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2010 Rutgers lacrosse postmortem

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The Rutgers men's lacrosse team defeated Providence 12-2 on Sunday to finish the year at 6 wins and 8 losses.

Now that the season is over, it's time to take a moment and consider the direction of the program. Both on their own merits, and in the context of the entire Rutgers athletic department.

 


I admittedly know little to nothing about the sport of lacrosse (a volley for serve is involved, right?), and most readers here are probably in the same boat. What is clear is that the past several years have been a period of upheaval for the Rutgers athletic department. Wrestling coach John Sacchi retired following the 2007 season, and was replaced with Jackson Memorial's Scott Goodale.

Goodale's prize pupil Scott Winston subsequently followed him to Rutgers, and the results have been better than anyone could have expected. Rutgers wrestling broke its victories record in 2008 with a very young team, and then somehow improved on that in 2009 even though Winston redshirted.

Rutgers finished at No. 22 in the final 2009-10 NWCA/USA Today Division I Team Coaches Poll after posting a 19-5-1 record. Seven Scarlet Knights earned NCAA bids, the most since 1960. The No. 22 ranking is the highest in school history. Nine of Rutgers 10 starters are returning for the 2010-11 campaign.

Goodale seems to have been a real find, and the athletic department did their part by increasing scholarship funds and scheduling matches at the RAC. This may well be the best case scenario for any athletic program at Rutgers, and seems to have set fan expectations for the athletic department exceedingly high.

The claim is simple: the strength of any Rutgers athletic program should directly correspond to the sport's quality of play in the New Jersey prep ranks. In other words, a supercharged variant of Demographic Determinism; i.e., the sole justification used to continue supporting the football program earlier in the decade in absence of all other reasons to believe. If New Jersey is one of the best states for wrestling, why shouldn't Rutgers also be that good? Football and basketball are one thing, but this should definitively be the case in smaller-profile sports that don't require as much in terms of resources.

Hence, the dissatisfaction with soccer coach Bob Reasso, who led dominant teams in the 80's and 90's, before resigning following an inconsistent decade. There's even some resentment towards legendary coaches like C. Vivian Stringer (women's basketball), and Fred "Moose" Hill Sr., although any criticism towards both is limited to a very vocal minority. You can forget Hill's son the head basketball coach, as Rutgers already is, for the cardinal sin of not just not living up to expectations, but for coaching the worst major conference team in the country with conceivably the best talent base in America to pull from.

Time will tell whether or not Rutgers has the stomach for another staff change in this calendar year. With football and wrestling addressed, and new hires in place for men's basketball and men's soccer, the spotlight in Piscataway among the Olympic sports is now squarely on men's lacrosse coach Jim Stagnitta. Since arriving on the banks in 2002, Stagnitta rebounded from a poor initial year to post two consecutive winning seasons, including an excellent 2003 campaign. Since then, the results haven't been as pretty.

2002 Rutgers 2-12
2003 Rutgers 10-5
2004 Rutgers 8-6
2005 Rutgers 4-9
2006 Rutgers 5-9
2007 Rutgers 7-6
2008 Rutgers 6-7
2009 Rutgers 4-11
2010 Rutgers 6-8

This year's stagnation was on the heels of playing one of the worst schedules in the country (that's a really good and insightful Orange:44 post, by the way). The worst part about 6-8 was how it happened: after starting out 5-2, the Knights dropped six straight, including a 17-10 loss to first-year Jacksonville. The various Rutgers lacrosse posters you find on Rivals don't exactly seem to care for Stagnitta either. Although, he did do well to offer a scholarship to Bill Belichick's son.

Knowing absolutely nothing about the sport (a fact that cannot be emphasized enough), how fair is it for a general observer of Rutgers athletics to take the word of incessant message board critics? To find out, I pulled a page or two out of the Mike Francesa handbook and completely sub-contracted out entirely my thoughts on an unfamiliar topic.

Months back, I wanted to know about wrestling, so the natural thing to do was bug my Iowa friend to get the inside scoop.

"But wait", he protested.

"I'm just a casual fan! I'm just into football and basketball for the most part! You should really be asking the wrestling expert at Black Heart Gold Pants." (real talk by the way, not a naked SB Nation plug)

That's just it though. Sometimes getting talked through by an internet savant isn't so fun (remember New Jersey media outlets, that email address again is bleedscarletblog at gmail dot com!) Especially on a subject that seems oddly foreign and off-putting. There are cases where you just want to get a beginner's summary to chew on. As would have it, eventually his overwhelming Iowa-ness betrayed him, and this fellow might as well have been recounting every detail of Dan Gable's life story from memory as far as I was concerned. He then proceeded to shake me down for a promise of ethanol subsidies, blathering on about some urgent voting caucus that night. I'm not a journalist here, I didn't press for details.

By the same logic, SBN's The UConn Blog was a stellar resource months back when I was looking to unload a hot laptop. If you're looking to be spoiled and overprivileged, there's probably a Villanova blog here for that too. Similarly, when On the Banks needed to call on lacrosse experts, the only imaginable choices were the afore-mentioned Orange:44, and fellow affiliate Troy Nunes Is an Absolute Magician. No, they'll never be a powerhouse like the Orange. Given the quality of lacrosse in New Jersey, and surrounding areas in Long Island though, shouldn't Rutgers lacrosse be kind of, sort of, halfway decent?

Sean from Troy Nunes however shows his true colors as a big impatient New Jerseyan.

Should Rutgers lacrosse be good?  ABSOLUTELY.  Given their history, location, facilities, proximity to a strong recruiting base (NJ isn't Long Island but its solid), and the fact that there are only about 60 teams in the entire country in the NCAA, there is absolutely no reason Rutgers lacrosse shouldn't be in the Top 20 every year.  There is no excuse.  None.

If Delaware and Hobart and Stony Brook and Villanova and Siena and Colgate can be decent year in and year out, so can Rutgers.

The fact that they have been lapped by Nova and are about to get passed by by St. John's is crazy.

As far as who they should hire, I can't help there.  But its a very similar situation as Rutgers football in the 80's and 90's.  All the pieces are there to be a solid team but for some reason they're not taking advantage of it.  The running joke is that the 20th best team in college lacrosse is like the 60th best team in basketball, so that should tell you how bad the teams in Rutgers' position are.

Hope that helps.

(Oh and apparently Jacksonville isn't that shabby for a first-year program. They also beat Denver, who's a pretty good team.  It's the losses to St. John's and Nova that should really concern you.)

Brian from Orange:44 had some insights on whether it's time to pull the plug, and on potential replacements. Somehow, I don't see alum John Danowski from Duke being interested.

Honestly because of the new Big East and an tournament and automatic bid coming in the future it's almost better to give the guy a few more years now. He can use the league as a recruiting tool and the expansion of what that means for the league. That is if there is still going to be one in a few years.
 
That being said, assistant coaches at top programs are always good. Here is a good list from ESPN last July.
 
Finally, D2 is a good spot, because really the strategy and ability isn't different between the divisions, it's merely the size of the bodies for the most part. LeMoyne head coach would be a good hire. Also NYIT might make sense for Rutgers. Also, luring a coach away from a school like Stony Brook or something within hours of Rutgers might be beneficial.

There you have it.