore Chapter Hall of Fame in 2003, has molded 29 All Americans, one Attacker of the Year in St. Mary’s graduate Mary Key (2007), and one Defensive Player of the Year in Mary Ann McGuire (1997).
Tucker said her decision should not affect her and her staff’s ability to recruit when they begin contacting high school juniors on Sept. 1, and she in fact vowed that they would “recruit our butts off.” At the same time, she does not want her current players to carry out the 2022 season as if they must send her off in style.
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“That’s one thing I am a little apprehensive about,” she said. “I don’t want my girls and my staff to feel any added pressure. There’s enough for my players. … I want to celebrate my team, their accomplishments, the alums. I don’t want this to be a ‘Farewell to Janine’ year. I’m hopeful we’re going to have a big ol’ party at the end of this when we can celebrate everything that we’ve done together. I don’t know if there will be an extra sense of urgency. I’m hopeful there will be an extra sense of joy.”