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In Good Hands
His peers in the New England Intercollegiate
Lacrosse Association (NEILA) voted Tufts’ Mike Daly, A95,
the region’s Division III Coach of the Year this spring.
Under Daly’s direction, the 2003 Jumbos had a breakthrough
season. With 12 victories, they won more games than any team
in the 73-year history of the Tufts program. The team advanced
to play in the New England Small College Athletic Conference
(NESCAC) championship game against Middlebury College on May
4. Tufts lost, 15–10, but the program has been reborn.
Daly was a fine two-sport athlete at Tufts. For his senior year
in 1994–95, he won Tufts’ Rudolph J. Fobert (A50,
G51) Award as the top multi-sport student-athlete. As a football
receiver he caught 84 passes for 1,415 yards and 11 touchdowns
from 1991 to 94. In the spring he emerged as the starting center
fielder on the baseball team and played for the 1995 NCAA tournament
That’s right, Daly didn’t play lacrosse at Tufts.
In January 1999 he was promoted to head coach of the sport without
any playing experience. He was 26 years old. Those who knew
him thought he was the right man for the job. Any job. Those
who didn’t know him would soon find out.
Tufts had finished 1–13 in 1997 and 2–12 in 1998.
The program’s all-time record was more than 100 games
below .500, and the general perception was that the administration
didn’t care about the team. Daly’s loyalty and determination
were unquestioned as an athlete and then as a graduate assistant
coach in football and lacrosse at Tufts. Skeptics saw it as
lacrosse getting the short end of the stick again.
“It had nothing to do with Coach Daly as much as it was
about an assistant football coach who had never played lacrosse
being hired to coach the lacrosse team,” said Dan Kollar,
A01, a sophomore on Daly’s first team who went on to become
the program’s all-time leading scorer. He’s now
the team’s graduate assistant coach.
“He was real honest and straightforward. He said, ‘I
didn’t play lacrosse. I don’t know a lot about it.
I will. I promise you I will.’”
Before long, Daly’s ambition to take the team to new heights
erased any doubts brought on by his inexperience. To learn all
that he could about the game, he went to summer camps, attended
the coaches’ conventions and wasn’t afraid to ask
other coaches for advice. Pat Cain, a Tufts assistant coach
at the time, remained with the team as Daly’s lacrosse
mentor and top aide. For his first year at the helm in 1999,
the new coach focused on motivating the team and improving their
“When we were 5–10 my first year, my goal was to
win every game we played and win the national championship,”
he said. “That still is our goal. That’s why we
play. Certainly there have to be some guidelines and sportsmanship
and play the game the way it should be played. Our goal is to
do all those things, but we play to win and that’s what
our expectations are.”
The team’s talent improved as Daly and his staff looked
to recruit good kids who were also “lacrosse junkies.”
In 2000 Tufts won nine games and earned an ECAC tournament berth,
its first in five years. The 2001 season featured wins over
Williams, Colby and Amherst, along with a berth into the inaugural
NESCAC tournament. The Jumbos then won five games against NESCAC
teams in 2002, leading to a second straight NESCAC tournament
appearance. Step by step the team’s confidence was building.
This was the year that it all came together. Tufts hosted and
beat Bowdoin, 14–13, in the first round of the NESCAC
tournament at Ellis Oval/Zimman Field on April 27. Incomplete
team records don’t go back far enough to reveal the last
year Tufts won a home playoff game, but it wasn’t any
time recently. Trailing 5–2 against Wesleyan and a red-hot
goalkeeper in the NESCAC semifinals, they came back to win 8–7.
Tufts earned respect. They were ranked 20th in the final national
poll. Sophomore attack Bryan Griffin was named New England and
NESCAC Player of the Year.
“The biggest change this year is that we weren’t
satisfied to just play in the championship game,” said
David Richman-Raphael, a senior defender. “We wanted to
win it. In the first few years we were almost satisfied with
just making the playoffs. Coach Daly provided the drive and
motivation for us to push ourselves. When he talked to us, he
believed we could be champions. We came close.”
Coming close in the NESCAC is no small achievement. Top to bottom,
it’s the most competitive conference in the country. Middlebury
College, coached by Erin Quinn, G89, won three consecutive NCAA
National Championships from 2000 to 2002. Quinn, who like Daly
did not play the sport, earned a master’s degree from
Tufts and served as a graduate assistant coach here. He’s
impressed with the opposition’s progress.
“Mike’s teams are disciplined, fundamentally sound
and talented,” said Quinn. “I have watched things
such as their pre-game warm-up and have been very impressed
with what is being taught and stressed in his program. Coach
Daly is also doing a great job recruiting, which bodes well
for the future of the program.”
Daly hasn’t left Tufts since enrolling in 1991 out of
Westfield, Massachusetts. He is one of seven Tufts graduates
currently coaching varsity sports programs at their alma mater.
John Casey, A80, Daly’s baseball coach and an influential
person in his career, has more than 300 victories with the Jumbos.
“The reasons that I ended up choosing Tufts are that I
find a lot of the things that we’re selling in the recruiting
process,” said Daly, who has a tattoo of the Tufts “T”
on his left leg. “The pride that I have in being a Tufts
alum and a Tufts athlete comes across every day.”
Daly, whose sincerity is widespread, thanked everyone in the
administration, especially Athletic Director Bill Gehling, A74,
and Casey, for their continuing assistance. An alumni email
chain keeps everyone informed, and Daly’s in-box is filled
with congratulatory notes on the mornings after big victories.
On Reunion Weekend this year, the 1953 New England championship
team reunited at teammate Len Brown’s, E53, house. Team
alumni Bill Duryea, A50, Dan Pimental, A92, Joe Klein, A87,
and Mike McConnell, A65, have provided great support. Saturday
home games became a main event on campus, with students and
families banding together behind the team. The Jumbos were 7–1
at the Oval.
All in all, the Tufts men’s lacrosse program is in good
hands. Not bad for a guy who never played the sport.
“Things happen for strange and different reasons, but
I couldn’t be happier with how they worked out,”
said Daly. “We’re working real hard; the players,
the coaches, but mainly the players. Without the players there
would be no Coach of the Year.”