After building a Division III dynasty from the ground up, Head Coach Mike Daly faces a different sort of challenge — taking over a men’s lacrosse program coming off its best season in school history.
Daly was introduced as head lacrosse coach July 1, just weeks after Lars Tiffany ’90 announced he was leaving Brown to take the head coaching position at the University of Virginia. In many ways, 2016 was a banner year for Brown lacrosse as the team posted a school-record 16 wins, earning the Ivy League regular season title and winning two games in the NCAA tournament before falling to University of Maryland in the national semifinals.
Along with Tiffany and the rest of his coaching staff, a decorated class of seniors departed from last year’s team. But if Daly’s past credentials — a 244-83 record and three Division III national titles over 18 years at Tufts University — are any indication, Brown lacrosse’s winning ways are not likely to fade away with the cast of last year’s squad.
Brown was not the first Division I program to reach out to the decorated coach. But in Daly’s eyes, Brown was the right choice.
“There were a couple of other opportunities, but this felt like the right fit from the beginning,” Daly said. There was a “real apparent commitment from (Director of Athletics) Jack Hayes and the University. The entire place has been wonderfully supportive. It’s a great fit for our family. It’s been everything we hoped for and more.”
“The search for a new head coach was a positive one,” Hayes wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. “Mike Daly was the ideal candidate because he had tremendous success at an excellent school. He developed a model program for success” at Tufts.
Daly brings a few significant connections to the new position. Ryan Molloy, the older brother of Dylan Molloy ’17 — the defending Tewaaraton Award winner as college lacrosse’s top player and the anchor of Brown’s attack— was a captain on Daly’s 2011 team at Tufts and won a National Championship on the 2010 squad.
But Daly will also take over a team that has been primed for his own distinct style of play — a frenzied, high-paced approach to the game that has proven wildly successful at both Tufts and Brown. Sean Kirwan worked as an assistant coach under Daly at Tufts before coming to Brown in 2014 as offensive coordinator under Tiffany, bringing Daly’s style with him.
In 2016, with Kirwan pulling the strings, Brown had Division I’s most potent scoring offense at 16.32 goals per game. The Division III leader? Daly’s Tufts team, which scored 17.32 goals per game and won its seventh consecutive NESCAC title before falling in the national title game.
“We certainly didn’t invent any of this,” Daly said. “We won with it, so that’s why some of the attention came to it.”
Watching Syracuse and Virginia play a similar style in the ’90s was highly influential for Daly. “That game every year was 22-21 or 19-18, so it just was one of my earlier imprints of what the game should look like,” he said. “That’s really what we were emulating.”
Kirwan has since moved on to Virginia with Tiffany, but the similarities of Daly’s scheme have helped with the team’s adjustment to the new staff, said defenseman Alec Tulett ’17, one of three returning All-Americans from last year’s team.
But Tulett also said the team is not content with the speed of last year’s team, a point which Daly reiterated himself.
“We want to play just as fast, if not faster,” Tulett said.
“The guys had a taste of playing that way and they did not want to go back to a regimented, slowed-down kind of style,” Daly said. “The guys have really just embraced it. It’s fun, and it’s definitely the way we think the game should be played.”
Despite a different recruiting timeline between Division I and Division III, the academic prestige and location of Tufts seem to present a near-identical challenge for Daly at Brown.
“Our goal in the recruiting process is always to get the right guy, at the right place, for the right reasons — and they’re out there,” Daly said. “It’s about finding the right guys and the guys who embrace what we’re doing to work their tails off and improve.”
All similarities aside, Daly has not hesitated to shake things up for his new team. For example, players are now required to keep their individual lockers neatly organized and in order, Tulett said.
“It used to be a mess,” he added. “It’s more of a metaphorical thing, but perfection starts at home.”
“There were some personality changes and some cultural changes,” Daly said. “The guys have been great. They’ve been unbelievably receptive — they just needed to adjust to (the new staff) and vice versa.”
Daly was able to bring his assistant coaches from Tufts, but he worries little about managing a locker room full of players brought in by the previous staff. While such a dynamic might divide some teams, Bruno’s run to the final four has the team hungry for more, embracing Daly and his staff in the process.
“Everybody around here had a great taste of success last year and they want more; they’ll do whatever it takes,” Daly said. “If that includes adjusting to a new coaching staff, they’re doing it. They’re doing everything we ask.”