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Blue Devils adapt to Danowski's coaching style

Over Thanksgiving break, senior defenseman Tony McDevitt was home in Philadelphia hanging out with some friends when his cell phone buzzed.

It was a text message from his new head coach, John Danowski.

"Happy Thanksgiving, stay safe and can't wait to see you back here," McDevitt recalled the message saying.

"I was like, 'Wow, we are in constant contact with our coach," McDevitt said.

Sending blast text messages to the 41 Blue Devils on this year's roster is just one of a number of means Danowski has employed to connect with the team in his first year as Duke's head coach.

In replacing Mike Pressler, who resigned under pressure last April 5, Danowski has displayed a somewhat different coaching style than his predecessor. Whereas Pressler was known by many as a disciplinarian on the field, Danowski has found his niche at Duke by embracing a softer side.

"Coach Pressler is very intense, very organized. He will discipline you in a way where, if you did something wrong on the field, you're going to hear about it," McDevitt said. "Coach Danowski is a laid-back guy. He's very smart, like a tactician of the game. His discipline habits-he puts that guilt trip on you. If you miss a ball or if you miss an assignment, he says, 'No problem. You're just letting the team down, no big deal.'

"So you know. You feel it inside."

Pressler's dismissal 10 months ago made headlines, coming at the height of the media frenzy and on the same day Duke's season was cancelled. Although the May 2006 Coleman Report, which investigated the behavior of the team, was largely seen as a vindication of Pressler's record while in charge, President Richard Brodhead ultimately decided to move on with a new coach when he reinstated the program.

The national search for a new leader quickly focused on Danowski, even as three other candidates visited Durham for final interviews. As the father of a current senior on the team, Danowski was seen not only as a coach with an outstanding record on the college level but also the person who could begin to heal the wounds opened last spring.

Many of the Blue Devils-especially Matt Danowski's fellow seniors-were already familiar with the elder Danowski, as he would visit from Hofstra to watch his son's team play when his schedule permitted.

With the 2007 season opener less than two weeks away, the members of the team are finally understanding what it is like to play for the man many of them call "Coach Dino." He is quick to hug players who make mistakes, but he also has not shied away from chastising the Blue Devils at times.

"We haven't had an official game with him, so there will be things we learn as the season goes," senior midfielder Ed Douglas said. "I feel extremely close with him. I know the players respect him and trust him greatly, which is impressive because that usually takes a lot of time to build up."

Several Blue Devils said Danowski has taken a significant role in their lives off the field. Even though Matt Danowski said his father was not a "technology guy," John Danowski has used the mass text messaging program to talk to his players. Some have been as simple as a team meeting time, while others have advised the players to "make great decisions tonight."

"Coach Danowski has tried to embrace the friendship role as well, being involved in all aspects of our lives," Douglas said.

On the field, Pressler was revered by those around the game for his teams' high-octane offenses. When Duke reached the 2005 national championship game, Danowski was a spectator as the Blue Devils led the nation with 13.35 goals per contest. The output was nearly a goal and a half more than any other team and nearly two goals better than eventual champion Johns Hopkins.

"I thought what coach did two years ago was masterful," Danowski said. "He used all his tools in such a unique way-it was really impressive. I stole a lot from what he did from that year at Hofstra the next two years."

At the team's first spring practice of the 2007 season, Danowski said he hoped to incorporate some of Pressler's style into this year's team. But Duke-which was second in the nation to eventual champion Virginia in average offensive output before last season was cancelled-lost several key weapons to graduation, especially in the midfield. Danowski said the Blue Devils' style this year might not be exactly the same as Pressler's, but that might be a function more of different personnel than of different coaching styles.

"Everybody's got their own styles-there are a million ways to get things down," Danowski said.

Ranked between No. 4 and No. 6 in three preseason polls, it remains to be seen what effect the new coaching style-on and off the field-has on the Blue Devils.

One thing, however, is certain.

"Both of them have different styles, but the goal is the same, and they make that clear," McDevitt said.

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