One of the first times Ryan Moran realized that he was in unfamiliar territory occurred on Sept. 6. At his first practice as the head coach for the UMBC men's lacrosse team, Moran and his players talked, stretched, and milled around on the turf at UMBC Stadium before Moran became aware that the players were waiting for a cue from him.
"I remember thinking, 'They're not going to do anything until you blow your whistle. Don't look to your left or right anymore,'" he recalled with a laugh.
Since then, Moran has settled into his role as the man in charge of trying to revive a team that has slid to mediocrity. A program that captured at least a share of four America East regular-season championships in the span of five years last decade, the Retrievers have finished sixth in the conference and failed to qualify for the league playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
Enter Moran, 35, who joins Dick Watts and Don Zimmerman as the only head coaches at the school since the program moved to Division I in 1970. Moran, a former offensive coordinator at Maryland for six seasons and Loyola Maryland for two, is the son of Chaminade High School head coach Jack Moran and great nephew of former Cornell head coach and U.S. Lacrosse National Hall of Fame member Richie Moran.
Ryan Moran had never been a head coach any level, but that inexperience did not deter UMBC athletic director Tim Hall from recommending his hiring.
"It was clear that Ryan wants to be here and that Ryan wants to build a program," Hall said. "Ryan knows that we're in this for the long view, and that there's going to be a lot of rolling up the sleeves and sweat equity here. That resonated, certainly with me and the [search] committee and other senior leadership."
Moran has wasted little time infusing the program with his philosophy and priorities. Players have commented about how meticulous practice schedules are organized, with drills changing at the exact time written by Moran. Academics have been emphasized to the point where coaches sit with players during evening study hall at least twice a week and players who consistently miss classes trigger extra conditioning exercises for either the individual or the entire team.
Senior defenseman Garrett Hasken said the players watch about 25 minutes of film before every practice and then proceed to work on specific areas highlighted in the video.
"A lot of guys are getting in the film room with him — whether it's one-on-one or an attack line or a midfield unit," he said. "I know, defensively, we're getting in with the defensive coaches and going over schemes and looking at guys' tendencies. It's definitely helped so far."
Not surprisingly, considering Moran's expertise, he has replaced the previous offensive system with his own, which averaged 11.2 goals in 2015 and 10.9 in 2016 at Loyola. Senior attackman Max Maxwell said the players have embraced the change because of the success Moran's previous squads enjoyed.
"He brought his offense, and his offense has proven to be one of the best in the country in the past couple of years," Maxwell said. "So we've been doing a lot of new stuff. Nothing from last year is really here. It's just a completely different offense."
Moran's former boss, Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey, predicted Moran would shake things up with the Retrievers.
"He's definitely going to leave his imprint, and he's going to demand that they're doing things the right way," Toomey said. "He's going to pay attention to the small details, he's going to design new drills that are going to be up-tempo and competitive, that emulate the type of lacrosse that he wants played down there. He's going to do a heck of a job down there."
Moran and UMBC did not get off to the start they had hoped for, falling hard in a 17-6 loss to No. 1 and reigning NCAA champion North Carolina on Saturday. But even in that setback, Moran found a positive in that the team outscored the Tar Heels, 3-2, in the third quarter and matched their five goals in the second half.
"If anything, it showed me that, going back to [Maryland] coach [John] Tillman, you can't be thorough enough," Moran said. "Even when you think you're good, you've got to take that extra step. But you live and you learn with it. I think it was a great opportunity as a coach and for our players. There are some negatives to every game, in terms of adversity that you're going to see, but being able to get that adversity early in the game and then work through it was really helpful for us."
During the season, Moran spends nearly 12 hours at the UMBC campus in Catonsville, trying to beat assistant coaches Jamison Koesterer and Neil Hutchinson to the office (but often failing) before 7 a.m., and leaving after 6 p.m. to eat dinner with wife, Danielle, and daughters Madelynn, Kelly, and Lucia. The schedule is tiring, but Moran said he is up for the challenge.
"I kind of recognized that this is something you're going to have to completely entrench your life in to try to make it into the vision I have of it becoming," he said. "In order to do that, I'm going to have to make sure that I consistently surround myself with great people and intelligent people and constantly devote time to this program in making it better. I don't think there's any other way to do it."