I don't know how Jim Morrissey is doing it at Holy Cross, but he's doing it. The Crusaders aren't exactly lighting the college lacrosse world on fire with a pedestrian 4-4 mark on the season, but for Holy Cross, achieving that record is something akin to pulling a rabbit out of a hat with no hands and then having the rabbit -- POOF! -- transform into a rock guitarist ripping a riff that makes your ears bleed and heart sing.
When Holy Cross pulled the "interim head coach" tag off of Morrissey's title last season, I was pretty skeptical as to whether -- nevermind when -- Morrisseey would be able to get the Crusaders into a competitive position. Everything looked stacked against the former All-America:
While the process of moving Holy Cross "to the next level" includes having a great coach, the biggest issue still remains -- even if the Crusaders have a great program pilot, he's still asked to administer the hardest job in America.
- Holy Cross is 24-85 since 2005. The last time they won more than six games in a season was in 2007. They went winless in 2006, claiming a share of the "Reverse Survivor" championship with Wagner. That's a marked culture of losing that needs to be overcome.
With membership in the Patriot League, the Crusaders are precluded from offering athletic scholarships. (The Patriot League does give out athletic scholarships these days. Who knew? (Apparently everyone, given the emails that flooded my inbox.) Thanks, all!) When you combine that with the conference's (and the institution's) overall academic admissions requirements, Morrissey is staring down a tough task of finding quality players that he can actually get into school. Regardless of coaching success, this is an institutional and conference hurdle that will never dissipate.
- On the Patriot League point: The league's competitive nature isn't going away any time soon. Army is consistently on the national radar, Navy has come back to the field a bit in 2010 and 2011 but are usually around a 10-win team, Bucknell has been around or notably above the .500 mark over the last five years, and Colgate is right in the middle of a gigantic hotbed for the game. Even if Holy Cross improves its talent base and Morrissey coaches them into Godzillas, the Patriot League ladder rungs are a difficult climb.
- While Holy Cross is geographically situated in a location with youth talent, that is no longer an automatic recruiting advantage for schools anymore. The Crusaders are competing against Massachusetts and the Rhode Island programs to try and keep the local talent at home. That isn't an easy task, especially considering the culture of losing that Holy Cross has faced.
What I didn't realize was that Morrissey owns a cape and a book of spells which he uses to cast spells that improves lacrosse play almost across the board. Look: Holy Cross probably isn't going to be playing for conference titles anytime soon, but the improvement that the Crusaders have made in just one year is pretty astounding. Holy Cross is still performing toward the bottom of the country in many legacy metrics, but they're no longer at the bottom of the country. That, in and of itself, is a major achievement.
Here's some selected statistics showing the Crusders' performance since 2009. The improvement in 2012 over these other periods deserves a steak dinner served by political dignitaries:
|Possession Percentage||44.46% (58)||48.76% (41)||46.50% (56)||49.62% (36)|
|Adj. Offensive Efficiency||19.1106 (55)||23.6838 (48)||19.5135 (58)||30.1066 (23)|
|Adj. Defensive Efficiency||26.7730 (31)||27.4623 (24)||31.8857 (52)||35.1443 (57)|
|Adj. Efficiency Margin||-7.6624 (50)||-3.7785 (39)||-12.3722 (56)||--5.0377 (49)|
Jim Morrissey deserves hearty man hugs for what he's done in just under a year. Big, burly, back-slapping man hugs. He won't win National Coach of the Year this season, but his efforts are not without merit.