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Morrissey Attempts the Impossible: Winning with Holy Cross

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Jim Morrissey unquestionably has the predigree you'd look for in a head men's lacrosse coach:

  • Two-time All-America at Syracuse (1995 and 1996).
  • Member of two national championship teams (1993 and 1995).
  • Former team captain (1996).
  • Assistant coach at three major Division I programs -- Cornell (1998), Syracuse (1999-2000), and Hobart (2007-2008).  During his time with the Orange, Syracuse secured a title and finished as a the national runner-up.
  • He resurrected the Marcellus (New York) boy's high school program in 2009 and 2010, leading them to their first sectional win in a decade.
  • He founded a youth lacrosse club, building it from scratch.

He has the personal player experience.  He has the high-major coaching experience.  He has the experience building programs from the bottom-up.

Yet, he is now charged with probably the most difficult task in Division I men's lacrosse: Turning Holy Cross into something other than a doormat.

Yesterday, Holy Cross officially removed Morrissey's "interim head coach" tag and named the former Syracuse star as the program's head coach.  The school's athletic director had the following to say during the press conference:

"It is our goal to take the men's lacrosse program to the next level, and that all begins with the head coach," said Regan.

Good.  Great.  Grand.  Wonderful.

One problem, though: 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.

To wit:

  • 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.  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.

There are also other factors present that probably make Holy Cross arguably the hardest job in the country -- athletic department support, alumni support, etc. -- but those are likely secondary factors to the notes outlined above.  It's a tough road to travel, man, and there are stop lights all over the place.

We obviously wish Morrissey the best of luck and hope he can get the Crusaders pointed in the right direction, but in order to do so he's going to have to move the Earth with something other than a lever.