This is the story of two rookie coaches. Sort of.
Mike Pressler coached at several Division III schools before bagging the big job: head lacrosse coach at Duke University. Over the next 16 years, he built the team into a powerhouse that won multiple ACC titles, and was just one great player away from winning a national championship.
The missing piece: a young man from Farmingdale NY named Matt Danowski. He is the grandson of New York Giants quarterback Ed Danowski and one of the best athletes that Long Island has ever produced. In 2003, he received a scholarship from Duke, but he also felt the pull of Hofstra. His father, John Danowski, had been Hofstra’s head lacrosse coach for years and his program was also one player away from a national championship. In the end, the younger Danowski took the advice of his father and headed south to Durham. The impact was immediate and enormous. In 2004, Matt Danowski was the ACC rookie of the year. In 2005, he earned All-America honors as Duke went to the national championship, losing by just one goal to champion Johns Hopkins.
With Pressler at the helm and Danowski a rising junior, Duke was poised to win it all in 2006. Until that fateful night in March when rape and kidnapping charges came down on three Duke lacrosse players. The media circus descended on Durham. The rest of the season was cancelled. Coach Pressler was pressured by Duke to resign two weeks later. Everyone assumed Matt Danowski would transfer out and join his father at Hofstra.
But Danowski stayed put. Within months, the case started to fall apart. Over the summer Duke went looking for a new head coach and found him, in the form of John Danowski! He joined his son in Durham and the two started laying plans for the coming year. Meanwhile, Mike Pressler was the pariah of the lacrosse world. He couldn’t get an interview anywhere, until he contacted an old friend at Bryant University of Division II, who offered him their head coaching position. This past spring, under Pressler’s direction, Bryant dropped their first two but then beat defending champ Le Moyne, went 10-3, and climbed to a #6 national ranking. And in the land of the Double-Danowski-Devils, Duke went 12-2 and is currently ranked #2. In April, all charges against the Duke players were dropped, lifting the clouds that had been hanging over the Duke program and over Pressler.
And so we come to the 2007 playoffs. After 16 years as head coach at Duke, Mike Pressler may win his first championship as the first year coach at Bryant; after 20 years as head coach at Hofstra, John Danowski may win his first national championship as the first year coach at Duke.
The NCAA tournament kicks off on May 12. Mike Pressler’s scathing attack on Duke, “It’s Not About the Truth,” hits newsstands one month later. Buckle your helmets, it’s a violent game.