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Danowski settling into new job

New men's lacrosse head coach John Danowski finally arrived for good in Durham last week. He was greeted with an empty office and a full slate of expectations.

For three years, Danowski and his wife, Patricia, had travelled to Durham to watch their son Matt, now a senior, play for the Blue Devils. Each time they came, the couple would greet former head coach Mike Pressler in his office in the depths of the Murray Athletic Building and then recede to the metal bleachers of Koskinen Stadium to watch the game with the rest of the Duke parents.

But last week, it was a very different sight in the head coach's office inside Murray. Pressler wasn't there to welcome the Danowskis-he recently agreed to take over Division II Bryant University's men's lacrosse program after resigning from Duke under pressure April 5.

Instead, there was an empty office with bare walls and little more than a desk, a computer and chairs.

"This is weird," Patricia Danowski said.

John Danowski couldn't disagree.

These conflicting feelings of discomfort regarding the circumstances and excitement about the opportunity at hand have come to define the situation now facing Danowski as he assumes control of the team.

Tapped by President Richard Brodhead and Director of Athletics Joe Alleva July 21 to salvage the embattled program in the wake of the ongoing controversy, Danowski first had some loose ends to tie up at his home in Long Island, N.Y., where he had served as Hofstra's head coach for the past 20 years.

"The hardest part was was trying to reach out to 40 guys from Hofstra to say goodbye and 40 guys at Duke to say hello," Danowski said. "Everyone was so happy for me, that made it easier."

With their daughter finishing up a master's in elementary education from Hofstra this year, the Danowskis agreed that Patricia, who works full-time as an ultra-sound technician, would remain at their home in New York for the next year while John rented an apartment in Durham. The couple will take turns visiting each other every few weekends.

Patricia trekked down with John to help him settle into his apartment less than a mile from campus. John Danowski said it's still "spartan living" while he gets settled, which he is okay with as it allows him to focus on his job. For now, it's just about the bare essentials-Patricia helped her husband make some progress while in Durham by purchasing silverware.

"It's probably good that my wife and daughter aren't there because now I don't feel rushed to get home for dinner, I don't have to feel rushed to do things at home because I don't have anything at home," Danowski said. "It's easier to focus on the players and getting to know people."

For the time being, Danowski said he is immersing himself in the job and learning about Duke's culture, doing everything from ordering new office furniture to dining at the Washington Duke Inn with the Chair of the Board of Trustees. In between, Danowski has found time to sit down with the admissions staff and chat up head coach Ted Roof at a recent football practice.

"People have been spectacular, beyond what my expectations were," Danowski said. "They've been accommodating, helpful and kind, and they've been great."

It hasn't just been the on-campus life he's been getting used to. Given the nature of the publicity surrounding the ongoing legal case, the team's return and his hiring were big news.

Danowski said that while he was known in his community in New York, especially in recent years, it has been exponentially greater down in Durham. At Best Buy last week, a stranger approached him and wished him luck.

"Everyone knows about Duke lacrosse," he said. "When you mention it now, everyone knows."

One person who certainly won't forget is Pressler, whom Danowski said he considers a good friend. Danowski and his wife last weekend attended a "very emotional" going-away party for Pressler, hosted by Pressler's friends and neighbors.

"I think it was some closure for him, congratulations on his new job," Danowski said. "People really cared about Michael, cared what happened to him. We're very happy for him because he seems to be truly happy that he'll be coaching again."

Danowski said he expects to continue his dialogue with Pressler as the new coach gets to know the players who remained fiercely loyal throughout this spring to the coach who recruited them.

But Danowski said he also realizes now it's his team, and he's already begun to make his mark. During the fall practice season, Danowski is holding practice at 7:30 a.m. four times per week. He said he thinks the changed time will force the team to focus and allow the players greater freedom with their academic schedules and affairs with open afternoons.

Even with the scrutiny surrounding the team's behavior, Danowski said he does not expect to be knocking down doors on Saturday night. Instead, he said he plans to instill values that will permeate throughout the players' lives.

"This is the stuff I really enjoy," he said. "To teach them life lessons, that's why I coach. As opposed to monitoring and rules, it's about guidelines and common sense. It's about decision-making."

Practice begins on Monday, with eight walk-on candidates competing for roster spots vacated by four recruits who defected while the program was suspended.

Though he would never have wished the events of last spring, the new coach is ready for the tall task ahead.

"Someone said the other night, coming here was like a calling, and maybe they're right," Danowski said. "I never thought that this would happen, I never pretended I would be coach at Duke someday.... But the experiences I've had in my life have prepared me for this position."

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