Tillman, who had served as a Midshipmen assistant since 1995, had been the head assistant coach since 2002. His best season with Navy came in 2004, when helped lead the Midshipmen to the NCAA championship game, an eventual 14-13 loss to Syracuse. Navy made the NCAA Tournament five times while Tillman was on the staff.
“I am thrilled to undertake this new challenge at an institution the caliber of Harvard University,” Tillman said in a statement. “My educational and athletic backgrounds have given me a tremendous respect for the Ivy League experience. We are going to recruit outstanding student-athletes and I look forward to positively impacting Harvard.”
Tillman, a four-year assistant coach at Ithaca College before joining the Navy staff, assumes his new role with the Crimson immediately. He replaces Scott Anderson, who stepped down as head coach after 20 years earlier this month to become an assistant director of athletics at Harvard.
Anderson, who has known Tillman for years, said that despite having a limited roll in the coaching search process, he thinks Tillman is “a tremendous choice” to lead the program.
“They couldn’t have possibly made a better choice in terms of abilities, character, personality, and also someone who has a lot of talent,” Anderson said. “He also has the advantage of coming from a fairly analogous program in terms of selectivity and teaching players.”
Senior attackman Brooks Scholl, who was among the players who met with Tillman after the team was notified of the hiring last week, said that he was “very impressed.”.
“He’s very passionate about the sport and turning things around,” Scholl said.
Tillman will look to improve a Crimson offense that lost the second-best faceoff man in the country and its top four scorers from 2007 to graduation. During the Midshipmen’s championship game run in 2004, the team ranked third in the nation in offense, and since that year, Navy has the second-most wins in all of Division I lacrosse.
“He really helped that program a lot,” junior midfielder Nick Sapia said. “He's been known as one of the top assistant coaches, and it was just a matter of time before he was going to get a top position. I'm glad it was here.”
Anderson also thinks that Tillman was targeted because of his success at Navy.
“I think they did a very careful search,” Anderson said. “There was a lot of input from different areas—alumni, players, coaches from all around the lacrosse world. This is someone who was, very clearly on his own merits, the best choice.”
Prior to becoming an assistant coach, Tillman played four years in the National Lacrosse League. He was commissioned into the Navy as a fleet support officer, where he won the Navy Achievement Medal.
“It is tough to move on from Annapolis, but after meeting with the people at Harvard it quickly became evident that the prospect of being its next head coach for men’s lacrosse was something I could not pass by,” Tillman said in his statement.
Scholl said he appreciated the fact that players were included in the coaching search.
“The captains were asked to come in and sit down with some of the candidates, and I thought it was awesome that we were included in the process,” Scholl said.
“We are thrilled to have John Tillman as our lacrosse coach at Harvard,” Scalise said in the release. “To have a coach, an educator, a leader of his magnitude in place makes everyone associated with our program extremely proud.”
—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.