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Report Card: How Did Johns Hopkins Do In Finding A New Coach?

Replacing a legend is pretty daunting, here’s my take on how Hopkins did in finding their new head coach, Peter Milliman

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NCAA Lacrosse - Division I - Semifinals - Johns Hopkins vs Virginia Photo by Joseph Labolito/Getty Images

Like many lacrosse fans, I was pretty stunned on April 14th when news broke that Johns Hopkins and former men’s lacrosse head coach Dave Pietramala decoupled. I was quite fond of Petro, as he was essentially the only Hopkins coach I had ever known since I’ve been a college lacrosse fan and the suddenness of his departure from the stage was pretty stunning.

However, after me and the rest of the College Crosse crew did our pod the night of the decision and the initial shock wore off, my attention immediately moved on to who was coming to Homewood to replace the big guy.

On Sunday, April 26th we got our answer, as news leaked that JHU picked former Cornell men’s lacrosse head coach Peter Milliman as the man to take over the Blue Jays. The school made it official on Monday, April 27th with a YouTube press conference to introduce Milliman to the public and media. So how did Hopkins do in their search for their new head coach? Below is my take on the process and the final selection of coach Milliman as the new boss of the Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse team.

Speed Of The Process: A

Call me a shameless homer/propagandist all you want, but I have to give Hopkins a perfect score for how swiftly they filled the coaching vacancy. There is never a good time to move on from an iconic head coach, however, doing so in the middle of a global pandemic makes the chore that much more difficult. If you listened to our pod, we were definitely concerned about how exactly Hopkins was going to be able to competently search for, interview, and then finally choose their new head coach in the middle of a national shutdown.

However, despite our reservations and the difficult environment, JHU Athletic Director Jennifer S. Baker and the search committee she hired to assist in the process were able to research, interview, and then finally select a high quality replacement in less than a fortnight after the April 14th decision to move on from Petro. I gotta say that is pretty impressive.

Swiftly finding a replacement is not just a style issue, indeed, the transfer portal is plentiful this year and Hopkins not having a head coach prevented the Blue Jays from really being a player. Additionally, Hopkins had a couple players who entered the transfer portal shortly after Petro was let go and there was a possibility that more players would follow suit if a new head coach wasn’t found in a timely manner. Now that they have found their man, the Jays have a good shot at keeping their own players from leaving and perhaps may end up scooping up some other players looking for a new team.

Milliman was asked about Hopkins playing a role in the transfer market this year, particularly landing some Ivy League players looking to play a 5th year at another school in an interview with US Lacrosse Magazine this week and he said it was a possibility.

“It’s a possibility,” Milliman said. “There’s a lot of young men who I’ve competed and coached against and gotten a chance to see firsthand what type of competitors they are. Because of the way the rules work in that league, it might provide some opportunity.”

Getting the right coach is paramount regardless of how long it takes, but finding a quality coach swiftly helps Hopkins greatly. It provides structure for the players already at Homewood and it permits the Jays to potentially land players in the transfer portal looking for a new home, as the team now has someone to captain what was once a leaderless ship.

Control of the Process/Media Leaks: B

JHU did a pretty good job keeping the process under control. Jobs like Hopkins don’t open up too often in lacrosse, so there aren’t many recent examples to compare this situation with, but the best and most recent case that comes to mind would be when UVA had to find a replacement for Dom Starsia in 2016. While UVA fans are probably quite happy with Lars Tiffany and the state of the program now, the process of replacing coach Starisa wasn’t the smoothest.

Indeed, there was the initial report that Virginia had reversed course and decided to keep Starsia and then for about a week there was open speculation that Kevin Corrigan was UVA-bound, before he decided to remain at Notre Dame. UVA obviously found the right guy for the job in Tiffany, but there was a point in time when the Cavs kind of lost control of the process.

In comparison the process in finding & then hiring Peter Milliman was pretty smooth for Hopkins. Yes, there were names being bandied about on Twitter and yes there were some irrational Hopkins alums in the media that were unhappy that it had been a little over a week and their favored candidate hadn’t already been selected. Additionally, there was the odd matter of Albany men’s lacrosse head coach Scott Marr taking himself out of the running for the job, despite later stating that he was never called about it.

Nevertheless, despite some names bantered about on social media, the Hopkins search for Petro’s replacement wasn’t nearly the circus that UVA went through in the first few weeks after Dom Starsia was let go. So for that, I’m giving Hopkins a B for controlling the process and preventing leaks.

Division I Head Coaching Experience: B-

There’s a lot of upside to Hopkins hiring Peter Milliam, which I will get to in a moment, but when it comes to experience as a head coach at the Division I level, there were other candidates who had a longer and arguably better resume than Milliman’s 2.5 seasons at Cornell. I don’t mean to imply that Milliman had a bad tenure in Ithaca. Indeed, he did a very good job while he was with the Big Red, as the team was arguably the best in the nation when the season shutdown in March, however, the fact remains, he has been a Division I head coach for only a limited amount of time.

To be completely fair, Cornell was not MIlliman’s first head coaching job in lacrosse. Indeed, Milliman had a successful head coaching stint at Pfeiffer University (Pfeiffer men’s lacrosse competed in Division II while Milliman was the head coach. The school moved up to Division III in 2017), where he led the Falcons from 2009-2012. While he was the head coach at Pfeiffer he took the Falcons to two Conference Carolinas title games (2011 & 2012) and was twice named the conference coach of the year (2009 & 2011). Milliman was also the head coach of the Russian National Team at the 2014 FIL World Championships.

Maybe others would give Milliman a higher grade for head coaching experience than a B-, but I think that is a fair grade for him. Cornell only made the NCAA Tournament once during his time there (2018) and while the Big Red looked great in 2020, they played less than half of their scheduled games, so there’s no way to know how the rest of the year would’ve played out. Additionally, many, including pretty much everyone at this site, were quite critical of Cornell’s inability to adapt when teams would face-guard Jeff Teat at the end of the 2018 season and through much of 2019, so it’s not like his time at Cornell was spotless.

There’s a lot to like about Milliman and he did do a good job while at Cornell, but objectively speaking, he hasn’t been a head coach at the Division I level for that long, especially compared to the other names that were in the running for the job.

Upside Potential: B+

As I said above, there’s a lot to like about the Milliman hiring if you are a Hopkins fan. By all accounts the man is a ferocious recruiter and his 2020 Cornell team was second in the nation in scoring offense before the shutdown. One would think that at a school like Hopkins that Milliman would be able to parlay JHU’s prominence in the sport & his recruiting skills to land some highly touted recruits. Moreover, his experience as both a defensive & offensive coordinator is something not all coaches have in their background.

Additionally, he did a great job in rebuilding Cornell during his time there as head coach. Indeed, when Milliman took over as head coach, the Big Red were coming off back-to-back losing seasons and were on a downward trajectory as a program. Milliman turned the program around and left Ithaca with a 28-10 record. Cornell was one of the best teams in the nation this year before the shutdown and looked like a viable contender for the Ivy League crown and a possible Final Four run.

Moreover, while Milliman only made the NCAA Tournament once during his time at Cornell (2018), he did lead the Big Red to the Quarterfinals that year, which was the farthest Cornell advanced in the Tournament since their Final Four run in 2013. So it is fair to say that Milliman breathed new life into a program that was headed south.

Bottom line, having a young, intelligent coach, with a great recruiting track record, and having already rebuilt a peer lacrosse institution that was flaying for a couple seasons bodes well for Hop’s prospects.

Alumnus: F

I’m a Hop alum but I don’t agree with the sentiment that Hopkins needed to hire from within the family. I can totally appreciate that idea, and in an ideal world that would’ve happened, but I am more a fan of getting the right person for the job than making sure the next head coach graduated from the school.

Irrespective of my personal beliefs, there is a large contingent of Hopkins alums and fans that are not happy that someone who didn’t wear Columbia Blue & Black in college is now leading the program. Indeed, in Mike Preston’s article in the Baltimore Sun about the Milliman hiring he noted that:

There is a lot of anger among Hopkins alumni about the hiring of Milliman. They wanted an alumnus like Hobart’s Greg Raymond, Hofstra’s Seth Tierney or Utah’s Brian Holman. The favorite appeared to be Towson University coach Shawn Nadelen, who played under former Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala, who split with the program two weeks ago. Nadelen, though, never got an offer, according to a source close to Nadelen, and didn’t have contact with the school after Friday morning.

Milliman’s didn’t go to Hopkins and he doesn’t have any real connection to the school. It doesn’t mean he is doomed to fail at Homewood, but he’s from outside the family. It is what it is.

New Direction: B+

Petro is one the best players to ever play lacrosse and is, rightfully, considered one of the best coaches in the game. He’s charismatic, thoughtful, and a towering figure in lacrosse. He was the link between Hop’s hegemonic days of the 80s & the modern-day program we have now. Moreover, he helped usher Hopkins into the Big Ten and kept the team relevant during a time of increasing parity and expansion. Nevertheless, one could argue that the program had become stagnant since that glorious run from 2001-2008 that marked the first half of his tenure.

Hopkins was still a competitive team from 2009-2020 and made six quarterfinal appearances (2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, & 2018) and one Final Four (2015) during that time. But there was a growing number of Hopkins fans who were unhappy with the inglorious exits from the NCAA Tournament over the last four seasons.

I wrote about the disconcerting way Hopkins had been getting blown out of the the NCAA Tournament over the last several years right after they got smashed by Notre Dame in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. I certainly wasn’t calling for Petro to go, but I did acknowledge that bad NCAA Tournament losses were starting to become the new normal at Homewood, which was not good for the brand.

Milliman might not be a Hopkins Man®, but maybe having a guy from outside the family is exactly what the team needs right now. Indeed, Maryland made a change from Dave Cottle after the 2010 season because the school was not happy with the state of the program. The Terps then hired a non-alum, who had a good reputation as a recruiter but whose Division I coaching resume consisted of a dozen years as an assistant and a 20-19 record as head coach of an Ivy League team. Long story short, hiring John Tillman worked out well for the Terps.

I am not predicting that Milliman is going to have Tillman-level of success at Hopkins. But sometimes change or a new direction is good and if you are looking for a coach with a different perspective, who can help move the program into a new direction, than Milliman certainly fits the bill.

Overall Grade: B

All in all, I’d have to give Hopkins a B overall for the process and final section of Peter Milliman. The process itself was was done competently, swiftly, and it didn’t turn into a public spectacle. Additionally, aside from him not being an alum and a relative lack of experience as a Division I head coach, Milliman doesn’t have many other glaring deficiencies. He’s a great recruiter, runs a clean program, and had a strong record while at Cornell. Hopkins could’ve done a lot worse.

Nevertheless, while Hopkins did a good job in their search and hired a guy with great promise, all that will matter over the next few years is if Milliman wins or not. As we always say here at College Crosse, there are no moral victories in lacrosse. No one will remember what a good job Hopkins did in finding a head coach during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 if the program doesn’t win in the coming years.

As for Milliman himself, I’m really excited about the hire and I think he can do very well at Homewood. He may not have played or coached at Hopkins, but fans & alums should give him a fair shot. As the saying goes, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might just find, you get what you need.

What do you think about the hiring? Let us know in the comments section.