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College Lacrosse Coaching Candidates: Stony Brook

Who could be the coach to help the Seawolves recapture their early decade magic?

Jim Harrison/Stony Brook Athletics

At the beginning of the decade, the Stony Brook Seawolves were the pre-eminent mid major conference in college lacrosse. Led by one of the all time great midfielders in Kevin Crowley, they got to the NCAA Quarterfinals in 2010, at home at Kenneth P. Lavalle Stadium, and came up just one goal short of the Final Four in a loss to Virginia. They would win 10 games the following year in 2011 as well. But then Crowley and that elite senior class graduated and Rick Sowell left to take over the head coaching position at Navy. Jim Nagle followed and made the NCAA Tournament in Year 1, but only had three winning seasons in his next seven and never got back to the dance.

So the Seawolves are back looking for a new head boss. On paper this is a job with some attractions. Lavalle is a great venue for lacrosse, the school is located within a hotbed for lacrosse talent on Long Island, and the women’s program has had huge success within the last couple of the years. It is a program without a long track record of success and there are challenges, but you could win there, and it could be enticing for an up-and-coming coach.

The Favorite

Ryan Wellner, Navy Associate Head Coach

  • If you want to recapture the glory days you once had, why not target someone who had an integral role in them? Wellner was at Stony Brook with Sowell for three years from 2009-2011, when they went 32-14 and 15-1 in conference play. An experienced recruiter, he also helped Sowell build the British Columbia pipeline of talent that included Crowley and was a big factor in SBU’s success. Wellner has been at Navy since 2012, following Sowell from SBU. Working with the Midshipmen’s defense, he’s led them to ranks of 14th in the country in Goals Against in 2012, 20th in 2014, 13th in 2015, 2nd in 2016, and 15th in 2018. There were five All-American selections for Navy players during Wellner’s time as an assistant, three times for Chris Fennell and twice for Matt Rees. Wellner also serves as Navy’s recruiting coordinator. With how highly he is thought of in lacrosse circles and his ties to the program and area, he is the favorite for the moment.
  • Likelihood of being Stony Brook HC: 8/10

The Second Tier

Rick Sowell, Former Dartmouth, St. John’s, Stony Brook, and Navy Head Coach

  • This would be interesting. Conventional wisdom is you never go back and I’m not sure I can ever recall it happening in lacrosse. But Sowell’s five year run at Stony Brook was the best in the history of program, a 47-26 record, 19-6 in America East play, and their furthest ever run in the NCAA Tournament. His 64% win percentage during his time at SBU is 11% better than Jim Nagle’s during his run, 8% than Lars Tiffany’s, and 15% better than John Espey’s. Whether or not he’d want to get back into coaching immediately is a question as to whether or not SBU would want to go back down that road again. But it’s hard to deny his resume and his availability
  • Likelihood of being Stony Brook HC: 7.5/10

Sean Kirwan, Virginia Offensive Coordinator

  • The offensive coordinator of the reigning national champions, Kirwin will be sure to garner interest after his run this season and over the last few years. At UVA he’s helped the Cavs rank in the Top 10 in Scoring Offense all three seasons, including averaging 14.5 GPG in this year’s NCAA Tournament. His offense’s ability to strike quick was prevalent in the Maryland game, where they put up 5 goals in under seven minutes in a furious comeback, and then it’s prolificacy was on display when it scored the most goals against Duke’s vaunted defense all season in the semifinals. At Brown, the Bears were 5th in the country in Scoring Offense and 24th in Offensive Efficiency in Kirwin’s first year implementing his hsystem, 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. His UVA offense’s 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 maybe dissuade SBU, but it’s doubtful after the tournament. However he did turn down the chance to take over Brown after 2016, it’s worth wondering whether he wants to be a HC. But Tiffany was successful during his stint at Stony Brook, why not go get his top lieutenant?
  • Likelihood of being Stony Brook HC: 7/10

Kevin Unterstein, North Carolina Defensive Coordinator

  • If the Stony Brook job is one that could appeal to up and coming coaches, then Unterstein certainly fits that bill. A coach with big ties to Long Island, Unterstein played high school lacrosse at Shoreham-Wading River, before going on to play for Hofstra where he experienced great success from 2005-2008. He then worked for a season at Princeton with Bill Tierney in 2009, helping lead the 5th ranked Scoring Defense in the entire country. After another season with Tierney at Denver in 2010, Unterstein moved to his alma mater for the 2011 season, taking over control of the defense. He was an immediate success, leading the #1 Scoring Defense in the country in 2011, giving up a mere 6.56 goals per. After dropping slightly to 13th in 2012, the Pride began a streak of three straight years in the Top 10 of Scoring Defense, finishing 8th, 8th, and 7th from 2013-2015. They remained in the Top 15 in 2016 and 2017, before rising all the way back up to 2nd in 2018. They also twice had a Top 10 defense in Adjusted Efficiency, in 2015 and 2018. The Pride’s defense was never outside the Top 15 in the country with Unterstein and frequently was among the elite in the country if not the best. This season he moved to North Carolina, and the Tar Heels climbed 24 spots in Scoring Defense, finishing inside the Top 25 for the first time since 2014. His track record is exceptional, he has ties to the area. It could be the perfect hire.
  • Likelihood of being Stony Brook HC: 7/10

Matt Danowski, Duke Assistant Coach

  • Our own Chris Jastrzembski has heard Stony Brook has some interest in Danowski. Danowski is well known on Long Island, the son of John obviously, who spent 18 years as the head coach at Hofstra. Danowski played high school at Farmingdale, where he was a three-time All-American, scoring 170 goals and 208 assists in his four years. So the connections line up. Danowski has spent the last seven seasons as an assistant with the Blue Devils, his alma mater, where he works with the offense. Duke’s offense has put up big time number’s under his tutelage, ranking 3rd in Scoring Offense in 2013 and 2nd in 2014, also ranking 3rd in Offensive Efficiency in ‘14, as the Blue Devils won back to back national championships. After the graduation of Jordan Wolf in 2014, who led the offense, Danowski re-worked the offense in 2015 to be featured through the midfield of Myles Jones and Deemer Class, and Duke again ranked highly, 4th in Scoring Offense and 6th in Efficiency. The run continued in 2016 and 2017 as Duke ranked 4th and 7th in Scoring Offense and 8th both seasons in Efficiency. 2018 saw Danowski’s protégé Justin Guterding break his Duke records, with 113 points as the Blue Devils bolstered Top 5 Scoring and Efficiency offenses and finished as national runner-up. This year was a step back though, as the Blue Devils were 22nd in Scoring Offense. Danowksi’s resume is sterling, six straight years of Top 10 offenses and multiple First Team All-Americans coached. There is a question though of how much he adds and how much John adds, Duke had phenomenal offenses and elite offensive players for years before Matt got there. There’s also a lack of any experience outside of Dino’s tree. But the resume is strong and the connections are as well.
  • Likelihood of being Stony Brook HC: 6.5/10

Others

Andrew Stimmel, Yale Offensive Coordinator

  • Stimmel has a unique history as a college coach, which could appeal to the leaders of the SBU search. He started his D1 coaching career at Yale, working with their defense in 2014 and 2015. They finished Top 10 in Defensive Efficiency both of those years, along with being 9th in Scoring Defense in 2015. He then moved to Marquette as defensive coordinator in 2016, putting together a Top 10 Scoring Defense and 15th ranked defense in efficiency as the Golden Eagles made their first NCAA Tournament. After one year he returned to Yale, but switching over to the offensive side of the ball. He had immediate success, ranking 9th in Scoring Offense in 2017 and 15th in Offensive Efficiency. Then a year later he led the #2 Scoring Offense, which won the National Championship and featured Tewaaraton winner Ben Reeves. The Bulldogs were again elite this year, 3rd in the country in Scoring Offense and going all the way back to the title game. A coach who’s led elite, Top 10 units on both offense and defense and has a championship pedigree is not something you get often. However he has no obvious ties to the Long Island area or recruiting pedigree, which could hurt him.
  • Likelihood of being Stony Brook HC: 5.5/10

Brad Ross, Ohio State Associate Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator

  • Long been viewed as a rising assistant and future head coach, Ross has spent the last five years as an integral part of building the Ohio State Buckeyes into a national power. In his first season they made it to the Quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament, and he coached a Third Team All-American in Jesse King. In 2017 he won the IMLCA Assistant Coach of the Year award, as the Buckeyes went all the way to the national championship game with one of the best man-up offenses in the country. Ross has also been the recruiting coordinator for OSU since his arrival, building a talent pipeline throughout the country but especially in Canada, bringing in players such as Tre Leclaire, Jeff Henrick, Jackson Reid, and Justin Inacio. It was a pipeline of talent into Canada that helped build Sowell’s great teams at SBU as mentioned above, so this could be that very much appeals to them. However Ross’ offenses have never really lit the world ablaze, only twice finishing in the Top 30 in Scoring Offense and their best ranking was 19th. I’m of the belief the reputation may be greater than the actual coaching.
  • Likelihood of being Stony Brook HC: 6/10

The Wild Card

Joe Spallina, Stony Brook Women’s Head Coach

  • It’s not going to happen. But it had to be mentioned. Many people - including myself - would say the best candidate for this job is already on Stony Brook’s campus and it is Spallina. The man who took over the SBU women’s program in 2012, took a program that had won only 11 games in the previous three seasons and won 14 in Year 1. Who’s since lost one conference game in the last seven years, winning 16 games or more every year, a combined 14 conference titles, and coached teams who went a combined 40-3 in 2017 and 2018, lighting the scoreboard ablaze and breaking records with an incredible offense led by the likes of Kylie Ohlmiller, Courtney Murphy, and Taryn Ohlmiller. And doing so with a roster almost entirely constructed of players from Long Island. His recruiting connections in the area are tremendous, going back to his time at Division III Adelphi where he won two national championships. He also has experience coaching men’s lacrosse, as he coaches in the MLL on Long Island with the New York Lizards. He ticks every box possible for SBU. But it’s not going to happen. Spallina has built something incredible with the women and doesn’t look like he’s going to stop anytime soon. Why leave? Also it would not be a good look for the coach who’s done so well with the women’s program to up and leave as the men’s job comes open. He’d do great in my view, but the Seawolves will go elsewhere.

Updated 6/3: Addition of Matt Danowski as candidate due to information obtained through sources via Chris Jastrzembski.