March 28, 2006
Baltimore, Md. - Sean Burns is the sports editor of the Maryland Gazette in Glen Burnie as well as a staff writer for The Annapolis Capital. Recently he sat down to interview Charley Toomey, Loyola's first-year head lacrosse coach. The following interview has been posted on LaxPower.com.
Sean Burns: Basically, let's start at the beginning and find out a few things. You're from Annapolis. What first got you into sports and specifically, lacrosse?
Charley Toomey: Actually, that's kind of a funny story. I grew up playing soccer and started playing lacrosse at a young age. In the beginning, I just played defense. The goalie from our team (in the Police Athletic League in Hillsmere) broke his arm during the season one year when I was probably seven or eight years old, and the head coach, Mr. Gormley said "We need a goalie, any takers." Nobody wanted to get in the net, but he said we had to have a goalie to proceed, so he made a deal: whoever the goalie was, they wouldn't have to run sprints for the rest of the year, because they would be working with you in goal and that's where they were going to make you better.
Obviously, my hand went up first, not wanting to run anymore sprints, and it was kind of a passion for me ever since to be in the goal.
SB: How did you get into lacrosse...was it a family connection, or just growing up in Annapolis that got you involved?
CT: I think, in Annapolis, everybody does it. A lot of my friends had played hockey, and they all said that it was a great sport and I should give it a try. At that point, I had grown up playing softball, but once I got a stick in my hand, it was over. I just loved it.
I loved going down to the Naval Academy and watching their games, or going down to the University of Maryland for their games.
I had an uncle that played at Washington College, so I got to see Rick Sowell play, along with a lot of excellent players back in the '70's.
Even the club games were great. We'd see McGarvey's vs. Clark Saloon, games down at PAL park, and I thought, Someday that could be me.
SB: The sport's been huge forever in Maryland, but in the past 10-15 years it's started to explode all over the country, even out West. What was it like before it got so widespread and all the companies started pumping money into the marketing and everything?
CT: I can remember living in Annapolis and having to drive like, 20 miles to Bacharach-Rasin to find a lacrosse stick.
It wasn't in every sporting goods store...there wasn't a laxworld at that time. You had to drive out there to find a goalie stick or whatever you'd need.
The sport has just exploded, and now with the Internet and chat rooms, it's catching on.
SB: After the youth programs, you started out your high school ball at Archbishop Spalding (in Severn, MD), and then moved on to Boys' Latin (Baltimore). What was the motivation behind the move?
CT: It was the opportunity. I had a good friend named John Holthause that I had gone to Spalding with, and they were good friends with coach (Bob) Shriver.
I always had watched Severn, and knew about Boys' Latin and Gilman and those schools in that conference. At that time, they had just lost their goalie, named T.J. Blair, who went down to Virginia. I looked around after my Junior year, knowing that I wanted to go to college to play lacrosse.
Coach (Bob) Shillinglaw (University of Delaware) did me a favor when I was at Spalding, telling me that he probably wasn't going to recruit me. He said that he hadn't seen me play, and he didn't know the competition we played.
It rang home to me that if I wanted to get the exposure, I had to play at the highest level.
It was then that I knew I wanted to look into probably repeating my junior year and playing at Boys' Latin.
That first year at Boys' Latin, we won the state championship and then my senior year, we lost in the state championship, but we had made it there. Coach Shriver obviously, being such a great and passionate coach, just intensified my love for the game.
SB: What was the atmosphere in the MSA like back then. Would you say that the MSA A conference would be comparable to what the MIAA A conference is now?
CT: Day in, day out, every Tuesday and every Friday, you knew you were going to be playing against kids that were going to Syracuse or Hopkins or Maryland or the Naval Academy.
I think we had nine guys in my senior class (at BL) that went on to play division one.
We had Tim O'Leary (Maryland), Glen Smith (Towson), Mark Dressle (Hopkins), Mike Thomas and Dougie Scheritz (North Carolina).
It was like, not even with every game, but with every practice, you were playing against great players.
SB: As a goalie at the highest level there, I've heard that sometimes you have to deal with some gnarly injuries. Any big-time horror stories from your playing days in high school or college?
I always said, I'll let the other guys chase the ball around. I know where it's coming. It's coming at me.
SB: So you did well at BL, and then moved on to play college ball here at Loyola. How did you wind up on Charles Street?
CT: Coach Shriver was good friends with coach Cottle. He said 'Hey, I've got a guy you might want to take a look at'. Again, we had been to the playoffs and the championships.
I'd say that coach Shriver's friendship helped me out a lot, getting a look here at Loyola.
I also had a mentor here in Tom McClelland, who is also from Annapolis and went to St. Mary's. I knew he was a goalie up here, and we were already friends. I thought it'd be great to have an opportunity to play with him, and come into a program that had never made the playoffs before.
I can remember in the locker room back at Boys' Latin, some of the guy's going 'You're going to go play at Loyola College?' Everybody else was going on to play for these proven teams, but for me it was a great fit.
I had an opportunity to visit some other places, but I felt like staying local, giving my parents an opportunity to come watch me play, whether it was a Tuesday game or a Saturday game. It was important to me to have them on the sidelines. I enjoyed staying close to home. It's not right there, being from Annapolis, but you can make it as close or as far as you want.
SB: You just touched on Loyola having never been to the playoffs when you arrived there, (in 1986). Things didn't stay that way for long. What was it like playing on a team that went from such D-1 obscurity to, in your senior year, playing in the National Championship game (1990
CT: My freshman year, we didn't make the playoffs.
But coach Cottle had it in our heads that we were going to make the playoffs, and he had us practicing that extra week, and doing our doubles-sessions.
When selection day came, we just missed it, but we had that taste in our mouths. He got it into our minds that we were a playoff team. The competitive juices were flowing.
In my sophomore year, we made the playoffs for the first time, and we beat Air Force at home before losing to UPenn in a great game to end our season.
They, you might remember, went on to play Syracuse in the 'Air Gait' game. It was a great game, and for us, we felt like we had arrived. All the hard work that the teams had put in before us, got us to this point.
My Junior year here became my opportunity to really start in goal in the program., and we had a sensational season. we went 10-0 in the regular season and had a first-round bye. North Carolina came to our turf in the second round, and they defeated us in a war.
Again, we knew that we had enough in our locker room to get us up over the hump. It was a very disappointing loss for the team, but it was a special feeling for us, to be a Loyola Greyhound in our locker room and to be in Baltimore.
We knew Hopkins was right down the street and they were a great program, but we knew we could walk around with our jacket's, too.
SB: One game that stands out in Loyola College history was the national semifinal (a double overtime win over Yale in 1990). What was that game like?
CT: It's almost surreal to me. I can remember the rainy day.
I can remember being down by three goals late in the game and seeing people starting to leave.
It was magical though, we started to win faceoffs and went down and scored. We made a run late in the game that made people turn around and get back in their seats.
And to put it in overtime and then to win it in two overtimes in the rain up at Rutgers, it was a great day. It was something I'll never forget, and it's something I want for the kids in our locker room right now.
We opened our season at Rutgers that year, and won a close game. I can remember after winning that game, coach Cottle said, 'I want you guys to run to that fence (at the end of the field).' So, we ran to the fence and he said 'look at that stadium. That's our goal. That's where we want to come back to.'
Every day, that goal was in the back of our mind, to get back to that stadium at the end of the season.
SB: In your playing and coaching career, you've worked with some big names (Cottle, Meade, Matthews, etc.). Who would you say had the biggest influence of what you do as a coach?
CT: You try to take something from everybody. Certainly from coach Shriver, he was an educator and a teacher, and a very fair man. You knew where you stood every day as a player. If you were a starter or a third-stringer, he had an open-door policy.
Coming to Loyola college and playing under coach Cottle, I don't think anybody is a better X's and O's tactician than coach Cottle. He also taught me the work ethic. He would push you, very hard, and expect the most out of you every day. And he would let you know if you didn't.
That's when I decided, during my senior year, that I wanted to get into coaching. I never spoke with him about it, but the day we lost in the championship (to Syracuse), on the ride back on the bus, I asked him if I could join the staff as a volunteer.
Working with coach Cottle for two years gave me the opportunity to meet Dave Allen, who had been the defensive coordinator at Loyola. He's just a great man, and gave me a defensive philosophy.
He would work with me so I understood how to go out and be a coach.
He showed me what to say out on the field to get people to understand why I was saying what I was, how to get these people in the right spot.
Coach Matthews (Navy) thought there would be an opportunity up at NAPS (Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, RI), and coach Cottle thought that maybe it was time to push me out of the nest.
So I went and coached up there, and had a wonderful experience as a head coach. I had an opportunity to coach Andy Ross, who was a world team member, and really get my feet wet as far as making these decisions on my own.
After being up there for a year and a half, there was an opportunity down at the Naval Academy and coach Matthews brought me down as an assistant.
Working for Bryan Matthews and Matt Hogan, I got a chance to see another team's philosophy. I had kind of grown up in Loyola's system, and now I got to learn the Naval Academy's way.
Not only that, but I got to teach classes and get to know the kids there. I actually got a commission. I was an Ensign at NAPS and when I left the Naval Academy, I was a Lieutenant, Junior Grade.
Another big thing for me was that Matt Hogan was a family guy. For me, working down at USNA, seeing Matt's children at the game, and seeing Matt leave to go work with rec leagues, it showed me that you could be a coach and a dad.
A year after being there, Richie Meade came on, and nobody's as passionate about his job as Coach Meade. Nobody gets more out of their team. He is an educator, he's a motivator, he's a very good x's and o's guy.
He is one of the most intense, passionate people that you'll ever meet in your life. He taught me a whole other side of coaching, he'll break you down and build you up, and you'll play for your teammates and common goals.
Some might say, he's too militaristic, but it was a great experience to learn from.
After that, I found out that there was an opportunity to be the head coach at Severn.
I loved Annapolis, I didn't want to leave the Naval Academy, but I decided to take the MIAA job.
After the first year at Severn, coach Cottle had called me and asked if I wanted to come back. I can remember saying that I felt like my work wasn't done there. After the third year and third phone call, I felt like I had done the things I wanted to do down there, and college coaching was where I wanted to be.
I loved being an alumni director and working in development, but I was just thinking about lacrosse, 24-7. For me to come back and be involved with recruiting and scouting and practices again at the division one level was where I wanted to be.
SB: at that point, you had high school head coaching experience to go with your college assistant experience. Did you have a timeline as far as when you wanted to get a college head coaches job?
CT: For me, I was home when I went back to Loyola.
After having been in the system at another program and coaching here, it would have to be a special place for me to leave again. I left a job at Severn making more than $30,000 and came here to a job making $17,000. My wife looked at me like I was crazy. We figured that, at that level, we would be moving on before too long, but when more money came into the program and that second assistant spot became more of an actual paid position, it became possible for me to stick around a little bit longer and work my way up.
When Coach Dirrigl left (to go to Rutgers), I was given the opportunity to move into his chair (as first assistant coach), and then when he came back when Coach Cottle left, I stayed in that position.
SB: Throughout the years, both as an assistant to Cottle and a head coach, Coach Dirrigl got a reputation as something of a intense, in your face sort of coach. You're known as more of a subdued coach. Do you feel like you have to have someone on your staff to fill that niche?
CT: I think I have to be true to myself first. I don't want any of our coaches to be somebody that they're not.
I think these kids know, day in and day out, what they are going to get from Charley Toomey when they come into the coaches office.
They know where I'm coming from, they know where Bobby Benson is coming from. We don't need to do 'good cop-bad cop' with them. When it's time for one of us to get after them, they know that it's probably warranted.
They all know, I wore this jersey. I was a captain. I've been an All-American in that locker room, which is no different form our guys right now, our captains, our fifth year seniors. They care about the program every bit as much as I do.
SB: You mentioned coach Benson, who is a 2003 Hopkins grad. Are you ever afraid that he's a spy, and he's going back to Coach Pietramala with all your strategies?
CT: Nah, Bobby is a great young talented coach. I was fortunate that when I got here, we already had someone who is a great coach and a great people person in Matt Dwan. Obviously, we had to fill a chair, and Matt and I being defensive people, we had a void on the offensive end, and nobody works harder than Bobby Benson.
I had spoken with Seth Tierney some time ago, and he felt that Bobby was young, but he was going to be a great coach at this level. Everyone that I spoke with when I was putting the short list together, his name kept popping up. Bringing Bobby over here has been a great coup for us.
He's a great recruiter and he's got the eyes and ears of the kids in our program. He not only tells them what to do, but why to do it.
SB: You and coach Dwan are both defensive guys. Do you delegate defensive responsibility to him, or do you both work with the D?
CT: We're both keeping our hands on it. Obviously, I've got to take a look on the offensive side of the field as well, but I'm the defensive coordinator. Those kids know to look at me first, and that's the way I want it right now.
It's tough to be a coach and run the box on game day, which is what coach Dwan does. You've basically got to be a traffic cop up there, and he's doggone good at what he does.
After this year, we'll re-evaluate what we're doing as a coaching staff and try to get the most out of what we do. If that means more between the lines stuff for me and letting Matt grow, then we're going to look at that.
SB: Under coach Cottle, this program reached some lofty heights. Since his departure before the 2002 season, things have fallen off a bit. What are you doing to get the momentum going back in the right direction?
CT: I think it starts with getting back to the playoffs, but we've broken it down a little further than that.
We're trying to keep up with that Greyhound work ethic every day in practice, not letting anyone take a drill off. Offense and defense, there's a winner and a loser in every segment of practice. We want to get back to winning on each side of the ball, so we've tried to make practices a little bit more competitive.
Really, it comes back down to getting this program back to the playoffs. We have won a lot of games around here, but unfortunately the guys in the locker room have never been to the playoffs They don't know what it takes, so we're trying to get them over that hump.
I think in the league that we're in right now, our schedule's as tough as anybody in the country plays. I think, even when we were winning in the '90's, we didn't play the schedule that we play now.
We play Towson, Duke, Syracuse, John's Hopkins as our out of league games, then we have UMass, Georgetown, Rutgers, Fairfield in the ECAC. You've got a tough, tough game, week in and week out. There are no gimmies on our schedule.
We want to put that 2006 plaque on the wall. The kids know what they're fighting for, but we want to win the ECAC and get back to the playoffs.
But, even if you're second place in the ECAC, because of the schedule, you've got a good chance to make it.
SB: You've done recruiting before as an assistant, but what is your philosophy as a head coach. Are you trying to aggressively recruit the traditional hotbed areas, or are you trying to branch out into some of the newly-developed wells of talent in the country?
CT: We want the best player from anywhere. The program deserves it.
This is a great school, right in the heart of Baltimore. We've had a lot of unofficial visits already this spring. Recruiting is going faster and faster every year. You try to get 'em on to the campus, and once they get there, they see that Loyola is a great place.
Whether a kid is from Arizona or Texas or from the heart of Baltimore or upstate New York, if you're a player that can help our program, we want you to come for a visit.
SB: In the last few years, the sport has grown far beyond those traditional hotbeds. How, as a coach, do you keep on top of that expansion?
CT: Ten years ago, you probably went to the summer league, like the Loch Raven All-Star game, and you could find the best talent there. Then you'd go to the championship game of the Empire league in New York.
Now, you go to the camps. There's Peak 200, Top 205, Texas top 100, theres all these opportunities to travel and see these guys play, and that's where you do most of your work. That, and having guys send tape for you to look at. You want to have all your ducks in a row in terms of your Junior year recruiting.
SB: When you get a kid to make a visit, what do you think the school or the lacrosse program has to offer to a young player? How do you sell it?
CT: I think, you walk through this campus, you get a suburban feel even though you're in the city of Baltimore. Obviously, it's a Jesuit school, so it's a little bit different from a Hopkins or Towson. There is a religious tone to it.
It's a wonderful school, and there are so many opportunities within. When I was here, it was a lot of education majors, but now there's engineering majors and a ton of business majors.
Here, you're not just a number. You get to know your advisors and your teachers. It's a nice environment. I think that having the Jesuits on campus is another source for when you need somebody to talk to, there's always somebody at the school that's willing to listen to you and help you.
SB: A final question: You're obviously a family man. You've got three daughters (Ages 7, 4, 3). Being the head coach, have you had to sacrifice time with the family, or is it just a bit more than you were doing already?
CT: It's just that little bit more. Again, what coach Hogan taught me, it's who you are when you go through the door at home.
I'll usually get up here earlier, so I can leave and be home to read stories to my daughter's during their bedtimes.
Obviously during the summer's when you're not at camp and on weekend's when you're at home, that's when you make it up.
My wife is the rock. She knows that I love what I do, and I'm fortunate that she allows me to do it. I just try to spend as much time as possible during the down time in the summer and fall because in the Spring, you're on the road, you're at practice, you're in study hall.
SB: You got them playing yet?
CT: Not yet. I don't understand the rules of women's lacrosse...I've got to figure that one out. But I'm going to bring them up to watch our girls' play, because they're excellent. We're going to take them up to camp this year and put sticks in their hands and see what happens. Hopefully there'll be no goalies in the future.