One week ago, Harvard men’s lacrosse coach John Tillman would have found it hard to imagine himself coaching anywhere else.
But after a quick turn of events, it was announced Wednesday afternoon that Tillman was resigning as the Frisbie Family Head Coach for Harvard Men’s Lacrosse to take the head coaching position at the University of Maryland.
“I kind of saw myself [at Harvard] for as long as Harvard would want me,” said Tillman, whose team finished the 2009 season ranked 17th in the nation. “I didn’t really think that I would be leaving…I am still kind of taken aback.”
Events began to unfold earlier this week when Maryland officials contacted Tillman while he was on the road making preparations for the 2011 Ivy League season. After going through Nichols Family Director of Athletics Bob Scalise, the Maryland officials were granted permission to speak with Tillman.
When it came down to it, it was factors outside of lacrosse that made the Maryland job appealing to the three-year Crimson head coach.
“Being closer to my family was a huge, huge factor for me,” said Tillman, who lived in Maryland for 12 years while serving as the top assistant at Navy. “I think the one thing that I want people to realize was that this was not about, ‘I want to coach at Maryland more than I want to coach at Harvard.’ When jobs come up, you do weigh a lot of factors. It comes down to things that are important to me at this point in my life.”
But even with his familial connections, making the decision to leave the Crimson was a difficult one for Tillman, who had grown emotionally connected to the players he had recruited and coached for the past three seasons and other faculty and staff at the university.
“Harvard is just an unbelievable place,” Tillman said. “I really did not sleep well for four or five days because I did really fall in love with Harvard…My biggest disappointment is not being able to spend as much time with the players and the incoming players.”
But when it came down to it, the opportunity to move closer to family was too much to resist.
Now Tillman takes over a strong ACC program that suffered just four defeats in the 2010 season and made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
Unlike in 2008 when Tillman took over for a struggling Crimson team that finished the previous season 5-7, the coach will now already have many of the pieces in place to make another NCAA tournament run, as the Terrapins return 82 percent of their scoring.
In his three years as the Harvard coach, Tillman guided the Crimson to a 20-19 overall record, which included upset wins over Duke in 2009 and Princeton in 2010.
But more importantly, Tillman laid the groundwork for the future success of the Harvard lacrosse program, bringing in the third-ranked recruiting class in the nation for the 2010 campaign.
“It was important for me to lay that foundation,” Tillman said. “The future of this program is so bright.”
“We thank coach Tillman for the wonderful job he did developing our players and our program and leaving us in position for continued success,” Scalise said to gocrimson.com. “The effect of coach Tillman’s time in Cambridge will be long-lasting and we will always consider him a true friend of Harvard men’s lacrosse. We will find a replacement to build from the momentum created by coach Tillman’s tenure.”