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Peter Milliman eager to get to work as new head coach of Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse program

Peter Milliman’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing and buzzing since early Sunday evening. And the new head coach of the Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse program still had more work to do Monday morning.

“I was on my phone consistently for a couple hours [Sunday], and I think I still have over 200 text messages I haven’t answered,” he said with a chuckle.

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That’s the reaction generated by Sunday night’s news that Milliman had agreed to leave his head coaching position at Cornell for the Blue Jays.

In less than three full seasons with the Big Red as the interim head coach in 2018 and the head coach in 2019 and 2020, Milliman had amassed an overall record of 28-10 that included an 8-4 mark in the Ivy League. The offense finished 2018 and 2019 ranked fifth in scoring among all NCAA Division I schools.

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The team opened the 2020 campaign with a 5-0 record that included a victory over 2019 NCAA tournament semifinalist Penn State and had risen to No. 2 in Inside Lacrosse’s media poll before the coronavirus pandemic forced the NCAA to canceled all spring sports.

Milliman said that he wasn’t seeking to leave Cornell before the Hopkins job became available.

“Cornell’s a great place, and I’m always going to have a love for what we did there,” he said. “It’s just that sometimes an opportunity presents itself for your family, and it just feels like the right move, and to me, this is one that I couldn’t pass up. The opportunity to be the head coach at Johns Hopkins is a special opportunity, and it’s one that I feel very strongly about that was the right fit for me.”

Much like his predecessor Dave Pietramala, Milliman departed the Big Red for Johns Hopkins. Unlike Pietramala, Milliman did not play or coach for the Blue Jays. But when he arrived at Cornell before the 2014 season as an associate head coach, the director of the Big Red Leadership Institute Program at the time was Jennifer S. Baker, a Hereford High School and Naval Academy graduate who is the current athletic director at Johns Hopkins.

In her first public comments since the university announced April 14 that it had parted ways with Pietramala, who in 20 seasons became the program’s all-time winningest coach with 207 victories, Baker acknowledged the awkward timing of the announcement.

“It’s never an ideal time to make changes, it just isn’t,” she said. “And we landed where we did, and it was clear that we both felt like it was time to go in a new direction, and it so happened that timing was unfortunately April in the middle of the situation that we’re in.”

Milliman is the first head coach with no ties to the school since Tony Seaman helmed the program from 1991 to 1998. Baker said that a candidate who possessed high character, could provide a positive experience for the players and was positioned to guide the program to success was a higher priority than a candidate with a Blue Jays background.

“What I said from the outset was I wanted to hire the best possible coach for this program to lead us into the future,” she said. “There are great coaches on both sides of that. There’s nothing that was deliberate about it. It really was about those non-negotiables and identifying who met those as a baseline criteria and then who beyond that did we feel like was the best possible leader for our young men and for the future of the program.”

ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra acknowledged that Millman’s short tenure with the Big Red might not excite the Johns Hopkins fanbase or alumni network. But he pointed out that there are few candidates with extensive success as head coaches on the market.

“You’re hiring a guy that you believe in – that’s what my understanding would be,” the former All-American Syracuse midfielder said of the thought process behind the hiring. “It’s more of what you think he’s capable of, of what you’ve seen in his short stint as a head coach. You dissect it and look at some big wins in there, some top-10 wins in there and some big Ivy League wins in there. When you peel the onion, you can see some promise.”

While respectful of the legacy left behind by Pietramala – who guided Johns Hopkins to NCAA championships in 2005 and 2007 and is the only person in college lacrosse history to capture an NCAA Division I national championship as a player (in 1987) and as a coach – Milliman said that he intends to be himself.

“My goal is to serve Johns Hopkins University and the lacrosse program as well as I can,” he said. “Dave Pietramala is as much a part of that legacy as anybody, and everything that he’s done there is what I’m looking to continue to build on. With respect to everything he’s done there, it’s not easy to follow a legend like that, but I’m going to try to focus on the young men on this team and do as well as I can to give them a great experience.”

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Big Ten Network/ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said that the spotlight will be on Milliman.

“I do think that Coach Milliman needs to get off to a fast start,” said Dixon, who was a midfielder for the Blue Jays from 1991 to 1994. “I think he does need to hit the ground running, and that will be on the field with wins and losses. Even if he does have some early success, it still might be a while before he gets out of the shadow of Dave Pietramala. … He is a legend at Johns Hopkins, and it’s never easy to replace a legend. But all Peter Milliman can do is be the best coach that he can be, assemble the best staff that he can, and then have that team perform at a really high level and play exciting lacrosse.”

Milliman said that he met with the current Blue Jays players at 8:30 a.m. and is open to forming a coaching staff with ties to the program.

Milliman will take over a program that lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament three times since 2016 and earned spots in the postseason with identical 7-7 records in 2016 and 2017. The 2020 team ended a four-game losing skid by rallying from a four-goal deficit to edge Mount St. Mary’s in overtime on March 10.

He said that he understands the task ahead of him.

“I think every top program comes with expectations,” he said. “I wouldn’t consider it pressure as much as expectations. But those are the environments where you’re going to build a championship-caliber team, the kind of environments that high-level athletes and really competitive young men want to be a part of. It has a lot of scrutiny from the outside, but if you have the right people and you’re bringing the program the right way, it’s going to help build and strengthen the program that you have there.”

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