Innovation is key to success — and comes from many sources — for college lacrosse coaches

Head coach Joe Breschi of the North Carolina Tar Heels does the dab with his team after the game against the Maryland Terrapins in the NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship at Lincoln Financial Field on May 30, 2016 in Philadelphia.
Head coach Joe Breschi of the North Carolina Tar Heels does the dab with his team after the game against the Maryland Terrapins in the NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship at Lincoln Financial Field on May 30, 2016 in Philadelphia. (Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)

The best coaches learn from others, look for fresh ways to stay innovative and inspire their teams by not being afraid to try new ideas.

In speaking with some of the top coaches in lacrosse, common threads emerge from each, but one sticks out — they are never too old to keep learning, especially from leaders outside of the sport.


"Lou Holtz was most influential," said Kevin Corrigan, the 29th-year head coach of Notre Dame lacrosse said of the former Fighting Irish football coach. "He taught me about team management, about handling your business in a professional manner, about Notre Dame, the right kind of kids to recruit, about having a clear vision and communicating it, and about the importance of fundamentals."

Corrigan also elicits nuggets from basketball, a game that shares schematic traits with lacrosse.


"I've spent time with basketball guys like Coach K, Tom Izzo, Mike Brey, Digger Phelps, John Calipari, Bo Ryan, and Jeff Van Gundy. I've got something from all of them — how to play picks, play against zone defense, the triangle offense, spacing, defensive rotations, and athletic fundamentals...you name it," he said. "You learn how to teach people and manage situations, maintain discipline and develop leadership."

Joe Breschi captured the NCAA title for North Carolina in 2016. He said that watching Anson Dorrance, the school's women's soccer coach, has been "rewarding."

"Seeing how he handles success and failure throughout the course of a game, he's always confident and even keeled. His ability to keep players fresh for NCAA tournament time has yielded great results."

Bill Tierney of Denver has won seven NCAA lacrosse championships and relies on wisdom from his adolescence. "Nick Balitsos, my high school football coach, taught me that you have to coach a style that best fits the skill-set of your players," Tierney said.

Pete Carril, of Princeton basketball fame, was also influential in molding Tierney. "Pete taught me how patience, intelligence, and ball control can help undermanned teams compete and beat teams with more talent," he said.

Joe Amplo of Marquette praises his high school football coach, Fred Fusaro of Sachem, NY. "He taught me how to love boldly," Amplo said. "Most coaches care about their players; but coaches that love them, really make a difference."

Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala has established a friendship with Bill Bellichick of the New England Patriots. "The closest relationship with a mentor is with Coach Bellichick," Pietramala said. "Our communication, interactions and discussions, as well as our time together has been very in-depth on both a professional and personal level."

Navy's Rick Sowell patterns his methodology after a legend. "Bobby Knight's belief that more games are 'lost' than 'won,' combined with his commitment to sound fundamentals and identifying what each player can and can't do, is the backbone of my philosophy," Sowell said. "I'm not a big fan of how Knight treated his players, but I did learn a lot about coaching by reading up on him when I first got into the business."

Seth Tierney worked alongside Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright and Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn at Hofstra. "When Jay was here, we developed a friendship. Watching the way he connects with his players and gets the most out of them was enlightening," Tierney said. "Dan Quinn is a master at creating the team-family-brotherhood with every defense and team he's coached."

At Ohio State, winners surround coach Nick Myers. He credits wrestling coach Tom Ryan and former football coach Jim Tressel as two who helped him construct a foundation. Mickey Marotti, spearheads the Buckeye football sports performance, and often lends his expertise, too. "Mickey is the best in his business and has gotten me to look differently at the sports performance model we create year round for our players."

The premier coaches adapt, innovate and find creative ways to motivate. Those ideas have various origins.

"Having my ears, eyes, and mind open keeps me fresh," Towson coach Shawn Nadelen said. "Being involved in coaching youth lacrosse and box lacrosse helps. I watch other sports practices on campus and walk away with little tidbits. I'm always seeking opportunities to learn from the [professional] level in anything – even television shows: Hard Knocks, Road to the Winter Classic, Football Life, Big Ten or SEC Network behind-the-scenes features."


Maryland coach John Tillman is a bookworm. "Books on leadership, and books written by other coaches are great," Tillman said. "There's much to learn about team dynamics, motivation and accountability. Author Jon Gordon has addressed our team. I really like his books."

Bringing in independent experts is a common strategy. Tillman said the Terps use "The Program," a leadership group run by former Navy lacrosse player Eric Kapitulik.

"We also welcome alums to talk, giving advice to our players about life and jobs," Tillman said. "What you do off the field, directly impacts what you do on the field."

Coach John Paul of Michigan ventures into the corporate world for concepts. "Business is a great resource," Paul said. "I've been part of a coaches' panel presenting to and trading ideas with leadership at Google. We shared our knowledge, but certainly came away with lessons on leadership, goal-setting, and team building from them."

Pietramala is relentlessly trying to advance his craft. "There are many outstanding influences and lessons to be learned from all walks of life," he said. "We can take value from many. Whether it's from a world-class professor or another coach here, someone in the professional coaching ranks, a businessman, writer or a friend, information is everywhere. That information and the experiences of others are so helpful."

Corrigan sums it up. "I'm a big reader," he said. "I look for ways to be creative, innovative, insightful and effective wherever I can — to find that good idea. There is virtually no one and no place you can't learn from if you pay attention and stay open to learning."

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