Kevin Cassese opened his stint as interim head coach of the men's lacrosse team in bold fashion Tuesday, emphatically saying "Duke lacrosse is back."
The declaration earned cheers from a group of coaches-including men's basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski, football head coach Ted Roof and women's lacrosse head coach Kerstin Kimel-athletics department administrators and players who had gathered to watch Cassese's press conference.
But even while Cassese's assumption of the helm of the embattled program signals a turning point after months of uncertainty, some aspects of the team's future are still somewhat unclear.
When President Richard Brodhead cancelled the remainder of the team's season and accepted former head coach Mike Pressler's resignation April 5, all team activities-including practice for the players and scheduling and recruiting for the coaches-were suspended. All of the recruits for the incoming freshman class were released from their national letters of intent, and three have since committed elsewhere.
Cassese said he was planning on beginning to recruit immediately, both for the incoming freshmen and the class of current high school juniors. Meanwhile, Director of Athletics Joe Alleva said the search for a permanent head coach had already begun.
"I really believe that this job is one of the top five lacrosse jobs in the country," Alleva said. "I believe coaches in the lacrosse profession realize that and will be willing to accept the challenges at Duke University and what it faces in the future."
The coaching search
Alleva said he would begin the search after Monday's press conference, in which Brodhead announced the program's reinstatement. By Tuesday morning, at Cassese's introduction, Alleva said some candidates for the job had begun to express interest. Though Alleva would not comment on who the candidates might be, he did say that Cassese will be considered for the position and Pressler will not be.
"My guess is they'll go for someone a little older and more experienced, someone who can weather the storm," said Virginia head coach Dom Starsia, whose Cavaliers went undefeated in winning the 2006 National Championship. "I'm just really pleased Duke has reinstated the program. It's a great move for the sport and for college athletics."
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Some of the early speculation for the Blue Devils' next head coach has focused on Hofstra's John Danowski. Danowski's son, Matt, will be one of Duke's senior leaders next season. Both John Danowski and Alleva said, however, it would be too early to comment on such rumors.
"It's wonderful news for our sport," Danowski said of the team's return. "There are only 57 NCAA programs, and Duke is such a high-profile one at a prestigious university. We were saddened by the events, and we're delighted the team is returning."
Besides Danowski, the list of potential candidates for the position could include Cornell head coach Jeff Tambroni, St. John's head coach Rick Sowell and Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan as well as the top assistants at Virginia, Navy and Princeton, said John Jiloty, editor-in-chief of Inside Lacrosse.
"It will be interesting to see who they hire because it'll be a tough time the next two years getting things on track," Jiloty said.
Recruiting and the team's future
The challenge of recruiting will be a difficult one for Cassese, who will be running a "one-man show," as he described it, until a new head coach is hired or he is given the position. Cassese, who plays for the Rochester Rattlers of Major League Lacrosse, said he intends to complete his season as well as play for the U.S. National Team this summer. He said scheduling for next season is well under way and he will begin work on recruiting immediately.
Out of next year's incoming class, three of the nine recruits have already signed on to play at other schools. Ken Clausen, Tom Dodge and Scott Kocis will play at Virginia, Pennsylvania and Georgetown, respectively. All were top-level recruits.
Starsia said he never intended to pillage Duke's program, and he initially hesitated in accepting Clausen-arguably the nation's top prep player-but the uncertainty surrounding the future of Duke's program caused him to reconsider, though he still held some reservations.
"Any short-term benefit for Virginia in recruiting was going to be offset by Duke's program being diminished," Starsia said. "But all of [the recruits] had the right to consider their future and we didn't have an infinite application deadline."
Several recruits have reaffirmed their desire to wear Duke blue, however, including Max Quinzani, who broke the national high school lacrosse scoring record Sunday. Quinzani said Saturday that he intended to be a Blue Devil next year and he had been in contact with fellow recruits Parker McKee and Terrence Molinari.
"He looks forward to meeting with Kevin Cassese shortly, at which point they hope to finalize his attendance at Duke," said Quinzani's father, Rob-Roy. "We're very happy and certainly relieved. It's been a long process for us."
Next year's class will likely be smaller than usual and depth could be an issue for the program over the next couple seasons. While the program was suspended, Duke also missed out on an active recruiting period for current high school juniors, which Jiloty said could hurt the program down the road.
A significant portion of the Blue Devils' core-which led the team to the 2005 National Championship game and had it as a title contender again in 2006-will return for the 2007 campaign. No players on Duke's roster have transferred from the program in light of the uncertainty, Alleva said.
Though Duke lost stars Matt Zash, Dan Flannery and Kyle Dowd to graduation this year, it returns standouts in Danowski, Tony McDevitt and Zach Greer. Danowski and Greer were Tewaarton Trophy nominees in 2005. Jiloty, Starsia and John Danowski agreed that the Blue Devils are in position to return to top form next season.
"They're going to be extremely competitive," Danowski said.
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