(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)
If you read any form of preseason or offseason content pertaining to college lacrosse, you’ll likely come across one or more pieces of media that dub various teams as “title contenders.” And chances are, the names are usually pretty similar each year. Of course, there is always movement and various programs hit peaks and valleys at different times. But in a sport where only 11 schools have actually won a national title in the NCAA era (1971-now), the programs that have been at the top always seem to stay at the top and are never too down for too long.
But no matter which program you are, winning is the goal. And everybody wants to win the big one and bring home a national title to their school. But truthfully, as previously mentioned, only a handful of teams have the talent to get that done each season.
So, when looking at the landscape of college lacrosse, which jobs are the best? Which ones are places where you have an opportunity to be a perennial national title contender and potentially be the last team standing on Memorial Day?
Taking into consideration factors such as history, location, recruiting base or potential, facilities, commitment from the administration, and future projections, Lacrosse Bucket has ranked the top 10 jobs in college lacrosse.
The process in ranking these was, essentially, asking the question: if you were a Hall of Fame-caliber coach and could pick any job to go to right now, regardless of the roster situation, what would it be? From that question, considering those aforementioned factors, the list was narrowed down to 10 jobs, which were then ranked 1-15. Some were easy to place and others took a little more analyzing.
Here’s the list of the top 15 jobs in college lacrosse ahead of the 2021 season:
Last to miss the cut: Georgetown, Princeton, UMass, Navy, Penn
Michigan has done nothing of any major significance in lacrosse. No NCAA tournament appearances. No Big Ten tournament appearances. Heck, they only have three Big Ten wins to their name and have never won more than one conference game in a season since the Big Ten added lacrosse in 2015. But what Michigan lacks in wins, they make up for in potential. Don’t believe me? And that potential not only comes from the name brand that Michigan is but also their new-ish lacrosse facility, which many claim is the best in the nation. The facilities upgrades in Ann Arbor have certainly given Kevin Conry and his staff a hand on the recruiting trail, as they have been recruiting as well as any Big Ten program has over the past few cycles. Get that elite talent in there, develop ’em, and Michigan could be, at least, in the national title picture sooner rather than later. And since there is no winning tradition, there is little to no pressure to win a title every single year like at some other jobs around the country.
Similar to their Big Ten counterparts in Ann Arbor, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights haven’t done much. Although, they have made multiple NCAA Tournament appearances and have made a Big Ten title game appearance. Oh yeah, they also rose to the top of the rankings for one week in 2017, which was the first time ever in program history they had been the top-ranked team in the nation. And all of those feats were achieved very recently under Brian Brecht. As far as success at Rutgers goes, the question has always been when not if. When will Rutgers be successful? Can they sustain that success? Recent history suggests that Rutgers can be a top-tier program, and to many, they are a consistent fringe top-20 program. With the talent that they have been able to bring to Piscataway, particularly from their direct footprint in New Jersey, in recent years and the new facility upgrades that are currently underway, Rutgers has much potential to be a contender on a national level as anyone. Again, the question still is when will they peak?
13. Ohio State
Ohio State pays Nick Meyers more than any other lacrosse coach in the country, as far as we can tell from public information. In 2015-16 he was actually the 26th-highest-paid college coach in the state of Ohio. They are also currently in the process of building a reported 20 million dollar lacrosse stadium. While the Buckeyes made their first-ever title appearance in 2016, the major investments in lacrosse, while some still very much in the works haven’t paid off as much as some may have predicted thus far. The Buckeyes, like many other programs, are just a few pieces away from being perennial contenders on the national stage year in and year out. Success has happened in Columbus and can certainly happen again. If the buttons get pushed the right way, Ohio State could very well be back in the national title conversation sooner rather than later.
Bill Tierney has made Denver a top-15 job. While they enjoyed some success prior to his arrival, the future Hall-of-Famer put them in a different gear. Denver has made five trips to Championship Weekend and became the first team outside of the Eastern Time Zone to win a national title in 2015. If the Pioneers weren’t on the radar just over a decade ago, they certainly are now. With a recent history of success and having the luxury of playing in one of the best venues in college lacrosse, Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, and the luxury of living in a place like Denver, there isn’t much not to like about the Denver job. The only drawback is that most of the elite, elite talent is still on the east coast, which can make recruiting a little more challenging. But Denver is the primary hotbed of the west and that Canadian pipeline looks like it could stay strong for quite some time.
Since Charlie Toomey took over the helm at his alma mater, he has changed Loyola lacrosse and got them back to the level they were at under Dave Cottle in the 1990s. And in 2012, the Greyhounds made it back to the national title game for the first time since 1990 and this time they came out on top, claiming their first national title in program history. While Loyola has to deal with a perennial powerhouse right down the road (Johns Hopkins) and another one 48-minutes to the south (Maryland), they have everything needed to support a national power. They are in a premium lacrosse hotbed, have some of the best support on gameday of any program in the nation, and very fine facilities. And with no football to speak of and a mediocre basketball program, lacrosse is and likely always will be number one.
A decade ago, Yale wouldn’t be on this list, but they always seemed to have the potential to be. That’s very much a testament to what Andy Shay has done in New Haven. Prior to that title run in 2018, the Bulldogs made a semifinals appearance in 1990. Since Shay brought the Bulldogs back to the top of the Ivy League for the first time since the late 1980s and early 1990s. With that, their recruiting base has seemed to grow and get better each year and the support that Yale lacrosse has from the administration is phenomenal. And Reese Stadium is always in the discussion as one of the best venues in the sport, and there are certainly worse places to live than New Haven.
9. Penn State
Penn State has always been seen as a sleeping giant. It just took Jeff Tambroni to finally awaken the Nittany Lions. But they didn’t officially arrive until 2019 when they made their first-ever Championship Weekend appearance. Winning at Penn State is certainly achievable. That only question is: can it be sustained? With the improvements to Panzer Stadium, increased support from both an administration and fan perspective, and level that the Nittany Lions have shown to be able to recruit at. With all of that, plus the brand name that is Penn State, high-level success certainly looks to be able to be sustained in Happy Valley.
8. Notre Dame
The Notre Dame brand is strong and can be seen in every corner of the country. And since Kevin Corrigan’s arrival in 1989, the Irish have done nothing but rise. The Irish have practically done everything but win a national title. However, they have been runner-up twice (2010,2014). The next step for this program is clear. They have the facilities, the support, and as mentioned, probably have one of the strongest brands of any program in the country. A national championship is the only thing that’s missing from the Notre Dame story, and we know that they are capable of winning one. They haven’t been too far off in the past.
7. North Carolina
From a national title-winning perspective, many would argue that North Carolina has vastly underachieved for a good chunk of their history. They have won five national titles (1981, 1982, 1986, 1991, 2016) and the most recent was within the past decade. Since taking over in 2009, Joe Breschi has done nothing but sustain the level of success that we have come to expect consistently in Chapel Hill. Especially considering the fact that they have a perennial juggernaut in Duke just right down the road. You could almost draw somewhat of an Alabama-Auburn comparison if you wanted. But with the improvements that the Tar Heels have made to their lacrosse facilities, how well they have been recruiting in recent years, and having one of the best locations in major college lacrosse, North Carolina has as much potential as any to become a dynasty of sorts.
There is no other Ivy League school that cares about lacrosse as much as Cornell does. None. Zero, zip, nada. Lacrosse at Cornell matters. And while they do have some restrictions in some areas that other programs, even in the Ivy, don’t, the support from not only the administration but also the alumni will always be there and likely be top-notch. The Big red have one of the richest traditions in sport and that in itself is a recruiting tool that many others can’t claim. And while they haven’t won a title since 1977, they have at least been in the hunt. Even with my prediction that FBS schools will soon dominate college lacrosse just as they do other sports, I have always said that Cornell will always be a blueblood-ish program, attract elite talent, and have the ability to get back to the glory days no matter what the landscape looks like. It’s just different in Ithaca and that’s probably the best way to put it.
5. Johns Hopkins
Can you name a school other than Johns Hopkins that was literally built around lacrosse? Nope. Situated in one of the best locations in college lacrosse, having the history that they do, and the facilities that they do, a rise back to prominence is attainable. Similar to the aforementioned Cornell, lacrosse matters at Johns Hopkins and it is one of those programs that will always be able to see no matter where they stand or what the national landscape looks like. Those nine NCAA titles (44 overall titles) speak for themselves. Lacrosse is, essentially, Johns Hopkins’ football. I mean, they even have homecoming in the spring so it can revolve around lacrosse. You can’t find that anywhere else in the nation. The job might come with higher expectations than any in the sport, but those expectations are certainly warranted and that level can be reached if he buy-in across the board is right every year.
Taking your talents to Charlottesville as a coach quite frankly might mean winning a national title. Because only one coach in the NCAA era has failed to do so. Virginia is in a prime recruiting location with easy access to not only the DMV and further up into the mid-Atlantic but also that central Virginia pocket right in their backyard. Klöckner Stadium is one of the best sites in the sport and the campus practically sells itself. Recruiting elite talent has never been and likely never will be an issue at Virginia. The pressure to win certainly exist at Virginia, but with basketball, baseball, and football having a bigger foothold than some other traditional lacrosse powers, the immediate pressure might not be as big as some other programs in this top five. That’s not to say that winning doesn’t matter at Virginia, because it does. And it’s been proven that a lot of winning can be done in Charlottesville.
The standard in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, Syracuse lacrosse has as much history and prestige as any program in the country. Having only four coaches in the program’s 100-plus year history, the run that Syracuse has had from decade to decade is impressive. And while the program has fallen on some harder times recently, they look to be going back up very soon. Currently, recruiting has been off the charts at Syracuse over the past few months. Who doesn’t want to play in the Carrier Dome and be part of that history? Like other names on this list, Syracuse is a brand that will likely always sell in lacrosse no matter how good or bad things are. It’s a tradition unlike any other. And while you can argue how much the administration cares about lacrosse from top to bottom nowadays, it is no question that lacrosse matters and they have some of the best support and fans of any power five lacrosse school.
Maryland is another one of these programs that has a tradition unlike any other. And in recent years that tradition has been greatly expanded on and taken to new heights with the success that John Tillman has brought to College Park since his arrival ahead of the 2011 season. Seven Championship Weekend appearances in nine years is nothing short of impressive. And that run included a national title in 2017, which broke the Terrapins 44-year title drought. Maryland lacrosse has always been great, but recently we have witnessed just how high they can climb. And not to mention the fact that once they climbed that mountain they have stayed near the peak. Especially considering the teams they are usually measured up against. The recruiting footprint, support, the proven ceiling, and just the overall tradition make Maryland a tier-1 job in college lacrosse right now.
Under Mike Pressler Duke lacrosse was built. Under John Danowski, they’ve soared. The Duke Blue Devils have been the standard in college lacrosse for the better part of the past decade and a half. Nine Championship Weekend appearances, including eight straight. Three of those appearances resulted in national title wins (2010, 2013, 2014). Duke has ascended to a level that nobody would have ever imagined in the first three decades of NCAA play. Duke might not have that same amount of fan support throughout the year that other ACC teams get, but that doesn’t matter. They are almost like a machine. Duke recruits at a very high level and at this point seems to be doing much more reloading than rebuilding. And it’s not that hard when you have a campus like they do down in Durham, as well as the tradition to sell.