#022: Premier Lacrosse League – Chaos Head Coach Andy Towers
Coaches are teachers, mentors, role-models, friends, and parents to many athletes. For most of us, Coaches impact and influence our lives during our most impressionable years. They drive us to be our best and give it everything. They show us that winning is the product of the team effort. They push us back out there when we fail. No matter what sport we play, or what level we play at, coaches lead.
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About Andy Towers
Andy Towers is the Head Coach of the Chaos Lacrosse Club in the Premier Lacrosse League. He is a member of the United States Lacrosse Connecticut Hall of Fame ,as well as the Brown University Sports Hall of Fame. He is a world champion, multiple time All American, All Ivy and All New England; and the Ivy League Player of the Year. He was the 2019 coach of the year in the PLL’s inaugural season.
Coaches are teachers, mentors, role models, friends, and parents of many athletes. For most of us, coaches impact and influence our lives during our most impressionable years. They drive us to be our best and give everything. It shows us that winning is the product of team effort. It pushes us up there when we fail. No matter what sport we play or what level we play at, coaches lead. Andy Towers is the head coach of the Chaos Lacrosse Club of the Premier Lacrosse League. He is a member of the United States Lacrosse Connecticut Hall of Fame as well as the Brown University Sports Hall of Fame.
He’s the world champion, multiple-time All-American, All-Ivy in All-New England in the Ivy League Player of the Year. He was the 2019 Coach of the Year in the PLL’s inaugural season. Coach Towers joins me in this episode to show us the impact coaches have on our development both as athletes and people. He shares what it takes to build the best teams and the best athletes in the youth, college, and professional sport.
He defines success as the result of leaving everything on the field with no regrets, and he candidly exits the humility of the elite performer by sharing his decision to fail at the collegiate level but also the resiliency he demonstrates to get back in the school and earn his spot in the Hall of Fame. Andy Towers is a pierce competitor, the ultimate team player, and a coach so inspirational and intense that by the end of our conversation, I was ready to put the table, rip the door off the wall and dominate.
Coach, welcome to the show.
Thanks. It’s a pleasure to be here, Fran.
This is the fourth in-person episode of the show, 4 of 22. I’ll take it with COVID because it’s so much better to be here and talk to you face-to-face.
I’m going to look at it as bad and clean up, so I like that.
We’ll see. We got a long way to go. We’re just starting here. I’m so excited and so motivated to sit here with you. It was so easy to put this conversation together because here in front of me is the head coach of the Chaos Lacrosse Club of the Premier Lacrosse League, Brown University Sports Hall of Famer, Connecticut Lacrosse Hall of Famer, multiple-time All-American in high school and college, Ivy League Player of the Year, and the Premier Lacrosse League Coach of the Year in 2019, the inaugural season.
I say this because lacrosse is near and dear to my heart. I sucked at lacrosse. Anyone who knows me and reads this will tell you that same thing. My longtime friend, someone you know, Connor Wilson, connected us. He’s a great player and a great coach in his own right. Back when we were in high school, he had this crazy idea to start this lacrosse team because we didn’t have one. He said, “I want you to be a part of the inaugural team.”You're incentivized as a team to play every single shift, as hard as you can, whether you're winning or whether you're losing. Click To Tweet
I said, “That’s great, but what do I do?” He said, “You’re big and you have decent speed. You probably won’t ever learn to catch and throw. You’re going to play long stick defender.” I said, “That’s great, but what do I do as a long stick defender?” He said, “The only thing you have to do is don’t let anybody get to the goal. When they come through this area in front of the goal, hit them as hard as you can.”
I perfected that technique to the tune of about 2 to 3 concussions. If anybody threw the ball at me, it was straight wood hands on the ground. I would remember being there and we would clear the ball. The shot would come in and goalie would catch it, and then everyone starts around the other way. I would be wide open. The goalie, another good friend of mine, would look at me every time, shake his head, and throw it away to the other end of the field because he knew that if it went to me, it’s going out of bounce and go back the other way.
That’s called knowing your personnel friend.
They knew, “Do not give it to that guy.” I played my heart out. We all did. First two years as a club team, we had to buy our equipment. We played and left everything on that field. We were able to make it a varsity team by the time we were juniors. Our junior and senior year was varsity. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. Even now, my daughter, who you know and attended one of your camps, is loving the game. She started playing. I’ve already got my son the FIDDLESTX. He’s playing with it because it is such an amazing game to play. I couldn’t imagine what my life would have been like if I didn’t have this experience, so I’m fascinated with elite performance. I’m fascinated with the rise of this sport. Being here with you brings that all together, so thank you.
It’s a compliment to be considered for your show. I’ve done some due diligence on who you’ve had here and it’s incredibly humbling to be included with the group, so thank you for having me.
Let’s start with the PLL, the Premier Lacrosse League. Playoffs are coming out. In September 2018, Paul and Mike Rabil announced a new professional lacrosse league. It’s going to be a direct competitor to the Major League Lacrosse, but the difference is that this league is going to focus on lacrosse as a full-time job. There’s going to be equity in the league. There’s going to be healthcare and salaries. An important point of differentiation about the PLL versus other professional sports leagues is the marketing piece, the physical assets, pictures, and the audio in which they were making that open source. They were helping the players to promote themselves and become their own brands and build their own brands, unlike NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball.
In June 2019 inaugural season, six teams have grown to eight in 2020, 26 player roster, 19 to dress on game day. Instead of having specific markets, they travel to twelve different major markets, Boston, Philly, Atlanta, and DC. They were in my former hometown, Colorado Springs. The season is fourteen weeks, ten regular seasons, some playoffs, then finals. It runs in this period of time between indoor lacrosse league and the college League. You don’t have any overlap. You were one of the first coaches. What is so different about this league having played yourself in the Major League Lacrosse and the indoor league that made you jump in? This is a green pasture. You looked at it and there was an opportunity. What was it about that opportunity that got you involved?
I’m playing the sport growing up. My dad played the sport and my friends played the sport. I grew up in a hotbed in New Canaan, Connecticut. I played in college and got right into college coaching when I graduated from Brown. I spent roughly eighteen years coaching at the Division I level. When I got out of coaching, leaving Dartmouth in 2014, the last thing I said to my wife was, “I’m excited to be out of college coaching. If the opportunity to coach professional lacrosse comes about, that’s the one thing that I would jump back into.”
Paul Rabil and Mike Rabil launched this league. I had a friend of mine that ironically was a player that I coached at Dartmouth and was an assistant coach for me at Dartmouth, Ryan Danehy. He’s an assistant coach at Bucknell University. He’s an awesome player, coach, and friend. He’s one of my best friends. He coached the Long Island Lizards in the MLL and Paul was on that team. He became good friends with Paul and used to train him. I ultimately had Paul here. When I heard that this league was being launched, I said to Ryan, “I have a lot of interest in getting into that league. Pass my name on to Paul and if they’re interested, have him call me.”
I didn’t think too much of it. I was optimistic and hopeful, but my heart wasn’t set on it. There’s a lot of qualified coaches that were ex-players that are at the highest level. It’s a job that anybody with a lacrosse background would be super excited to learn more about and potentially get involved with. I was fortunate to get a phone interview. Mike Rabil, ironically, played football at Dartmouth and he was friends with Ryan Danehy. Fortunately, Mike Rabil, in his due diligence on me, sought out some of the Dartmouth players that played under me while I was there. I was fortunate that they gave me a good review. Ultimately, I got offered an assistant coaching job in the league.
Given the time commitment that Division I coaching demands, I felt that while I would be excited to be in the league, my sense was I didn’t feel it was fair to my family to commit to an assistant coaching position in the PLL due to the time associated with the travel and everything involved. If I wasn’t going to get a head coaching job, I wasn’t going to do it. I was good. I was fine. I was complimented to receive an assistant coaching job offer.If you're not being authentic, you're just wasting time. You’re not moving forward. You're creating another obstacle. Click To Tweet
With that said, they ended up coming back. One of the original guys that they had offered, which was Gary Gait, ended up not being able to do it. He was the head of women’s coach at Syracuse University and the best offensive player in the history of the sport. He didn’t get the approval from the Syracuse AD, is what I understood. I was the next guy in line and fortunately, I was given that opportunity and of course, I jumped on it.
You’ve said that the PLL, “The competitive spirit is the highest I’ve ever seen and I coached Division I.”
The highest level that I’ve ever played was trying out for the United States national team, which was even higher than Division I on a consistent basis. When you’ve got 100 of the best lacrosse players in the country competing to make a 23-man roster, the compete level is off the charts, Fran. With that said, it’s also crescendos. You go in there, try out for the US national team, check into your dorm room on a Friday afternoon, have a session Friday evening, and have a session Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon.
After those first three sessions, the way it usually works out is the guys that are having good tryouts, the guys that are in contention to make that team end up playing in what’s called a bubble game, that Saturday night session. What happens is the compete level falls off a little bit for the people that aren’t in that bubble game, and then people that are in the bubble game continue at that same level. With the PLL, you’ve got 8 teams with a 25-man roster and you only dress 19. These guys are competing not only to help your team win on game day and ultimately win the PLL championship, but they’re also competing to stay in that nineteen.
You figure 8 teams, 25 players. That’s 200 players, 19 dressing each time. You got about 170 players that are playing on game day. The fact is these guys, every single shift, every single play is another data point on whether or not you can verbally defend putting them in the lineup or putting somebody else ahead of them in the lineup. With the increase in pay that the PLL offered, which was roughly four times what the MLL was paying, the fact that they’re providing benefits to the players in the league and they’re giving them stock in the league. They’re helping them manage their social media presence, which fuels their marketability, which is phenomenal. It’s unbelievable foresight from Paul and Mike to see that opportunity and to be the first league that promotes the players more so than the individual teams, which is a contrast to every other pro team sport out there.
The fact that they could see that opportunity and jump on it is a benefit to all of us and certainly adds to the excitement of being on a roster but playing on game day for the guys on these teams. When I was coaching in the league, particularly the first season, I’m watching the compete level start to finish regardless of the score. The second criteria in making the playoffs in the PLL is gold differential. It’s not head-to-head. You could be up by eight goals at the end of the game, but you want to be up by ten goals and that does play a role in who ends up getting those last playoff spots. You’re incentivized to the team to play every single shift as hard as you can, whether you’re winning or you’re losing. The closest comparison that I could draw to the compete level of every minute of the PLL games was that of playing in that bubble game in the US world trials.
You got to build a team from nothing. The first year of this is when you go in. There’s a draft. There are four rounds you got to draft. Every draft at one player, which only left you with four players at the end of the draft.
What happened was when it launched, they launched six different teams of a baseline of players and they structured those teams based on familiarity with each other. The Whipsnakes, for instance, have a large contingency of University of Maryland grads. The Redwoods have a large contingency of Notre Dame grads. Atlas were the veteran US team players on a Hopkins-based. The Chrome were a lot of Duke grads. Our team at Chaos was a potluck group. We had 4 or 5 Albany grads. We had a couple of Duke guys, a couple of Yale guys, and a handful of Canadian players. Everybody that was leftover to some degree.
What was the vision for you? We always talk about transformative leaders. We talk about the ability of the leader to stand up and say, “This is the direction I need my organization to go. These are the values it’s going to exhibit. As I build this organization, this is my vision that it’s going to be created under it.” For you, what was that as you looked at that blank slate? Rarely in our careers do we have an opportunity to have a blank slate. You get to build this from nothing.
The way that our roster ended up shaking out, we ended up with more Canadian players than any other team. The Canadian players are the best indoor players in the world, generally speaking. Box lacrosse is like playing the hockey rink, not on the field. You’ve got boards. The balls never go out of bounds.
I played in high school and I got my ass kicked.
It’s a super physical game. It puts an emphasis on stick work. Because it’s close quarters, the passes are right on top of each other. The goals are small relative to the size of the goals and field lacrosse. It puts such an emphasis on having incredible stick work. My feeling was, from an offensive standpoint, let’s try to create a roster that on the offensive side of the ball, we’ve got as many great stick handlers as possible, which allows us to play a style that’s tough for teams to replicate in their preparation to play us. By the time that we are playing the game, they’re going to be playing catch up as a relates to how quickly we can move the ball and how efficient we are at scores.
Box players like NHL hockey players or hockey players in general, have an affinity for their teammate’s success. They’re almost soldiers to their teammate’s success. They’re unbelievable teammates and they are super skilled. Seeing that the dimensions of the field in the PLL are a little smaller than your traditional Division I field, ten yards smaller roughly, it’s somewhat of a hybrid, maybe 3 quarters field and 1 quarter box is the way that it’s set up. With the shot clock, it’s a faster game than your traditional Division I game.
That was the direction that we wanted to move in on the offensive end, and then on the defensive end, we wanted to create a team of ass beaters that if you are going to play, you’re going to have to earn everything that you get. We were able to do that. We had an unbelievable cover guy in Brodie Merrill, who was maybe the best long-stick midfielder in the history of the sport. He’s an unbelievable leader. He’s a Canadian. We had an unbelievable athlete in Jarrod Neumann who went to Providence College. He started the game late, but he’s a superior athlete and a super confident person, 6’5”, 225 was a Division I basketball recruit.
We had a couple of other guys on the roster, but we went out and we drafted Johnny Surdick, who was the national defenseman of the year from the Army, who is 6’5”, 215 pounds, ass beater. Jack Rowlett who played at North Carolina under a good friend of mine, Joe Breschi, who coached me when I was at Brown, ass beater. We went out and we tried to create an offense that moves the ball quickly and all played the same game. All were playmakers and goal scorers. On the defensive end, ass beaters. We were fortunate that Blaze Riorden was our goalie who, in my opinion, is the best player on the planet playing the sport.
Those things together gave us a unique identity in a sport with five other teams that were heavy Americans and five teams that maybe had the advantage due to the familiarity of the players on their roster where each team had a college where they had a lot of those grads. We didn’t have that inherent connection, but we did have a personality trait that was consistent on both ends of the field. We were able to have a lot of success in that first regular season, having the best record at 7 and 3. Unfortunately, I felt like we peaked at the wrong time. We had an injury that hurt us a little bit down the stretch. At the end of the day, we peaked too early in that first season.
In the first season, you did win Coach of the Year. We’ve got to give that to you. In the second season, you call it the bubble because of COVID and stuff, but you went to the championship game. You unfortunately lost. Had that game gone on a little bit longer, you guys were on the move to probably take it back.
The bubble was unique. We were out there for twenty days. The first week was training camp. The second week was round-robin play. We went 0 and 4 in the round-robin play. We tried to win every game. We’re doing the best we can to win the games. We lost two games in overtime and two other games. Going into the playoffs, we got the seventh seed and we drew number two to start. It was the Chrome team that had a great camp. They had beaten us in the round-robin play. We played the game with one of our best defensive players in Jack Rowlett, who had got a concussion the game before and we’ve shifted some things on the offensive side. There were some major changes that we did in terms of who we rolled out to play. It seemed to be the secret sauce for our offense.
We moved the ball incredibly well that game and blew the Chrome out in a game that I thought many people would go in there thinking the Chrome was going to win that game handily. We played the third seed, which was the Archers. We played this Friday night at 8:30 on NBCSN. It’s from an offensive perspective. It’s one of the scariest teams in the league, with many of the best offensive players in the league on that team with great chemistry. We were able to dominate the faceoffs and they had a tough time stopping our offense. We ended up winning that game, too.
We go and play with the Whipsnakes, who were the number one seed, who had won the championship the year before. We were up 6-2 in halftime and feeling good. Although they were the team that won the championship the year before, they went 4 and 0 in round-robin play in the bubble. Every game they won, they won by an average of six goals. They were clearly the best team in the bubble going into that game. Our faceoff guy, Tommy Kelly did a great job of neutralizing Joe Nardella, who in my opinion, was probably the best player in the bubble, winning over 75% of the faceoffs in the pro league, which is incomprehensible. It’s like averaging 50 points a game. We did a great job of neutralizing them.We were going to make mistakes all the time, and we're going to try to learn from those mistakes. Click To Tweet
We’re up going into the fourth quarter with about ten minutes left. They won a few faceoffs in a row and they stuck some big shots. Ultimately, they ended up coming back and winning the game. I credit them. Our only goal is to win the PLL championship and we were closer in the bubble, ten minutes short of winning it. We were the first season where we had the best regular season record but lost in the semis. We’re hoping that the next time, we’re peaking at the right time and ultimately feel that we are. If we can continue to get better, we’re going to peak at the right time, and whether or not that’s enough to win the PLL championship, we’re going to find out.
What do you have to do? You’re going to go into the playoffs. You mentioned the differential on shots. You have a ten-shot differential, so you’ve got 86 shots for 76 shots against Atlas, who’s the number one team, 111 shots for 98 shots against. You said the key to the season is peaking at the right time. As you prepare, what are those 1 or 2 things that you’re telling the team, “We got to clean this up.”
We have nine regular season games. We went to training camp the last week in May 2021 with 30 guys. We were supposed to have a training camp. I’ve got eleven Canadians on my team. Due to Canada’s policy regarding COVID and returning to Canada, securing visas for Canadians that aren’t willing to move down and live in the States over the course of the summer has been a difficult process for us. Due to the difficulty of getting visas approved, that took us from 30 to 24 on those six guys who weren’t available for us at training camp. In our first session of training camp, we had three right-handed offensive players go down with injuries. Now we were at 21.
At the end of training camp, you have to have a roster of 25. That was easy because we had four spots available after that. We start the season against the Whipsnakes, who were two-time reigning champions, and we get off to a terrible start. They hammer us 13-7 or something like that, but the game was even that close. We are playing some guys out of position injured, but we have to fill the roster, so we do and we still got some great players. It’s tough to compete at this level if you aren’t firing on all cylinders.
After losing in Gillette and going 0 and 1 the first weekend, we had two games in week two. We played the Waterdogs and the Archers. We played better. We ended up losing to the Waterdogs by two and we lost the Archers by four. We were there. We were in position. We didn’t deserve to win either of those games, but we could have won. Players are playing out of position. Not everybody is available. We’re battling these issues still as well as injuries, and then we go into game four, which was in Baltimore against the Redwoods. Redwoods got better over the course of the offseason with some trade acquisitions.
We got a couple of guys back and some of the hurt guys were healthy. We got two guys that we’re able to secure their visas. We went out. We limited our offensive turnovers and we won the game. Even though we lost 75% of the faceoffs in that game, we ended up beating them 11-9. We were over three in the first three games of the season, and then we went to Baltimore. We win the next weekend in Long Island. We got two guys picked up off out of the player’s pool. We got another visa guy approved. An injury to one of our best players, Jack Rowlett, prevented him from playing in game six out in Minneapolis, so we lose 70% of the faceoff. We lose that game to the Atlas is number one in the league.
While we were down 9-3, we got all the way back to 11 to 10. There were six minutes left and we had the ball. We didn’t deserve to win the game, but we had a chance to win the game and we fell short. We have a by-week, an All-Star game, and another by-week, and then we go out to Colorado Springs, your hometown. We have the healthy depth for the first time at all positions across the board. We don’t have everybody approved, but we got 23 out of our top 25 approved. Most importantly, we got healthy depth.
We’re able to roll out a much more competitive roster as it relates to a player-to-player basis. We’re more organized and we’ve made some adjustments in what we’re doing schematically in the middle of the field. We’re still riding the best player who’s our goalie. The development of our individual pieces on the defensive end has gotten better and they’ve gotten more connected. We’re starting to get an identity for ourselves. We dressed nineteen each game. We go out to Colorado Springs and we win. We beat the Chrome. We’re excited. It was our best overall effort. I’m feeling confident that we are moving in the right direction was starting to peak at the right time.
We locked up a playoff spot with two games to go going into Albany. The good news is that we locked up the playing spot. The other side of the good news to it is that we’ve got two games and we feel like at this point, if you’re dressing 19 for the playoffs in Salt Lake City, 17 of those spots are locked up. We know exactly who our personnel are there. Creating these gameday lineups is the worst and the hardest part of the job. It’s not something that’s enjoyable.
It’s great to tell somebody that they’re in the lineup if they weren’t the week before, but nothing is worse than telling somebody that’s been in the lineup that they’re coming out. It’s an awkward conversation. My approach to it is I’m proactive and tactful. As soon as we make the decision, I call and tell them right away and make sure that they can’t misunderstand the reasoning behind it. I don’t send an email out to anybody until I have that conversation, align our thoughts, and articulate exactly why we’re making the decision that we’re making.
You got to give them that feedback, but you can’t risk a miscommunication spiraling into something that doesn’t need to be affecting the culture of the team. We made two changes. We know who our seventeen is and it’s coming down now. We’ve got four right-handed players. Two of them will be dressing as 18 and 19 for Salt Lake City and two of them were going to be on the restricted roster. I feel good about where we’re at. I feel like we’re reaching our potential as a group as we get closer to the most important part of the season and that’s the playoffs.
I can’t wait. I’m watching. I can imagine how you feel. You brought up the early days of your career. You grew up in New Canaan. It’s one of the strongest lacrosse programs in the country. You led your teams to three straight championships in Connecticut. You’re an All-American as a junior. You’ve mentioned the 19 & Under USA Team that you were a part of in 1987. You won the world championship in Australia.
Lacrosse was popular when we were kids, but it’s exploded now. It’s the fastest-growing team sport in the country and it’s now coast-to-coast. You’re seeing it where it used to be, primarily here on the East Coast. Why do you think it’s taken off? What is it about the sport that has gained so much popularity? What does it teach kids about competition that’s different from other sports like baseball or other spring sports like track?
The first thing, similar to basketball and even football to some degree, is lacrosse is fun to practice. The practice, the drills, and the games are fun. It’s fun to watch. It’s exciting to play. It has a combination of all the sports. Schematically, it’s the most like basketball. The way that you generate shots offensively, the way that you defend on-ball and off-ball defensively. The schemes and the tempo are identical. I’m a little older than you, but if you have the depth and you’ve got more athletes than your opponent, you can play up-tempo the way the Lakers did in the ‘80s. Play high tempo, max out the number of possession that each team gets. If you don’t have as much depth, you’re going to play a little more like the Celtics play, a little more half-court and slow it down.
It’s got a ton of similarities to basketball. It’s got the physicality at times of football and hockey. It looks a little like hockey. Hockey, like soccer, is perpetually unsettled in situations. Little games of 2 on 1 and 3 on 2. Lacrosse is more like basketball in that respect. Even though it resembles hockey, the physicality is that of hockey and football. It’s got a lot of many different sports in it. It’s entertaining to watch. It’s certainly fun to practice. Those things together make it something that’s fun to watch and fun to play. When somebody picks up a stick, they have a tough time putting it down.
There’s a lot of transferability and other sports even going the other way. You get a lot of people to come in lacrosse from other sports, but then you get a lot of people going the other way, especially coming out of college, into the NFL. Bill Belichick has talked a lot about lacrosse. I was watching something that he was talking about lacrosse. He’s like, “My favorite part is to watch the off-ball offense.” I’m like, “Of course, he’d be the only person to watch the off-ball offense.” He’s like, “It’s interesting what they’re doing back there trying to get into a position.” I’m like, “The rest of the world is watching the ball and this guy is watching everything else that’s going out of here.” Putting it in context, that’s why you’re the greatest coach of all time.
Players, too. Jim Brown was a Hall of Famer in football. Chris Hogan was a wide receiver for the Patriots. He’s quoted as saying that lacrosse is a space game. He credited playing college lacrosse to being successful as a wide receiver because it taught him about leverage. It taught him about finding the holes and the defense and then getting opening and getting in a position. There’s a lot of transferability in other sports that are interesting as well.
As a spring sport, you’re looking at baseball or lacrosse. Would you rather be in the outfield anticipating the ball coming to you, where it might come to you 2 or 3 times a game, or would you rather be part of perpetual action? At one sport, you’re anticipating having fun. In the other sport, you’re having nonstop fun and excitement. I’m not trying to tear down baseball. I played baseball when I was a little kid and it’s fun. The constant action and excitement of lacrosse make it no comparison as it relates to what was more fun for my friends and I growing up.
Certainly, we all played baseball until we were twelve years old. For the most part, we all made the move over to lacrosse and we had a lot of success as a high school team. My class in 1987 was the first class to go through a full youth program cycle. My dad along with Mr. Cochran, another guy in town, with the high school coach Hall of Famer Howard Benedict, launched the New Canaan Lacrosse youth program back in the late ‘70s.You cheat yourself out of a part of life that you wouldn't get if you didn't proactively attack an uncomfortable or difficult situation. Click To Tweet
Our class was the first class to start as third graders and play all the way through. We were playing baseball at the same time, too. We played all the way through so that when we were ninth graders, we’d all had the stick in our hands for six years. There’s such a vantage seeing that. If you can’t pass and catch, it’s a tough game to play. Six years of playing youth lacrosse allowed us to have a roster full of guys that can pass and catch. When you’re married that up with the quality of the high school coach that we had in coach Benedict, we were in a good position to win the state championship, and we did.
You’ve been referred to as “a blue-collar coach and former player who ended up at a white-collar institution in Brown.” Let me throw out a few things. While at Brown, you led the Bruins to Ivy and New England championships. You’re in Division I All-American three times at two different positions, All-Ivy and All-New England, three times, and an Ivy League Player of the Year all at once. You graduated in Brown with season and career goal-scoring records, which held up for 23 years and was not broken until 2016. It’s not bad for a blue-collar kid from New Canaan going to Brown. I can say that because I did not get accepted when I applied to Brown, so I’m a little bit resentful. I loved Boston University and it gave me a journalism degree which I get to use, so it’s okay.
You referenced your attitude as a major driver of your success at the collegiate level. Some called it polarizing. It’s what I read about a lot. You said, “I felt like if I talk smack or set the stage by celebrating in a flagrant way, that I was putting pressure on myself to follow through and be successful.” Can you expand on that? How did your attitude put pressure on yourself to perform? This is the highest level. There’s enough pressure there, but now in a sense, you’re standing up and saying, “Bring it here.” You either have to perform or you’re embarrassed.
First and foremost, I played for Hall of Fame coaches. That was coach Benedict to Canaan High School, Dom Starsia and Peter Lasagna at Brown. The second piece to that is I had unbelievable teammates. The teammates that I had at New Canaan High School were 30 years ahead of their time. In 1987, we had eighteen Division I players on that team, which is absurd. When I was at Brown, I played with a few Hall of Famers, many All-Americans, and many All-Ivy players, but we all shared the same vision for what we wanted out of our college experience.
When I was looking at schools, I looked at Duke, Virginia, Harvard, Cornell, Rutgers, and Brown. I had a lot of options and I ended up choosing Brown. My older brother, Tommy, who is four years older than me, went to Brown. We had familiarity with the school, the program, and the Coach Dom Starsia, who’s Hall of Famer. My teammates at that time all had similar options as recruits coming out of high school. Dom’s vision for Brown’s path to winning a national championship was appealing to all of us.
You have two choices coming out, or at least I viewed it this way. 1) You could go to a program that has had a ton of success already and be part of an ongoing tradition or 2) You could go to a program that may have been successful but hasn’t yet cemented itself as one of the best in Division I Lacrosse. That was Brown for us. We had a great class ahead of us, Jay McMahon, Mike Gannon, Craig Vachris, Mike Marinelli, and Steve Gresalfi, Darren Lowe, and Sam Jackson. We had a great group in our class. Jay McMahon was another one that was a class ahead of me. He’s a phenomenal player, a first-team All-American.
We had so many great high school players in three grades in a row that we were able to move the needle for the Brown lacrosse program. When we went there, it was probably a top twelve team and we got as high as number two in the country in my junior year. We didn’t win the national championship, but we definitely move the program forward and we had a lot of team success. I was fortunate to play with great teammates and play for great coaches at a time when the program was on the rise and everything was aligned for our success.
It is a cool opportunity to be able to build that. It’s almost easier in some sense to fall in on something, but now when you have to build it and you’re a part of it, you can align yourself to that vision, and then you can help to drive it forward. Despite your success at Brown, you ran into a little bit of trouble and ended up in your junior year getting kicked out. What happened?
I didn’t go to class. I didn’t appreciate what I had at my disposal. I was smart enough when I was coming out of high school to choose Brown. I had some great other academic schools that I was looking at. To me, part of the appeal of Brown was it wasn’t a scholarship school. I loved the idea of being able to go and be part of a program and have a chance to win a national championship at a non-scholarship school. To me, that meant more, or at least the way I looked at it.
I was smart enough to choose Brown, but I wasn’t smart enough to understand the opportunity that I had while I was at Brown as a student of what it could potentially do for me and my future quality of life if I had taken advantage of it. It was incredibly humbling. I didn’t go to class and I partied too much. I was flagrant about it. I was not smart. I was irresponsible and immature. Quite frankly, in hindsight, I wish I had failed out of school after the first semester of my freshman year because that would have given me three and a half years of appreciating exactly what Brown had to offer me as a person and as a student lacrosse experience aside 100%.
I always viewed myself during my first three years at Brown as a lacrosse player. I didn’t view myself as a student-athlete at Brown because I didn’t do any schoolwork. I was arrogant, stupid, and immature. When I did eventually get kicked out of school, it was after our best year, my junior year. We were two in the country. I made first-team all American, I was on top of the world, and I was kicked out of school. It was the most humiliating experience I’ve ever had but the best thing that’s ever happened to me because it created a bounce-back opportunity for me. When it happened, my focus completely changed.
I was determined not to have wasted thousands of dollars of my parent’s money. Not only did they sent me to Brown but they also sent me to Lawrenceville to do a PG before I went to Brown. It’s also expensive. Here I was, a spoiled, entitled Fairfield County kid from New Canaan that pistol over that opportunity and was saying more or less to my parents, “It doesn’t matter how hard you work to create this opportunity for me, I’m a good lacrosse player. Screw you.”
That was unbelievably tough to handle for somebody that was cocky and needed to be knocked down. I felt knocked down. I learned my lesson the hard way. That’s the type of kid I was. I needed to lick the skillet three times before I realized that I’m getting third-degree burns on my tongue and that’s the way that I was. It was a great life lesson. It took me a long time to forgive myself and for the world to accept that I had changed from the person that I was during my first three years at Brown.
I appreciate your humility in telling that story because that’s a big part of what we teach. A big part of what we talk about on the show and in our work at the Talent War Group. It’s the ability to be humble, introspective, understand when we screw up and when we look at it. How did you get back?
The first thing I decided to do was getting back to Brown and graduating from Brown was my first priority. I was fortunate when I was coming into high school to get recruited by a guy, Mike Caravana, who was the assistant at Virginia. I almost went to Virginia before I chose Brown in the end. Mike Caravana was the head coach at Denison University out in Ohio. We formed a good relationship during the recruiting process.
When I got kicked out of school, Mike offered me a job to come out there and live with his family and be his assistant coach for a year. I jumped at that opportunity. Part of what Brown needed to see from me was a commitment to doing something positive for six months in a row. I researched to see if coaching lacrosse would check that box and they said it would. I accepted Mike’s offer, I went out there, and I coached the team with him.
I took two classes at Ohio State. I got A’s in those classes. I worked hard for Mike and was perpetually humbled every single day. I should have been a senior at Brown but instead, I wasn’t in school. I was coaching Division 3 Lacrosse out in Ohio and taking classes at Ohio State Newark campus. My teammates were winning games without me and playing in the national tournament without me. It pounded home the fact that I needed Brown and I needed that experience way more than Brown needed Andy Towers. That was something that was extremely motivating.
I was fortunate to get back into school. I valued the opportunity in a much bigger and profound way. I was able to graduate from Brown. I now have a reference point in my life that I can look back on and say, “I stumbled, I fell, and I got back up. I did the work. I accomplished what I set out to do and that was to make my parents proud and create value for the money that they’ve worked so hard to give me that opportunity.” Quite frankly, I’m fortunate that Brown let me back in and took advantage of the opportunity.
In 2014, you were inducted into the Brown Sports Hall of Fame.
It’s a reflection of having unbelievable teammates and having great coaches.
Also, resiliency on your part.
I was talented. I worked hard at becoming the best lacrosse player that I could become, particularly during my sophomore year in high school through college. The lacrosse box was checked. that was never the problem. It was being true and honest with myself about what my deficiencies were and who I was as a person. I was a great lacrosse player but a crappy person. I wouldn’t say I was a crappy friend. I’ve always been a good friend to people but I didn’t adequately appreciate the opportunities that I had at my disposal. Nothing is more sinful than waste.
Let’s talk about you as a coach. You’ve had a few different coaching jobs. You were an assistant coach at Yale, Brown, Fairfield University and head coaching positions at the University of Hartford and Dartmouth College. You referenced playing for Hall of Fame coaches, both in high school and at the college level. Coaches are teachers, mentors, role models, colleagues, friends, pseudo parents to so many kids, young adults, and athletes. Coaches are part of athlete’s lives at these critical moments of their development when they’re most impressionable and when they most need somebody outside of their parents that they can look up to and see how they live and the values that they exhibit.
In addition to your role at the professional level, you also have coached high school. You’ve coached everything from the professional level. I remember in the first conversation that we ever had, you spoke about teaching youth lacrosse. You said that you want kids to be invested. Your style and the way you approach the sport is all-in. The kids have to be all-in because you’re all over them to drive to be better. What role do you see the coach has in the development of young adults and the development of youth? How do you approach that position as a role model, a teacher, a mentor, and pseudo parent?
Growing up having played sports, I was fortunate to have a lot of great coaches. I know how important they were to me. I know the way that I looked at them, think about them, and how much of them has impacted my development and maturation as a person, how I approach fatherhood and being a spouse. I look at coaching outside of the sport. I coached lacrosse and I’ve also coached basketball, football, and other sports.
For me, I look at it as a responsibility to help kids eliminate regret in their lives. To me, that is the definition of success. It’s not getting the desired result that defines success. It’s doing everything that you can do proactively to get the desired result that defines success. It’s no different than preparing to take a test, preparing to play a game, trying to chase the girl you want to date, or trying to get a promotion at work.
You do everything that you can proactively as it relates to focus, effort, and toughness. If you do those things, you’re going to get the desired result a lot more than you would if you didn’t do those things. When you don’t get the desired result, you’re able to come to grips with it quickly and move on because what sets you free is knowing that you did everything that you could proactively.
In all of my programs and teams that I coach, we want to win games, win championships, and win situations but I’m not hung up on that. You don’t have to be a great player. You have to be a great teammate. You have to be a great competitor. You have to choose focus and toughness. If we aren’t successful due to limitations, I have no problem with that. I’m over it but if we aren’t successful due to decisions, I have a real problem with that.
Many of my failures in life, the Brown situation, was a decision to fail. That’s what I did. I decided to fail. It was a matter of time before all the sand ran out of the hourglass. That’s the foundation of my coaching approach, which is we’re going to go down fighting and we’re going to do everything that we can to get the desired result. Whether we do or we don’t, that’s doesn’t define success. What I find is that it sets the kids and coaches free. When they feel free, it’s more fun. When it’s more fun, you play harder. When you play harder, you’re more apt to get the desired result.
Coaching styles is a conversation that comes up a lot in today’s environment with young athletes. In episode three, we had Jerry Remy on. He was the broadcaster for the Boston Red Sox, a second baseman, and a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame. I asked him about the difference between managers now and years ago. When you had Generation X, our generation was coached by the Baby Boomers and the Vietnam Veterans.
My high school football coach worked the night shift at a power plant, lived in his conversion van, and was looking forward every day to the hours between 3:00 and 5:00 where he could beat the crap out of us. If you messed up a play, he grabbed you by the facemask and twist your head around until you fell on the ground. He’d spit in your face until you corrected it. He kicked a guy in the head one time and everyone’s like, “I’m going to play my ass off for this guy. I don’t get kicked in the head.”
My lacrosse coach, on the other hand, was different. He was calm and composed. It was more of a disappointment. It was interesting to have these two kinds of different dynamics because you had the uncle who wanted to beat your ass in the fall and then you had your disappointed grandfather in the spring but you played equally hard for both of these guys.
Can you talk about players now versus players yesterday and the approach that you have to take as a coach to understand what’s going to resonate with them? How has that evolved over time? In your years in coaching, you’ve seen this evolution. From your perspective, how has that changed and how do coaches now have to stop and think about some of the things that are going to resonate better than they may have in the past?
I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I was born in 1968. I graduating high school in 1987. Back then, coaches at times would hit you. I was physically kicked in the ass when I was in high school by a coach. I had a coach say something about my mom that I won’t repeat even though I’ve sworn on this show. It’s the way it was back then. It wasn’t necessarily frowned upon. It may have been looked upon as, “He’s a tough coach.” It was a means to an end.
I’ll never forget coming home after we lost a game in high school and my dad was sitting in the chair, and he said, “Tough game.” I said, “Tough game.” He said, “What did the coach say after the game?” I said, “He called mama C in front of the team.” He didn’t even look-up. He goes, “Maybe he’s trying to motivate you.” That was the mentality back then. In hindsight now, as a coach, I love that was my dad’s response. It was awesome because it made me appreciate the message and not get wrapped up in the packaging, which is so critical for young athletes and people to reach their potential seeing that not every coach is going to put his arm around you and tell you exactly what you need to hear.Teamwork is critical to everything that we do. Click To Tweet
Sometimes, they’re going to kick in the ass and whether they physically do it or whether they undress you verbally, which would be nowadays version of that physical kick in the ass, they’re trying to get the best out of you. With that said, you can’t do that these days. I wouldn’t do that anyway. I don’t need kids to be great players for me. I need kids to control what’s decision, effort, and toughness related. If you do those things, you make coaching a great experience.
Most importantly, you create a template for success and everything that you’re going to do in your life moving ahead. It’s proactively doing everything that you can to be successful. It comes back to that. People could say that kids now are all coddled. Everybody gets a trophy and all that stuff. I don’t know if I necessarily am a believer in that 100%. That exists in some areas.
Ultimately, as coaches, your players and the culture of your program are going to take on the characteristics that you consistently show them that are important. Being proactive, tactful, clear in your communications, and setting adequate expectations that are accomplishable are all things that help the partnership work. It’s a partnership. As coaches, you create the rules for your team and your program. You need to exemplify the characteristics, as coaches, for your locker room.
You need to help parents now help their kids acquire those characteristics. As a coach, it’s not like, “We’re going out there and you’re going to do what I say. If I say jump, you say, ‘How high?’” You’re dealing with smart kids and smart people. If they ask you why you’re asking them to jump and your response is, “It’s because I say so.” They’re going to write you off. If they don’t write you off, when they tell their parents, their parents are going to write you off. Once the parents write you off, the kids are eventually going to write you off.
You need to be able to verbally defend why you’re asking every kid in your program or that you’re responsible for why you’re asking them to do what you’re asking them to do. If you can do that responsibly, respectfully, clearly, and it makes sense to them, then I found that nowadays, kids will go above and beyond and not only self-police but police each other within the framework of those characteristics. That’s cultivating leadership. That’s the way I look at my role as a coach and what you know hope to leave as a legacy.
There’s integrity and authenticity, a realness, about how you present yourself as a coach. There’s a realness to your emotion. It’s raw and it’s you. There’s no hiding. Jerry Remy said in episode three that if you’re a fake, everybody sees right through you. You can’t be a fake. You have to be genuine to who you are. Through your story, you’ve exhibited that. Through the various stages of your life, it’s always been real who you are at this moment in time. Can you talk a little bit about authenticity as a coach and the player’s perspective of when they see someone who is as invested in it as they are versus someone who’s there because it’s more their job versus their life?
That’s super humbling. I appreciate you saying that, Fran. Thank you. If you are not being authentic, not moving forward, and not creating another obstacle, you’re wasting time. I’m too selfish with my time to waste any of it. I say to every group that I coach, “You might not love everything that I say but I’m going to be proactive, hopefully, be tactful and be honest with you.” Even if you don’t like what I say, hopefully, you can appreciate the respect that we show you in the communications of our decisions.
We’re going to make mistakes all the time, we’re going to try to learn from those mistakes, and we’re going to admit those mistakes. Everything that we do, we’re going to have a purpose to it. We’re going to be able to verbally defend why we’re making these decisions. Some of those things will be black and white or super subjective. You might not agree with the reasoning or the ultimate decision. Hopefully, you can respect the fact that we’re coming right to you.
We’re saying that this is what we’re going to do, this is why we’re doing it, and we’re tactful in the way that we communicate that to you. If you do that, you feel a sense of ownership from everybody, even the people that you’re taking out of the lineup because they feel like they have a say. Even though we maybe make a decision that they don’t necessarily embrace, love, or agree with, the fact that you’re willing to have a conversation with them about that decision fuels a sense of ownership.
Ownership is critical between players, coaches, and support staff to have everybody on the same page. It’s easy to be on the same page with the coaches when you’re a starter or you’re playing. In my opinion, an authentic coach or a good coach is somebody that can keep everybody unified when they’re giving them the news that they don’t necessarily love, which is, “You’re not starting now. You’re out of the lineup this week. We’re putting in the player’s pool.” Those are the tough conversations.
To me, there’s no other way to be with people than to be straightforward, honest, and proactive. You’re not sitting on conversations that you know you have to have. You drop the dime, you man up, and you make the call. If you do that, a lot of times, those tough conversations end up being some of the best conversations that you can have.
I had a guy on my Chaos team years ago in my first season, Jeremy Thompson. He’s an unbelievable human being. He’s native American. I was calling to inform him in game five that he wasn’t going to be in the lineup. I was thinking, “I’m going to call up JT74 and I’m going to let him know.” I hate this conversation but I said, “The way I’m going to do things is the way I told these guys I was going to do things.”
We ended up having a 90-minute conversation and maybe three minutes of that was lacrosse-based. We went on to talk about his family and my learning experiences at Brown and some of these things. We were able to draw many parallels in our lives that made it an unforgettable conversation with this guy and have a genuine friendship and even though he doesn’t play for us anymore, he got picked up by another team. It’s conversations like that make it rewarding. It makes it a situation where you almost cheat yourself out of a part of life that you wouldn’t get if you didn’t proactively attack an uncomfortable or difficult situation.
That realness is what’s bringing you together. That’s what’s creating trust within the team and the organization. One of the things that I admire about your leadership is your ability to give credit. In this conversation, you’ve named 50 or 100 people in all areas of your life, all aspects, players, coaches, friends, people who’ve influenced you and people who’ve you’ve worked alongside who’ve worked with you and for you.
Acknowledgment of the role players play in an organization is a core tenant of you. If you watch any of your press conferences, it’s all about the players and you name them. I want to bring up one press conference, in particular. I have two parts to this conversation. Your goalie, Blaze Riorden, was asked, “Like the best goalie in the world, do you think you’re the best player in the world?” You immediately yelled out, “I do.” The whole plays can hear it.
I’m also fascinated by Blaze’s answer where he says, “I want to be the best teammate in the world. I want to be the best leader in the world. It’s always been a goal to be the best player in the world. Every year is a new year. Every game is a new opportunity. It starts with being the best version of yourself.”
For the record, Blaze is the number one goalie and possibly the number one player with 124 saves and a 61% save average. First, why are praise and acknowledgment so important to your leadership style? What does it mean on the other side as the player when they hear the coach praise them? If you are Blaze and your coach is the first person to say, “That’s the best player in the world.” What does that mean?
It might mean something different to different people. The two things are connected. Positive reinforcement is important. I don’t say anything I don’t believe.
That’s why I think this is important because it’s authentic. You meant it and it wasn’t bullcrap.
I 100% meant it. I mean it and I still mean it. You take what Blaze said in that interview and I don’t think that you reach the level that he’s reached if he doesn’t focus on being the best teammate and the best leader. He’s got unbelievable God-given ability. With that said, as quick as his hands are, as great as his positioning is, as much of a leader as he is in running the defense, and as great as he is helping us get out in transition, all of that stuff pails to his mentality.
He is not consumed by his success. He’s consumed by the team’s success. He is a soldier to his teammate’s success. That’s what he cares about. His responses in these postgame interviews are always like that. That’s who he is. He’s as authentic of a human being as you’re going to find. When you are leaders and your best players are the ones that are the most humble, the most understated, and recognize that their success is 100% connected to the success of those around them, that’s when you are on the verge of something special.
There’s a lot of talented players out there but there’s not a lot of talented players with intangibles like that. He’s 100% authentic. Part of the responsibility that we have as parents, spouses, co-workers, coaches, teachers, and whatever it may be is to recognize that teamwork is critical to everything that we do. In the game of lacrosse, for instance, there might be a guy that catches the ball in the back pipe and scores five right-handed goals. He’s not doing it alone.
It’s applicable to almost every single situation, even individual sports. You take golf or a tennis player, they might be the only one out there but they have their strength and conditioning coaches. They’ve got all of their team of people and it’s all part of that. It’s connected. It’s important to recognize that your success is the team’s success and the team’s success is your success. Good coaches do a good job of making sure that is a widely held opinion. They do a good job of making athletes aware of their intangibles.
Those are the things that you decide about yourself that you want others to see in you and say about you, “He’s a great teammate, hyper-competitive, got great body language, mentally tough, physically durable, and committed to the same degree whether he’s a starter or he doesn’t play at all. His attention to detail is consistent whether he’s a starter or he doesn’t play at all.” It’s character. The most important ingredient to team success is having a roster or having a locker room that is a high-character locker room. You try to make that a priority among the people that you’re in charge of.
That’s what the greats do. Austin Collie was in the previous episode and he’s talked about Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Reggie Wayne. They were the hardest-working players in the organization. He speaks about how he went in and he thought he was a hard worker until he saw this. This was the next level. There was this need to immediately correct mistakes and to work harder than everybody else. He has a great quote from that episode where he says, “How can I help make the team better?” It’s not, “How can the team make me better?”
That’s such an awesome quote. I talked to parents that I coach a ton of these teams. One of the worst pieces of advice that kids get from parents is, “If you want more playing time, go in and speak to the coach.” It’s the worst advice I’ve ever heard. All that does is tell the coach that all you care about is yourself. There’s not a good coach out there that is concerned about getting a specific player more playing time. It’s not about you. It’s about the team.
The fact that Austin Collie says it the way that he says it, “How can I help the team?” That’s a team-first question. That’s a we question. “How can I get more playing time?” It’s a me question. It’s one of the worst questions you can ask a coach. Yet, it seems like you hear that all the time. Nothing is more of a turnoff, at least to me, than when somebody comes in and says, “How can I get more playing time?” My response is, “Work your ass off. Shut up and wait for your turn. It might come and it might not but that’s in the best interest of the team. The team’s success is what I care about. That’s what you should be caring about more too.”
Let’s dig into that a little further. The coach has a responsibility to the team to get them to that end state but the coach can’t do it. There comes a point where you, as the coach, have done everything that you can do to prepare these players for success. How do you approach that juncture, that point in which you have internalized, “I’ve done everything I can. Now I have to turn it over to you as the players and as the leaders of that team to now execute?” How do you drive that into that organization?
I try to pound home the point that this is a partnership. We all want the same things. We all want to get the desired outcome. Whether that’s winning the game, winning a championship, or whatever it may be, it’s a partnership. If the players on the team do what you ask them to do with a super high compete level, focus, effort, toughness, and they aren’t successful, that’s my fault as the coach. If they don’t do what you ask them to do or they do but they don’t do it with a high compete level and they don’t do it with the things that are focused, effort, and toughness-related, then that’s their fault.
With that said, a good coach is going to take ownership of his team’s ability to focus, compete, play with toughness, and be mindful of that while you’re integrating scheme and all of those types of things so that they’re motivated and inspired by the fact that they feel ready to play, know what their respective role is, and know what we’re trying to do from a big picture standpoint in all areas of the game. At the end of the day, it’s a partnership.
Sometimes, the team needs a kick in the ass. Sometimes, they need to be calmed down. For me, I’m always trying to address, what are the facts of the situation here? Where are we? Where’s the other team that we’re playing? What are the keys to the game? Tie that back into focus, effort, toughness, and then I feel like we’re ready to go. As the game goes on, if there are schematic adjustments that need to be made, that falls on us as the coaches, everything is a conversation.
Our timeouts and practices are conversations. Coaching the PLL, you got some of the best lacrosse minds in the world on your team as players. I’d be foolish not to utilize their thoughts and their input. We do that but at the end of the day, we’re going to make the final decisions but we’re going to do it with input from the players. Once we commit to it, then everybody is picking up a shovel.
We say it all the time, “We don’t mind the idea, guys,” but that’s got to come during the week and at practices. Once we get to the game, it’s execution. We agree on what we’re going to do and we’re going to do that with focus, effort, and toughness. If we do that consistently, we’re going to be successful. We’re going to get the desired result a lot more than we would if we weren’t able to do that. That’s what’s sets you free.
There’s an intensity about you as a coach that I find admirable. Sitting here in this conversation and listening to it makes me want to flip the table and be like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do but I’m going to rip someone’s head off.” This has been an amazing conversation. I am thankful and fortunate that we can share these lessons with our audience and the leaders that we’re developing. If you can’t take something away from this as a coach, a leader, an athlete, wherever you sit in an organization, then I don’t know what else that can do for you.
It’s super humbling. I appreciate it.
I do want to have a little bit of fun here at the end for a couple of things because you have a few phrases that you throw out a lot. I have seen some videos of you throwing these phrases out, which has resulted in people trying to rip doors off walls and smashing things across the room. I’m going to throw them out and I want you to come back real quick. What’s the three-line and what it means to you and your organization? The first one is, “Stick to the process.”
Do what we’ve practiced. Don’t second guess what our approach is. We’ve agreed on what our approach is and we’re going to go out there. As much as we have a plan in place at the end of the day, the team that plays the hardest is usually the one that wins. Part of playing hardest is using your voice, making smart decisions, being disciplined, and have a commitment doing your job within the framework of the big picture plan.
In special forces, we used to make a plan. When a guy would go to the door, you’d have a plan. You’d be ready to breach the door and he has plans to go right. When you breached the door, he goes left. You’re like, “What the hell did you do?”
That’s when the money is on the table.
Now it’s a skill because it’s like, “You almost got yourself shot in the back.” Number two, “Chemistry trumps talent every time.”
One hundred percent, especially in the PLL, this game is a team sport and it’s about getting connected. The difference between the best individual players versus that next year is razor-thin. Chemistry trumps everything. As you look to put together the best roster that you can, there is little value in super talented players that are high maintenance as people. The best players are the ones that appreciate the importance of being zero maintenance as people, as players, and as teammates. Zero maintenance people get connected the fastest and the best.
There’s a trust factor across the whole organization. Number three, “Sell your soul between the lines.”
Don’t get beaten up. Don’t get outworked in the blue-collar areas of the game. This game is about possessions. Outside of scoring more goals than the other team, it’s almost always the team that wins the groundball battle that ends up winning the game. In the PLL, the offenses are good that they’re going to score goals. Which team has the ball more? That’s usually the team that’s going to score more goals. In the middle of the field, you sell your soul. You got to be willing to take the pain associated with winning the situation. That might be a pain as it relates to endurance. It might be a pain as it relates to getting checked. It might be a pain to getting yanked out of the lineup and you don’t like that. Be willing to take the pain for the success of the team.
Here’s my favorite one, “Nothing is better than walking into a bar and having everybody go, ‘That guy can kick everybody’s ass.’ That’s the first guy you go over and punch in the face. Nothing is better than beating someone up who’s coming to kick your ass.”Recognize that your success is the team’s success and the team’s success is your success. Click To Tweet
I was trying to create a parallel to a situation that our team was in. The Chrome that we were playing that game is a tough team. They got tough coaches. Their back was against the wall. They were rabid dogs waiting to be unleashed. If you wait to respond and let somebody get the first couple punches in and you don’t know how hard they punch, they might knock you out, and you might be dead before you even have a chance to get on your feet.
My point in saying that was to let these guys know don’t wait for the toughest guy in the bar to come over and start pushing you around and throw the first punch. You might not get up. You might get rinsed and get swept out of the bar. I wanted to make sure our guys understood the importance of going out and throwing the first punch. Nothing feels better than beating somebody up who thinks he’s tough who’s coming for you and knocking him out first. That’s what we try to do and that was the purpose of that story.
It’s words to live by. Who wins in a fight, Andy Towers or Stone Cold Steve Austin?
Hopefully, I never have to fight Stone Cold. My money would be on Stone Cold.
I like you but my money is on Stone Cold. You’re a big dude but he’s bigger. We got to close out, Coach. In World War II, the Jedburghs had to do three things to be successful every day. They had three core foundational aspects. In your world, you call them stick-skills. If you can’t catch on 30, you can’t do anything else. It doesn’t matter how good you are. The Jedburghs had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate foundational core tasks. Any other challenge, they could tackle divert energy if they were successful in those three things. What are the three things that you do every day to set the foundation for your success?
Get a workout in, handle my business administration, and make sure my family knows I love them. Those would be the three things that allow me to have zero regrets every day, which defines success.
We talk about the nine characteristics of elite performance on the show and we say that elite performers have to demonstrate all nine. They demonstrate them at different times, in every situation that needs all nine. Depending on the situation you’re in, you’re going to exhibit a couple of them at different times. I say that I take one and I attribute it to my guest because it’s what defines them. It’s what defines you. I look at you and I think of team ability. The ability to prioritize the need of the organization, the goal of the organization ahead of yourself, to build and work as a cohesive unit towards winning with this multiplicative attitude that the sum is greater than the individual parts exponentially.
Coach, thank you for joining me on the show and taking time out of your busy schedule. You have the playoffs coming up and we’ll be watching. We’ll be cheering for you and the Chaos. You’re not only a coach, but you’re a mentor, a role model, a leader, and a friend. You’re a legend in your own right. You are an inspiration to all of those who aspire not only to win but to dominate in anything that they set out to do. Thank you.
Thank you. I don’t know if you could give a bigger compliment to somebody than that. It’s humbling. I’m super appreciative of you having me on. It was an awesome time hanging out with you. I learned a ton and I take a ton from this. I’m excited about where we’re all going. Thanks a ton, Fran. I appreciate you having me on. It’s super humbling.
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