April 3, 2002

Extolling the M. Lax Program

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Having had the privilege of covering my fair share of Cornell sports, I can say with some certainty that the athletic department is certainly experiencing a period of transition — from talks surrounding the destruction of one of the Alumni Fields to Ivy League-wide cutbacks in football recruits and practice times to massive fundraising campaigns to support the department. Amidst the uncertainties, Athletic Director Andy Noel and his colleagues have been confronted with some challenging questions.

Around the hallways of Teagle and the offices of the Sun, one of the ongoing dialogues has also focused on coaches and how to ensure we attract the best candidates. Often the rhetoric has focused broadly on a choice between “value-based” coaches and so-called “proven winners.” The latter often brings a lofty resume and big-name identity to the Hill, while the former is typically associated with less-quantifiable issues like personality and development of the student-athlete.

This issue has been particularly salient in the storied men’s lacrosse program. With the departure of former head coach Dave Pietramala following the 2000 season, the athletic higher-ups were left with some big shoes to fill. After Pietramala took the team to its first NCAA tournament in five years, expectations were high. When it was announced, as expected by many, that former assistant Jeff Tambroni would assume the reins of the program, the critics were many. Among alumni the talk often went that he can’t recruit as well, he was not as strong at devising game strategies, he didn’t have the big name to attract respect for the program. The question marks went on and on.

After the team ended last season on a miserable four-game losing skid, I began to speculate on the whole issue of “value-based” versus “proven winners.” This may come as a premature conclusion or overgeneralization, but covering the lacrosse team this season has left me decidedly in support of the former.

I’ve come to develop an immense level of respect for Tambroni and what his program stands for, not only in words but also in actions. Talk to him, and the one phrase you keep hearing is “the Cornell way.”

He’s fond of saying he looks for better people than lacrosse players. Clich