E-Lacrosse sat down with Maryland's Dick Edell in December of 1997 in the Terps Lacrosse office at Cole Field House in College Park, Maryland.
How were you introduced to the game?
I was bigger growing up than kids my age, so I had some older friends. When I was maybe in eighth grade or so they were playing Lacrosse and they sort of introduced me to the sport so that when I went to high school, I played as a sophomore. The buddies that got me involved were seniors that year. This is at Dundalk High in Baltimore county. I played college ball at Towson State.
Carl Runk came in [to Towson State] the summer I graduated. That was a time when, regardless of the size of your school, you had a freshman team. So my first two years out of school I went back and coached the freshman team at Towson. Actually, the first year I'm also an elementary school teacher in Baltimore County. The second year I went to Calvert Hall to more or less teach high school PE. It was easier getting over to Towson in the afternoon from there. That next year, it was just a fortuitous sort of thing that the coach of Calvert Hall quit teaching to go into sales. I took the Calvert Hall job. I had Doug Radebaugh, Franz Wittlesberger and Dale Kohler on my teams. That was '72, '71 and '70. That was a great baseball school at that point in time but we were the first MSA champs in Lacrosse. We shared the MSA with St. Paul's I think in '71 and then won it outright in '72. In 1971 Towson High was the county champion. When the season ended they tried to get the two of us together and they couldn't do it and then we did it in 1972. That was my last high school game. We played them at the Hall in front of 6,000 people. We won 11 to 10. That was a one shot deal. I don't think they've ever done it again. That was a lot of fun.
When you were playing at Towson, was coaching your intention?
I don't think it really was. My degree was in physical education. I always thought I would be a teacher and maybe coach on the side a little bit. I never dreamed that I would coach on a college level, full time, as a breadwinner. But I really enjoyed it immediately when I had that Towson experience. I think that if at any point in time I was wavering about whether this is what I wanted to do, I just had very special kids and I just sort of felt it was worthwhile. I was never going to make a killing financially, but I was going to be happy and content with what I was doing and it's really worked out that way. It's been wonderful. In 30 years I've just had a great group of kids. I like the fact that this isn't a business really. I've never treated it that way at least and hope I never will. I'll be out of it before that happens.
How did you end up coaching at Army and then Maryland?
Army was really unique. I had no military background. As a married couple, I think it was the greatest thing for our relationship. Our families were very close in proximity as well as relationships. You didn't grow as much as a couple because if something went wrong you could always lean on Mom or Dad. It wasn't to the end of the earth; just 250 miles and I thought it was a positive thing for us as a couple. And we've been married 30 years. At Army I learned to come in and look at what you have. We were not going to get supremely talented players at that point. But your gonna get some of the toughest [guys] on the face of the earth, so we based our game on solid athletes and tough defense and we found a way to win taking the intrinsic strengths of the institution. I also learned that you can be successful with kids who played god-awful hard. They went at it pretty hard. You got awfully close to the kids there. I know you say here that you're a surrogate parent, but a lot of the kids here can get home to their parents before they could get to you, but up there the kids couldn't go home, so there you really were.
That was an exciting seven years and a major chapter in our lives as a couple, as a family and also for me personally as a coach. But I always knew that I'd come home eventually and in 1983 the opportunity presented itself. When I first came down [to UM], it was really on a lark. I loved my job, but we [Army] were as good as we were gonna get. We were a playoff team and we weren't going to get much farther than that. But I grew up down here. I would have loved to meet Lefty Driesell, or Bobby Ross. So I said "What the hell. I'll go down. I'd love to meet Dick Dull and the others", so I went. I even met Jack Scarbath. Dick Dull was a really nice guy and I was impressed with Maryland. One of the things at Army that was hard was that 1/3 of the student body [that start as freshman] are gone over the four year period. It's hard to make it there. And when they would leave, it would really hurt me, and I was going through a very hurtful situation. I had a youngster who really needed West Point desperately to get his education and he failed out of school. It turns out that he goes to Hobart and officer's candidate school there, which pays for his education, but it was a weak moment for me. In retrospect I don't know if it was really one of my weakest moments or my strongest. I still would have made the move and I've never regretted it.
When I was leaving Army, somebody up there was a little embittered by the fact that I was leaving and said, "You can't go down there, their not your kind of kids." Well, YOU attract YOUR kind of kids. I wouldn't trade the guys I'm coaching right now for any group I had at West Point, not just as players, they're better players obviously, and just as good, if not better, people. Blue chip human beings. I coach good players but they are even better people. At Army and Navy you have that connotation of the cream of the crop but we are too. This is a special group of young people. They play their asses off for me.
We had to evolve as coaches when we came down. We couldn't just be hard asses like, " I gotta make this place the West Point of the south." They already have a West Point of the south down here at Annapolis. As a coach you have to change a little bit with the times. I don't think Vince Lombardi's edict of "treat everybody like crap" would work in this day and age. We recruited athletes right from the get go dealing with a lot of multi-sport kids that were going to give up football and give up basketball and really devote to a single sport. We were going to recruit the same level athletes that we had at West Point but better offensive lacrosse players. And it's worked out. We've gotten pretty close, you know. We've just got to get Monday straightened out. We've gotten to Saturday five or six times [The NCAA lacrosse final four is played on the long Memorial Day weekend each year. The semi-finals are held Saturday and the final is played on Monday].
I've been the right guy at the right time so many times in my life but I think on that June or July day of 1986, I was the right guy in the right place at the wrong time [Lenny Bias's Death ripped apart the Maryland community and Athletic Department]. That summer of '86 was devastating to watch. Virtually the whole administration, the President, AD, Coaches and secretaries were down. We all knew that Lefty was gone and that Bobby [Ross] left but there are people who's names no one would recognize who's lives were affected. The long-term ramifications were substantial. We may still pay a price, at times. But we got through it as best we could.
Was that 1987 squad your best team?
Yeah. If you remember, that's a time when it's sort of still in limbo. We didn't know what the hell was going on around here or who we were working for. It was the first time I had ever been involved in a final four. The kids were taking their exams between 10 and 12 that Friday morning and we get up there [Rutgers in New Jersey] at like 5:00 at night. We practice 'til 6:00 and go straight to the banquet. We get to the hotel and get a scouting report, wake up the next day and play at noon. Obviously, I'd like to do it over with the experience of the last 10 years but you don't get that opportunity. We had some performances that were atypical of that group. God, I loved that team. When the bombs were going off around us here they stayed in focus. They refused to let all this other stuff in. I mean we counted like 130 consecutive days where something negative was in the newspaper about the university, and they just pushed it all aside. And God, it was fun. We have an undefeated regular season and get a bye [in the first round of the NCAA Tournament]. We played and beat Penn before losing to Hopkins. I was shattered. It's probably as emotional as I've ever been. I mean, I knew it was going to end. It couldn't go on for more than another 48 hours. But I never gave it a second's thought and that thing ends and I look across the huddle at Mosk [Mike Mosko], Todd Ensor, Kirk Thurston, Brian Jackson, Jimmy Beardmore… It just hit me like a two by four.
That was your first recruiting class wasn't it?
I don't come here until labor day of '83, so we had to play the hand that was dealt us. And the next year we bring in a huge class. So these guys were all mine and we had a lot of those kids back. I learned a terrible lesson that next year. We lose in 87' and I got a lot of those kids back. And I was like, "you guys had a great year!" You know I was like patting them on the back the whole year and when we get to the spring it's a disaster. So we are obviously good. Maybe not a national championship team but we belong in the playoffs. That's when I decided that I don't give a damn whether you return them all or you return some of them, you go right back down to the bottom and start building up again.
Has recruiting changed much since then?
Well, now I'm recruiting kids whose fathers I coached. It's starting to date me a little bit. You've got to look everywhere, too. I thought the biggest frustration early on was not being able to recruit well in Baltimore. All the best guys in Baltimore were going to go to Hopkins or Virginia or Carolina. I really was infuriated, I mean, what is Virginia, it's the state school of Virginia. Carolina is the state school for Carolina. But it turns out over time, that it's been the most positive change. Now we do get top local kids. Case in point, Matty Hahn, obviously. Brian Zeller is a Loyola kid. My face off kid is from Calvert Hall. Our best defenseman will be from North County in Anne Arundel. From BL [Boys' Latin] we have Hochstadt and David Rose.
But back then we decided, if we are not getting the best kid in Baltimore, lets get the best kid in Rochester, NY and the best kid in Syracuse. Lets get the best kid in Northern Virginia, whatever. And work our asses off with them and hope that they become great players. And we've had the good fortune of making some good decisions and getting some kids in here that have really been willing to work and have become awful good. The one thing that has come back to help us is the escalation of out-of-state costs. I mean it's just getting higher and higher. Yeah, like 17-18,000 dollars as an out of state student. If you cut that in half and add scholarship money to it…
Were not going to get a lot of the Georgetown Prep and St. Albans kids typically. If their mothers are willing to spend $13,000 a year for private school, they are probably not going to send them to a state school. They are going to end up at Princeton or Harvard. But you've got to work them all cause you don't know when that Matt Hahn is going to be there. We bring a Landon kid in this coming school year.
Byrd Stadium has become the home of college Lacrosse. How big of an advantage is that come tournament time?
It's the best facility in the sport of lacrosse. Anyone that's been to a final-four here has seen why. You've got a place to park. You've got a place to sit. You've got a tremendous site line. You're playing on grass. You're in a great location in terms of after and before the game. We're up to 30 or 31 [thousand people attending] right now. It's still big enough for 17,000 more. I think that no one else can do it like that in this area. We were supposed to do it in New Brunswick [Rutgers University] last year and this year, but they defaulted last year do to a field problem with football. But it will be interesting to see it there this year. I think that's a marvelous venue. We refurbished our stadium here. They dug their stadium up and threw it away and built a new stadium in the hole. It's beautiful.
I think the "lords of lacrosse" would be thrilled if they could play two years here, two years there. It's close to New England, Metropolitan New York, New Jersey, and you'd be serving those people. And then two here. It's a given here. It'll be here every other two years, regardless. And if we weren't a good team, maybe it would be here permanently. It's a distinct advantage. When you think about last year's quarterfinals; we're in exams. Our kids can sleep in their own beds, wake up and take their exams. In fact, we didn't reschedule one test. If that game was played in New York, it's a nightmare for them. Taking an exam when it's scheduled is hard enough. If you make [the teacher] write another one, it's gonna be harder too. We change practice and schedules around exams when we can to avoid it. By and large, I think playing at home, on your own field, with the home crowd, sleeping in your own bed is nice, but we had to go to Towson and play [Georgetown] to get back here last year. They put us at the Comfort Suites in Laurel [during the Final-Four]. So getting to Laurel and back [about ten miles, each way] was the toughest thing, but we had a police escort and that was exciting. We have no complaints.
Is it harder hosting the final four when you don't make it?
Yeah. Sure. I feel that way. I don't know if it exists, but I feel pressure to be there. I mean, I wanna win the damn thing. I know the kids do. Every year.
Will Georgetown vs. Maryland become a big rivalry?
We've got Hopkins, Navy, Virginia and North Carolina. It may happen. I like Dave Urick as much as I like anybody in the sport. Maybe if the time is right for both of us, it could happen. We already play the 5th or 6th toughest schedule now. But that's an inexpensive game that would generate tremendous interest. They've gotten to the point where they'll be there. They were on the bubble for so many years, and just missed it. But I think they'll stay in there now, and be a perennial power. We had a good game against them. I think they were a little awestruck, first time in and all. It has to affect you a little bit. We got on them, and then they made a little run and got back in , maybe one or two goals down, and they have a great opportunity to score that they don't seize and then they were using so much effort to get back that it became hard to go toe to toe. We'll see them again in the future.
Were you surprised at last season's turn-around?
We [played very poorly] for six days in April. We play Hopkins here in the rain and don't play very well at all. Bad conditions and bad play. We play Duke here and lose 11-10 in a 50-50 game after coming back to have a chance to win it, but we don't have a chance to win against them in Charlottesville (ACC Tournament) that Friday. We gathered that next Monday and discussed the NCAA Tournament and what it would take to get there. The next Saturday we had Rutgers. If we stumble, it's over. If we lose we won't have to worry about UMBC who was next because we aren't getting in. Then we play Georgetown and then Virginia. We were pissed with Virginia a little bit. I mean we played a great game the first time down there. Double overtime. We had the ball. We had great opportunities. We were down and then we came back and we go to overtime. We had opportunities to win in regulation, overtime and the second overtime and didn't. They win it on a disputed diving goal, so we know we could play with them. So there was a revenge factor in that quarterfinal. And then against Syracuse [semi-final] - You could play Pompeii School and if it's in front of a crowd like that you feel special. That was a great day for the game of Lacrosse. We beat Syracuse and Duke beat Hopkins. I just watched this again last week on tape. Hopkins has possesion of the ball with 68 seconds with a two-goal lead. They double team the kid. There's a defenseman in the goal and a perfect pass and I don't know, the guy just doesn't make his natural shooting motion. Then two horrendous defensive decisions at the other end to tie it up. All I kept hearing was "That kid shouldn't have shot it" and I don't know. I woulda taken the shot. I would have made the pass and taken the shot.
Our game that day [against Syracuse] is like 17-16, end to end, beating the shit out of each other. A great game. Casey Powell is the best player in the sport. The amazing thing about him is in the sixtieth minute he's playing his heart out. If it's you or me, we're like, "I'm not getting in there again. I'm getting the crap beat out of me." That's why he is the best player in the world right now, without question.
Do you like playing the ACC tournament?
You wish it was wider with more schools participating. Theoretically we are in the game for the kids. If you took a vote of the 120 kids, it'd be 120 to zero [for participating]. It gives them a chance to play a couple more good games and for a championship. I've always said, that if I beat the three teams [in the ACC] or two when it was two during the season then we were the champ. But in '89 we beat all three and lost to Duke 6-5 or 5-4 in the semifinal of the ACC tournament. Carolina won the first six, Duke wins the next, Virgina wins the last. Maybe it's time for the reds and the whites and the black and the gold. The tournament is in Charlottesville next year again and then it goes on a four-year rotation. The kids want to play it and we just want to win it. I guess we could [complain] about it cause we haven't won it but I think it's a good thing.
How is life under Athletic Director Debbie Yow?
She lets you run your program, and if you don't do it right, you'll answer to her. We're pretty autonomous. I've done this thirty years and she wasn't all that familiar with Lacrosse. I mean in her first year she walks across the street to the semi-final and there's 30,000 people in there, like a football crowd. I think there was some culture shock. It also brings in a nice little chunk of change [the tournament] so it's been good to us and she knows. She's been good to work for, and work with.
You're known for your sense of humor. Do you use that as a coaching tool?
It's not heart surgery. I like to have fun. I mean, I had a friend die recently, Doug Brown, the writer for the Sun and that's serious. This really isn't. When we lose a game, it's over and what good would it do for me to sulk or whatever. I hope we have fun as a team. I get after them a little bit and they get me back. It's a banter that's fun. I made a good hire in Scotty Marr just a few years ago. I mean, I'm three generations away from these guys and he's young and reflects their minds a little bit. These kids got earrings or a tattoo or things that my mom doesn't even know what they are. I try and successfully relate to them but Scotty helps.
Does great leadership inspire love or fear?
A little bit of both. Whatever it takes. One group needs this and another needs that. Every team is a little bit different. Sometimes your student leadership is getting it done and you don't have to do it yourself. I think we have a tremendous closeness. Whatever it takes. Fear, love, whip, gun.
What are you most proud of?
I have four kids that I'm extremely proud of. I'm from an extremely close family. I have a seventy-five year old mother who's very important to me. My family is the most important thing. I sometimes say that I spent more time raising other people's kids than I have my own but my roommate of the last 30 years just does a remarkable job. When I wasn't there, she was there. I'm proud of her and my family.
Things have been written in years past and this year about various lacrosse coaches needing good seasons to keep their jobs. Is this kind of pressure fair in Lacrosse?
I take offense when people talk about coaches' jobs being on the line whether it's Seaman, Klarman, me or whoever. I really feel that if I beat Princeton or I lose to Princeton, my life doesn't change. We do the right things and set an example. If I go 4-8 next year will I lose my job? That guy Gary Mackovic [fired Football Coach] at Texas can run for president last year and this year he's a bum. It's not really fair. You can't compare today's landscape to that of Henry Ciccaroni [Legendary Hopkins coach]. A kid can go to a Duke, a Villanova or a Notre Dame. There's a lot more choices and the landscape is different. You'd have to prove to me that jobs really are on the line if a championship isn't won. Time could tell but I hope it doesn't. It's hard to win a championship and Princeton's still in the way.
Who is the best player you've ever seen or coached?
Gary and Paul Gait really stand out in my mind because they took the game to not just another level. They expanded and did things that nobody had done before. The box thing. They standardized the behind the back pass and other things that you couldn't do. They were fascinating to me.
I think the defensive era was when I was young. I did not see Jimmy brown then but I've been told. For me it's Paul and Gary. They were good athletes, big and strong. They were unorthodox. Maybe if they played for me or somebody else, they wouldn't have been… Roy [Simmons at Syracuse] is an artist. He let them create. They probably flourished more in his system than they would have anywhere else.
It's hard to say who the best I've coached is. I've had two goalies of the year. I've coached a lot of good players. I don't want to leave anybody out so it's hard to say. I was most surprised with Brian Dougherty. I never dreamed out of high school that he would be the best goalie in the world.
Do you have a Holiday greeting for fans?
We have great fans and they have been unbelievably supportive over the years. They've been pretty happy at least two out of the last few years and we're going to bring some exciting lacrosse to them in 1998!