(Photo Courtesy of Manhattan Athletics)
Last week, UMass Lowell announced the hiring of Drew Kelleher as the program’s next head men’s lacrosse coach. He is the second head coach in River Hawk men’s lacrosse history.
Kelleher arrives in Mill City after seven seasons as the head coach at Manhattan, whom he led to its second-ever MAAC title and NCAA Tournament appearance in program history this past spring. And where he has deep family ties with both of his parents being graduates and his grandfather having played basketball for the Jaspers in the 1930s.
“Manhattan was a really special place for me for a lot of reasons and they took a chance on me at the time being the youngest head coach in DI, but it felt like it was the right time for my family and I to move to a place that I think really wants to be a destination in DI lacrosse,” Kelleher told Lacrosse Bucket in an interview.
“The UMass Lowell administration has been great throughout this whole process and I get the feeling that they want to be great at lacrosse.”
When Kelleher arrived at Manhattan ahead of the 2016 season, the Jaspers were coming off a 1-14 campaign the year prior and hadn’t churned out a winning season since 2009 (six years). On top of their struggles on the field, Manhattan lacked behind other DI lacrosse programs in facilities as Kelleher and his staff didn’t have proper offices at first and the team’s locker room was essentially a storage facility under a subway line.
Kelleher’s first three seasons saw the Jaspers’ struggles continue as they went a combined 10-33 (1-17 MAAC). It wasn’t until 2019 when Manhattan went 6-8 (2-5 MAAC) that the tide started to change. Kelleher’s Manhattan teams the next three seasons kept up that pace, going 3-3 during the shortened 2020 season before a 2021 campaign that saw the Jaspers make the MAAC title game. This past season it all came together as Manhattan edged Marist in the MAAC semifinals before beating St. Bonaventure in the title game en route to an NCAA Tournament bid to highlight what was the program’s best season in two decades.
Now heading into his second head coaching job, Kelleher finds himself in a similar situation: having to be part of a build. But while the challenge in front of him may be similar to the one he faced as a head coach at Manhattan or an assistant at Boston U., Kelleher stated that every situation does indeed have its own unique differences.
Just eight seasons into its existence, UMass Lowell has gone 28-77 (9-35 America East) since its inception. An 8-8 (3-3 AE) 2018 season that saw the River Hawks make the America East tournament has served as the high water mark for the young program thus far. The River Hawks are coming off a 2022 campaign in which they went 2-11 (2-4 AE) and finished sixth in the conference.
“The one thing I learned at Manhattan was the value of people,” Kelleher said. “You can do it without a locker room or a sexy stadium as long as you surround yourself with great coaches and great players and everybody is trying to move in the same direction and you’re unified I think great things can be done. I plan on bringing that kind of emphasis with me,”
With another opportunity to build a program in front of him, Kelleher said his vision for UMass Lowell lacrosse includes building around the right people and putting out a team that reflects the community around them on the field.
“We want to do things the right way and that’s in the classroom and how we carry ourselves in the community. And certainly, on the field, we want to play a style that matches our community, which is a blue-collar, tough team that is disciplined and passionate and is willing to do what some other teams might not be willing to do to have success. And developing that will take time.”
While in total it may be a timely build, the process starts now. And in the immediate, it’s the players already in the locker room that Kelleher will be relying on to get the process started and begin building the identity he wants his River Hawk teams to reflect.
“I told these guys when I spoke to them that it’s not my intention to bring in 10 transfers. It’s not my intention to bring in a bunch of ’22 graduates. I’m going to give this team a chance, Kelleher said. “There is talent in this locker room and it’s my job as a coach to capitalize on it and develop it.”
On top of being back in a familiar spot with respect to having to build up a program, Kelleher is also back in a familiar conference. And one where repeated success has been seen over the years from a myriad of teams.
Being at Manhattan for seven years and previously serving as an assistant at Siena, the majority of his coaching career has been spent in the MAAC. But having played at Vermont and grown-up near Albany, N.Y., Kelleher is no stranger to the America East.
“I grew up in the Albany area and was there as Coach (Scott) Marr was building UAlbany into the program it is now, so I use to go to Albany games all the time growing up. Obviously, playing at the University of Vermont I became very familiar with some of these conference foes,” Kelleher said. “It is a league that at times has been a two-bid league. When I was in college UMBC had (Brendan) Mundorf and (Drew) Westerveldt while UAlbany had Frank Resetarits and Merrick Thomson. So this league has produced some of the best players in the world and I’m honored to be coaching alongside so many great coaches and having an opportunity in a great league.”