(Photo Courtesy of Arcadia Athletics)
VMI announced the hiring of James Purpura as the Keydets’ next head men’s lacrosse coach just over one week ago.
The hiring marks Purpura’s return to Lexington, Va., where he served as the Keydet’s offensive coordinator for two seasons, following a two-year stint as the head coach at DIII Arcadia.
“The opportunity to come back to such a prideful program is something that I thought was really, really appealing. I think there are a lot of resources here and competitive advantages that make VMI such a special and unique place. And for me, I would love to be the person that helps push that process forward towards winning,” Purpura said in an interview with Lacrosse Bucket.
The Coronavirus outbreak, which cut the 2020 college lacrosse season short, has made things much different communication-wise for head coaches everywhere, and especially new head coaches. But Purpura says that he has been able to talk with the team and contact every player and incoming recruit individually.
“Our philosophy for us as an organization is that everything starts and ends with building relationships, and it is always about fostering and cultivating those relationships with everyone. That is only going to make our program better.” Purpura said. “We are now starting to get to feedback, talking about the future, how we can be better, our vision, our core values, and everything that will lay the foundation to build an environment that is ripe for growth.”
For Purpura, many of those relationships with Keydet lacrosse players were initially formed when he was an assistant coach from 2017-2018. During his previous stint at VMI, Purpura was one of the longest-tenured assistant coaches that the Keydets had during the Jon Birsner era.
That kind of assistant coaching turnover and instability doesn’t help move a program forward, especially in the win column, even if there are lots of wins being had in the recruiting and player development arena, according to Purpura. And he says that maintaining a sense of stability is something he wants to focus on to help push VMI lacrosse forward.
“When you have that much instability it creates a lot of new things. I think it is important to have a system, an identity, and a brand. That is something that we are really looking to build,” says Purpura.
While previous relationships and knowing what you are getting yourself into is a huge benefit and something that Purpura is excited to have in his toolbox as he returns to VMI, he also brings back the experience of being a head coach and a track record of success that he gained at Arcadia.
Before Purpura arrived at Arcadia, the Knights’ had an overall record of 31-59 through their first six seasons and had never sniffed the postseason. Purpura led the Knights to a 14-11 record during his tenure, including a program-best 9-9 record in 2019 where they qualified for their conference tournament. Subsequently, Purpura was named the 2019 MAC Coach of The Year. This past season, the Knights’ were 5-2 and ranked in the top-20 in goals and assist when the season was cancelled.
“When I got to Arcadia, I was able to take all the things I had learned and seen as an assistant at the four places I had been at, put all the things that I had liked together, and make it my own…I also really got to learn how to use that formula and turn it into reality, which lead to those players buying in and turning that program around into a winner,” Purpura said. “We learned at Arcadia that that process worked on and off the field and it all starts with a daily mindset of competing, working hard, and being passionate about winning.”
Purpura looks to bring that winning formula that he was able to develop at Arcadia to VMI and hopefully use it to continue the successes, like decreasing average margins of losses and increases in player development, that the program saw during the Birsner-era and create new successes in the win column, which the Keydets have not been able to do for quite some time. VMI has only won four games twice (2012,2019) in the past decade and hasn’t made a trip to the postseason since 2008 when they were in the MAAC and made it to the conference championship game.
“There was a lot of progress made and a lot of respect earned with starting to bring players in and build that identity, but it just hasn’t been able to transpire and take that next just yet. That is what we are excited to hopefully be doing here now, teaching that winning process, and finally taking that next step,” said Purpura.