(Photo Courtesy of Navy Athletics)
Two DI head coaching positions have opened in the past few weeks, as Rashad Devoe left Hampton to take the head coaching job at Amherst and Jon Birsner left VMI to become the head coach and assistant athletic director at Culver Military Academy (Ind.).
Hampton and VMI are just the lastest DI head coaching positions to open this cycle, as Johns Hopkins and Cornell also made coaching changes this offseason. Additionally, there are assistant coach openings at Air Force, Cornell, Detroit Mercy, Merrimack, Ohio State, UMass Lowell, and UMBC.
Both the Hampton and VMI jobs are more unique than some others in the game. Hampton is still building towards the program they want to be as they head into their sixth season. They are also the only HBCU at the DI men’s level. VMI is a public military school.
Despite the challenges that may face either program or the lack of success, thus far, at both, the Pirates and Keydets have seemed to be trending in the right direction over the past few seasons. Both are also jobs that could be viewed by many as stepping stone jobs to break into the head coaching ranks and prove themselves. Here is a look at some potential candidates that could take over the reins at either program and keep things going upward.
Some of the first names that immediately pop in the mind when looking at the Hampton job is Chazz Woodson, Errol Wilson, Rick Sowell, and Nat St. Laurent.
Now it is tough to see St. Laurent, who is the current head coach at Ohio Northern and coaches the PLL’s Redwoods LC, to leave his current post. But the other three mentioned, Woodson, Wilson, and Sowell, could be legit contenders for the job and should, at least, get a phone call.
Sowell would be the most high-profile choice of the aforementioned group of potential candidates. A Washington College alum, Sowell has decades of DI head coaching experience and taking lower-end or struggling programs to greater heights, taking both Dartmouth and Stony Brook to the NCAA Tournament. He has also had a brief stint at St. John’s and most recently was the head coach at Navy from 2012-2019, winning three Patriot League regular-season titles and leading the Midshipmen to the NCAA Quarterfinals in 2016.
Wilson, a Stony Brook alum, also has a wealth of college coaching experience on both sides of the ball. Serving as the associate head coach and offensive coordinator for the Mountain Hawks, Wilson has also served as the goalie coach, defensive coordinator, associate offensive coordinator, and coordinator of camps, clinics, and tournaments during his time in Bethlehem, Pa. Wilson has also made stops at Brown as offensive coordinator and Rutgers as defensive coordinator.
The biggest questions with Sowell and Wilson is whether either would want the job and challenge of building up a newer program that is still in the growing stages. Sowell has been one of the most respected coaches in the game for some time and Wilson looks primed to get a mid to high-level DI head coaching job sooner than later.
Woodson may be more of a darkhorse candidate, but his name was thrown around a bit last cycle before Hampton hire Devoe. Woodson played at Brown from 2002-2005 and has enjoyed a very successful professional lacrosse career, garnering notoriety as of one the most exciting attackman on the pro stage. All of his coaching experience, I believe, is at the high school or club level.
As always, there is a chance that one of the assistants on staff gets promoted to head coach. The two assistants under Devoe were Collins Gantz and Ezra Rogers. Hampton was the first college coaching job for both.
According to a source, VMI has already started lining up interviews and is aiming to have a new head coach in place before the Fourth of July.
The name that has been thrown around the most as a potential candidate for the VMI job is Richie Meade. He made his name in the game as the head coach at Navy from 1995-20011, leading the Midshipmen to five Patriot League Tournament championships, seven NCAA Tournament appearances, and an NCAA championship game appearance in 2004. Most recently, Meade served as the head coach at Furman from the program’s inception in 2011 until they shut down last month. He has also coached Team USA in the past.
Meade has the right pedigree, experience coaching at a military academy, and has experience coaching in the SoCon. From the outside, he is as perfect of a candidate as any college could find, the only concern could be longevity at that program given that he is on the back half of his career.
Rick Sowell could also be a potential candidate for VMI, too. He has the military academy coaching experience and has built up programs that many had little to no hope for, as previously mentioned.
Andrew Athens, who served as an assistant under Meade at Furman, could also be a potential candidate. Athens was the Paladins’ defensive coordinator for the entirety of the program’s history. He also made stops at Queens (N.C.) and also now defunct Presbyterian (S.C.), which is his alma mater.
The Keydets could go in the direction of a more darkhorse candidate or promote from within, which is hard to see them doing, as offensive coordinator Mikey Herring and defensive coordinator Billy O’Hara were in their first seasons as college coaches and Doug Barlett, who served as VMI’s head coach from 1986-2006, were their assistants this past season.