When John Danowski was hired to come to Duke, he inherited a program reeling after three of its players had been falsely accused of rape, the head coach who led the team to the 2005 national title game had been fired and the end of the Blue Devils' 2006 season had been cancelled.
But Duke had also recently showed it could be one of the top programs in the nation, and Danowski cemented that status, quickly putting the lacrosse case in the rearview mirror.
And after leading the Blue Devils to eight straight Final Fours in his first eight seasons from 2007 to 2014 and the team's first three national championships, the former Hofstra head coach has continued adding to his legacy.
Danowski set a new Division I record Monday afternoon by capturing his 376th victory in No. 13 Duke's 13-6 win against Jacksonville at Koskinen Stadium. Now in his 35th season, Danowski eclipsed former Virginia and Brown head coach Dom Starsia's record as his team extended its win streak to four and honored its leader by signing the game ball to mark the achievement.
“It was great. It actually brought tears to my eyes," Danowski said. "Just to see the excitement in their faces and to feel good about this number. It felt really good.”
Coming off back-to-back top-15 wins, the Blue Devils (6-2) stayed hot, jumping out to a 5-1 lead against former Duke assistant John Galloway's team. Blue Devil attackmen Justin Guterding, Jack Bruckner and Joey Manown continued leading the way, combining for 10 points despite the wet weather to ensure Jacksonville (0-6) never got closer than three goals after the opening period. Sean Lowrie also added a hat trick for the Blue Devils.
“It’s great to be a part of it,” Bruckner said of Danowski's accomplishment. “He sacrifices a lot for us. To be able to work hard and get some reward for him, even though he doesn’t really care about it, it is really good to be a part of it.”
Integrating this Duke team—one of the youngest he has ever coached—represents just one of the many challenges that Danowski has had to weather during his long tenure in Division I lacrosse. Beginning his career as a coaching assistant at LIU-C.W. Post, the former Rutgers midfielder went 27-16 in three years after earning the head coaching position in 1983.
Still nascent in its development, lacrosse was not very popular, and Danowski earned a meager salary in years as the chief architect for the Pioneers. Danowski turned his 27 wins into the head coaching position at Hofstra in 1986.
In 21 years with the Pride, Danowski lifted the program from mediocrity to a consistent NCAA tournament presence. In 1993, the year he earned his first F. Morris Touchstone Award for Division I Coach of the Year, Hofstra made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years and won its first ever tournament game.
“At Post I was a part-time coach making $4,000,” Danowski said. “I was also a residence hall director. My wife and I got two meal passes so we could eat during the semester while we were running the residence hall. To coach at a place like Hofstra, which was the next step, I never dreamt I could be at a place like Duke, in the ACC and… I’ve really been blessed.”
Upon his arrival in Durham, Danowski transformed the program. Although the Blue Devils had become consistent national championship contenders, the program had never finished the job, losing the 2005 championship game to Johns Hopkins before the infamous lacrosse case in 2006.
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In addition to making the Final Four again in 2007, Duke quickly shook off the fallout from the case and built the foundation for a dominant eight-year stretch.
“Coming here was, we always said this from the beginning, it was a chance to help,” Danoswki said. “It was about just helping a group of young men navigate a very difficult time and there was no blueprint. There was no game plan for that. Lacrosse was kind of a sidebar to all of the other things that were going on initially.”
Danowski’s tutelage lifted Duke to the status of the premier program in college lacrosse as he guided Matt Danowski—now an assistant coach for his father—and Ned Crotty to the Tewaaraton Award in 2007 and 2010, respectively. 2010 was also the year of CJ Costabile’s iconic overtime game-winner against Notre Dame that earned the Blue Devils their first national title.
Duke would repeat as champions in 2013 and 2014 behind dominant performances from veterans Jordan Wolf, Josh Dionne and Brendan Fowler, as well as the next generation of star Blue Devils like Deemer Class and Myles Jones.
Between 27 wins at LIU Post, 192 at Hofstra and 157 at Duke with more to come, Danowski has cemented his place as one of the most decorated coaches in his sport, even earning the position of U.S. national team head coach in 2016.
But he is still most focused on getting the Blue Devils back to the Final Four after consecutive NCAA tournament first-round upsets, and Monday's win was still about Duke's growth. After allowing 9.3 goals in their first four games, the Blue Devils have tightened up defensively, surrendering just 6.0 in their last four contests.
Duke will look to keep rolling Saturday at Georgetown before opening conference play with a stiff challenge at No. 6 Syracuse.
“When you’re in the middle of a season, you don't really think about these things,” Danowski said. “You have 42 young men that you’re responsible for, and you’re trying to help along the way. I think this is something that when you’re retired, you look back, and you can look back fondly at the numbers and see these things, but right now it’s about today’s game and moving forward.”