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College Lacrosse Coaching Candidates: Harvard

The Crimson are looking for their 3rd head coach in 10 years. Who will be tasked with turning around the program?

Rob Butler

Like the Navy Midshipmen who we looked at last week, the Harvard Crimson are back in the coaching market for the first time since 2011. Chris Wojcik went 65-65 in eight seasons, reaching one NCAA Tournament in 2014, but missing the Ivy League Tournament the last three seasons and being seen as largely wasting lots of highly touted recruiting classes. Harvard is a difficult job to parse, it’s a program that’s made just six NCAA Tournament appearances and only two in the last 23 years. However it’s a program that consistently recruited at an elite level, starting with John Tillman’s tenure there and continuing under Wojcik. It’s hated rival the Yale Bulldogs also has become a powerhouse, leading to questions that if Yale can become a power, why can’t Harvard?

It will be a job that will attract interest though, and with that in mind, here are some possible candidates to be the next Crimson head coach, from favorites and obvious names, to some potential surprises.

The Favorites

Ryan Polley, Boston University Head Coach

  • The man most be people expect to be the frontrunner for the job. The inaugural and only head coach in BU history, Polley has accumulated a record of 47-47 in six seasons with the Terriers, almost immediately establishing the program as a solid squad year in and year out. After a tough opening campaign at 2-12, BU has had a winning season in three of the last four years, including winning 12 games in 2017 and 11 in 2019. He also recruited Chris Gray, the nation’s leader in points and a sure-fire All-American this year to Boston, and his connections in the area, coaching just three miles away from Harvard’s campus, makes him an ideal candidate for the Crimson. The only impediment may be that Polley was a Yale assistant for six seasons prior to becoming the HC at BU, and that rivalry runs very, very deep. But assuming he’s been separated from the Elis long enough for the bosses at Harvard, he checks every box.
  • Likelihood of being next Harvard head coach: 8.5/10

Chris Feifs, Vermont Head Coach

  • Another coach who would make sense based on proximity and connections in the Northeast area, Feifs has burnished a reputation as one of the best young coaches in the nation the last two seasons at Vermont. Following a five-win first season in 2017, Feifs has led the Catamounts to a 20-11 combined record the last two seasons, including a program record 12 wins in 2018, a runner-up finish in the America East Tournament and stints in the Top 20. Vermont returned to the America East Championship Game in 2019, losing by just a single goal to UMBC, and recording another winning season at 8-7. Being just 34 years old, and also having connections to the ACC from his playing days at Maryland (when the Terps were a member) and his seven seasons as an assistant at North Carolina where he helped lead the Tar Heels to a national championship, there are lots of pluses to Feifs’ candidacy.
  • Likelihood of being next Harvard coach: 7/10

Jon Torpey, High Point Head Coach

  • Perhaps the man considered to be the next elite coach in Division I, Torpey’s reputation has skyrocketed after 2019, but he’s done a tremendous job over his entire seven year run as the only coach in High Point history. Torpey’s accumulated a career 54-53 mark as HPU’s coach, achieving winning seasons in four out of his seven years as coach, including a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2015 as SoCon Champions, and 13 wins this past season, as the Panthers pulled off wins over Duke and Virginia and spent parts of the season in the Top 10 and virtually the entire season in the Top 20. In addition to his tremendous level of success building up the Panthers program, Torpey has previous experience coaching in the Ivy League, as he was an assistant at Dartmouth prior to taking over at HPU. With all that in mind, it would be quite the pull by Harvard if they were to make him their next head boss.
  • Likelihood of being next Harvard coach: 7.5/10

Andrew McMinn, Robert Morris Head Coach

  • Another name who’s built up a tremendous profile and run of success at a mid-major program, McMinn is 64-58 in his eight seasons as the head coach at RMU, with five winning seasons and most impressively, two consecutive NEC Tournament Championships and trips to the NCAA Tournament. The Colonials were 13-5 in 2018 and had the lead on #1 overall seed Maryland for significant stretches before coming up just short. And they’re back in the fold again this year, winning seven consecutive games after a 1-7 start. His teams have also had lots of success offensively, scoring an average of 13.7 goals per game this year, good for 12th in the country, and ranking 16th in the country in scoring offense in 2018, which is something that is needed in an Ivy League Conference that has become known for high powered offenses and elite attackmen. Five attackmen have hit 60+ points for McMinn at RMU, including Luke Laszkiewicz, who led the country in Goals Per Game in 2016.
  • Likelihood of being next Harvard coach: 6.5/10

Keegan Wilkinson, Marist Head Coach

  • If Harvard’s looking for a coach with a sustained and proven track record this decade, it’d be hard to look past Wilkinson. Taking over at Marist before the 2012 season, Wilkinson has put together a sterling 68-57 record, with five winning seasons in eight years. The Red Foxes had won just 23 games in the four years before Wilkinson took over, and then won 36 in his first four seasons. They’ve made NCAA Tournament appearances twice, in 2015 and 2019, including being apart of the Final 16 of the field in 2015. This year they put together a strong record of 10-7 and dominated the MAAC, going 8-1 in regular season and conference tournament play. The Crimson have perennially struggled with inconsistency and underachievement, so someone who has maximized the talent he has at a difficult job could be a strong choice. However there’s always a curve coaching at jobs like Marist compared to in the Ivy League, and he doesn’t quite have the recruiting track record of some other names.
  • Likelihood of being next Harvard coach: 6.5/10

Other Candidates

Peter Toner, Penn State Associate Head Coach

  • When you have a season at the level that Penn State is having, assistants will certainly attract attention. Toner should be one of those. In his 9th year on the Nittany Lions coaching staff and 5th as associate head coach, Toner has coached the PSU defense and also been their primary recruiter. His defense has seen Chris Sabia earn USILA Honorable Mention All-America status in 2018 and Inside Lacrosse Media Second Team All-America honors this season. As the primary recruiter for the Nits he’s helped build what is the most talented and deep squad in D1 lacrosse, that is heading towards an all-time great season. With those abilities, especially the recruiting which Harvard has fared well at, it makes sense to target Toner. He also has ties to the area, as he’s an alum of Springfield College in Massachusetts.
  • Likelihood of being next Harvard coach: 6.0/10

Mike Abbott, Penn Offensive Coordinator

  • How do you deal with the fact that coaching in the Ivy can be a different beast and more difficult compared to other conferences? Hire a coach who’s in the Ivy League at the moment. Abbott has done a tremendous job in his sole year as the Quakers OC, taking an offense that averaged just nine goals per game in 2018, and improving them by a whopping six goals this season, now averaging 15 a game and ranking 2nd in the country in scoring offense. Prior to his time at Penn he was the offensive coordinator for seven seasons at Colgate, where he coached Peter Baum to a Tewaaraton Award win in 2012; the #2 scoring offense the country that season, the #25 scoring offense in 2015, and another Top 10 Unit in 2018, ranking 9th with 11.9 goals per game. As high powered offenses continue to rule the Ivy League, swiping the man who transformed Penn into the Ivy and one of the nation’s best would be a smart move.
  • Likelihood of being next Harvard coach: 6.0/10

Sean Kirwin, Virginia Offensive Coordinator

  • Similarly with Abbott, getting a coach who knows the in’s and out’s of the Ivy League eliminates the learning curve that takes place with it. Kirwin of course was the offensive coordinator and mastermind of Brown’s unique, hyper-speed fast break offense in 2015 and 2016 after being brought on board by Lars Tiffany. The Bears were 5th in the country in Scoring Offense and 24th in Offensive Efficiency in Kirwin’s first year implementing the system, up from the mid-30s and 40th respectively in 2014. Then, as we all know, they took the sport by storm in 2016, leading the country in Scoring Offense with 16.3 goals per game, nearly three whole goals ahead of the 2nd place team, and ranking 5th in Offensive Efficiency. Since following Tiffany to Virginia, he’s helped the Cavs rank in the Top 10 in Scoring Offense each year, though their efficiency numbers in 2017 and 2018 didn’t match the success at Brown, 13th in 2017 and 23rd in 2018 and again hovering in the middle of the Top 20 or so this year. That could dissuade Harvard a bit, and there’s the fact that Kirwin did not want the head job at Brown when Tiffany left but chose to follow him to UVA. Does he want to be a head coach? It’s worth knowing. But he is a candidate to include.
  • Likelihood of being next Harvard coach: 5.0/10

Craig McDonald, UMass Defensive Coordinator

  • McDonald has burnished quite the reputation the past few seasons, working with the Minutemen’s defense and goalies. Part of the UMass staff since 2014, after a difficult first two seasons, where they ranked 30th and 43rd in Defensive Efficiency, McDonald’s units started to steadily improve starting in 2016, where they ranked 14th in Defensive Efficiency and gave up less than 10 goals per game. While they took a step back to 23rd in Defensive Efficiency in 2017, they still gave up just 10.1 goals per game and ranked Top 20 in Caused Turnovers Per Game. 2018 saw the Minutemen rank 17th in Efficiency and give up just 10 goals per game, including just 7.2 per game in an 11 game win streak that saw them return to the NCAA Tournament. And then this year was his best yet, as they gave up a mere 8.9 goals per game, good for 3rd in the country in Scoring Defense, and featured two first team Inside Lacrosse Media All-Americans, in LSM Isaac Paparo (Note: He’s really a defenseman) and Goalie Sean Sconone. With his track record of success and producing elite players not from the Crimson’s back yard, you have to imagine McDonald will get consideration.
  • Likelihood of being next Harvard coach: 5.5/10