We have a special treat this week! A guest blog from my friend, mentor, and former coach Dom Starsia.
As I have mentioned in the past few weeks, I am in the middle of an epic lacrosse tour. So far we have visited Northwestern, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Cleveland State and today we’re off to Penn State for their Army scrimmage. We have shot a ton of video documenting this amazing trip, but for now if you want to read about our Odyssey, Drew Wardlow of FCA Lacrosse who has been traveling with us, is writing a daily blog of all the stories and occurrences for Inside Lacrosse. Check it out! JM3 Roadtrip: Day 4 at Ohio State
“Where’s My Ring?” by Dom Starsia
Having been fortunate to be part of some Championship teams, there is always a little bit of a question afterwards about who will receive a championship ring. I am sure that most coaches who find themselves faced with that fortuitous dilemma lean toward my general feeling which was “give one to everyone who helped us along the way”. I would be including managers, trainers, equipment and sports information staff, the grounds crew and would have kept going had my sports administrator not said “enough”. While a recognition of thankfulness, someone was still paying the bill for all these celebratory trimmings.
In retrospect, one group I never considered in this category was the former head coaches at my institution, especially those who never had won a championship, for any number of reasons, during their tenure. They were certainly an influence on the evolution of the program at our institution and likely a significant professional influence on my own career. If I ever find myself in that situation again, it will certainly bear some consideration….which leads me to Andy Shay.
I am not sure that Andy knows this, I am not sure that there is any reason for Andy to know this and few people besides my wife who recall that I was the head coach at Yale….for a day. It was the summer of 1980 and Bob McHenry had just retired after ten years as the head Bulldog. I had been the first assistant at Brown for six years and was excited to submit my name as a candidate. The Yale AD at the time was Frank Ryan, an unlikely combination of former QB for the Cleveland Browns and a math PhD. During the interview process, it was explained to me that the position would be combined with being the defensive backfield coach for varsity football. I was slightly in awe to meet in a darkened office with the iconic Yale head football coach, Carm Cozza. I explained to Coach Cozza that I had not been around football for almost ten years, since last playing as a junior at Brown. He said it was no problem, that they would teach me what I needed to know and that they would welcome me to the staff. I walked away impressed but also a little perplexed feeling that this was almost as much about football as lacrosse. I was offered the position soon thereafter and a young coach, about to start a family, in need of a raise and new professional challenges, accepted the offer.
I was working a camp in New England at the time and went directly from New Haven back to the camp, now as the new head coach at Yale. My head was slightly spinning from the day’s activities and from the congratulations of all the other staff people on my new position. In a quiet moment later that evening, Dick Garber came by to see me. Dick was the head coach at UMass, won 300 games in his career (beat my Brown team for #300) and is now in the National Hall of Fame. More importantly, he was one of the most respected coaches in our profession and I considered him a mentor and role model, on and off the field. While he watched everyone congratulating me throughout the day, in that quiet moment he asked, “what’s wrong?”. He caught me by surprise and I replied “what do you mean?”. He said, “Dom, you don’t seem that happy”. I hesitated but told him that I really did not want to be a football coach and felt that may have been Yale’s priority. He said “don’t take it, Dom, you’re good and something better suited will come along”. I had never really considered that option and went to bed more confused than excited.
I woke early the next morning, called Mr Ryan and told him that I needed to come see him. We sat out back at his house and I tried to explain that I was flattered to be considered as a coach in Yale’s powerhouse football program but that I really wanted to be a lacrosse coach. I offered to coach the freshmen football team for a couple of years until we got the lacrosse program up and running and then switch over to the varsity. He suggested we do the opposite, start on the varsity football and if things really don’t work out with lacrosse, we’ll switch you over to the frosh level.With Dick’s quiet voice in my head, I had made up my mind and politely declined the offer. Mike Waldvogel accepted the position shortly thereafter and did a great job.
The very next summer of 1981, I was the finalist for the Princeton job but did not get offered. Following that disappointment, I walked in to the Brown AD’s office and informed John Parry that I was going to get out of coaching. I wasn’t angry but I had not gotten the job I wanted and felt that my career as an assistant had run its course. He proceeded to tell me he had an idea, asked that I wait a month and then announced that I would be the next head coach at Brown beginning in the fall of 1982. Thus began my ten years as the head coach at Brown and the preparation that went in to our moving to Charlottesville in the summer of 1992.
I tell young people all the time that my simply standing in front of them is the clearest example of “Anything’s Possible” and “You Never Know”. Work hard, be honest, treat the people around you as if they are family…things will work out, probably just as they are supposed to.
In the meantime, that’s about a size 10, Andy!