Bates College lacrosse coach, Peter Lasagna, doesn’t need for me to defend him. He didn’t need it before Swank Lax wrote The Myth of Peter Lasagna, and he doesn’t need it now, but I’m going to do it anyway. Not because I happen to respect the guy (which I genuinely do), but because at some core level, I fundamentally disagree with Swank’s analysis of Lasagna’s coaching success during his time with the Bobcats.
Swank begins by pointing out Bates’ admittedly poor record over the last five years in men’s lacrosse, and in this regard he is factually on point: the Bobcats have not been a very good team when it comes to wins and losses, especially over the last 5 seasons. Other NESCACs have risen dramatically, both within the conference, and nationally, while Bates has kind of hovered at the same level.
That being said, they did knock off #11 Bowdoin last year by a score of 11-5, and Bates has wins over Wesleyan the last two years. The Bobcats also tend to keep many losses relatively close, and can give very good teams (Trinity in 2011, Midd, WNEC, Wesleyan in 2009, Conn College in 2008) a close call at any moment. I won’t argue they are winning more games than they are, but I disagree with his assessment that they are somehow a bad lacrosse team.
None of the above is really a secret. Yet for some reason, which is clearly perplexing to some, Bates has kept Lasagna year after year… so have people really forgotten about what’s important (lots of big wins, I guess), just because he has a reputation as a nice guy, who helps create good people, all while competing in the most competitive lacrosse conference in the country?
Or maybe, in the case of Peter Lasagna (the coach of a Division III school, I remind you), people have just remembered what is actually important, and are giving it an honest shot?
This is where my fundamental disagreement with Swank rears its head. I don’t believe that every school’s goal should be to win a national championship. I’m pretty sure he does, although I’ll let him speak for himself on that question. Some people will disagree with me on this, and that is fine. But for some schools out there, the pursuit of a title in their current reality is simply not in the cards. For other schools, it might be in their cards, but they choose not to play the hand for one reason or another.
Now am I saying that Lasagna is losing on purpose? Or that he doesn’t care about wins? Nope. Not one bit, in fact. What I am saying is that perhaps, just perhaps, Peter Lasagna has a different set of priorities for his team, and for his players, and for himself. And perhaps that approach results in a lot of 4-9 seasons. But just because they aren’t winning lots of big games, does this really mean he needs to move on? Is it only about wins? Or could Lasagna actually be doing something great up in Maine, and the numbers just don’t show it?
If I were a dean, or a school President, or even a parent, I would want a coach who cared about the kids he was working with, not a coach who was driven to win, win, win, and this is especially true at the D3 level. Perhaps Lasagna has swung a little too far one way on the pendulum for some, and doesn’t focus on winning enough, but if Bates College’s priorities do not include winning a national championship in men’s lacrosse, or even a NESCAC championship, then honestly, who cares?
Here is Bates’ mission statement, via their website:
Since 1855, Bates College has been dedicated to the emancipating potential of the liberal arts. Bates educates the whole person through creative and rigorous scholarship in a collaborative residential community. With ardor and devotion — Amore ac Studio — we engage the transformative power of our differences, cultivating intellectual discovery and informed civic action. Preparing leaders sustained by a love of learning and a commitment to responsible stewardship of the wider world, Bates is a college for coming times.
I don’t see anything in there about winning lacrosse games… Ok, no school’s mission statement includes anything about winning lacrosse games, so that was a low blow, but the point is that if Lasagna is just more focused on the above than Ws, is that necessarily a bad thing?
I played against Coach Lasagna for four years while I was at Wesleyan, and then got two more years of games against him as an assistant coach with my alma mater. He was always cordial after a win or a loss, and always made sure to shake assistant coaches’ hands. If he passed you, he gave you a smile, or a smirk (I could never quite tell), but I never heard a truly unpleasant word out of his mouth. It was the little things with Coach Lasagna, and he always seemed to do them right.
I remember that his players went hard, and took pride in their team. Our games were always a spirited battle. I remember playing against Bates after Morgan McDuffee was killed, and I remember what a strong leader of men Coach Lasagna was at that time. I saw them play Wesleyan two years ago, and not much had changed. He represents the school well, and so does his team.
I’ve played with and against countless Bates alums, and I have to say, they are generally really good guys, aside from the occasionally NESCAC ribbing they lay on me. I loved playing for Coach Raba, but think I could have played for Coach Lasagna as well, and I don’t think that about every NESCAC coach I’ve come across.
I can’t say I know Peter Lasagna well, or really at all, but I’ve seen him in action, and what he helps produce, and while he may not win a ton of games at Bates, I still think he’s doing something right up there in Lewiston.
When I look at college athletics run amok, it is not the programs going 4-9 that worry me. What worries me are programs that put academics second to athletics, or coaches at athletic powerhouses whose teams under perform, or coaches who care about wins being employed at schools that don’t… but I don’t see how Lasagna fits any of those molds. Or how a lack of wins means he should to move on.
There was a soccer and lacrosse coach at Wesleyan named Terry Jackson. Another Wesleyan coach, Duke Snyder, led the hockey team. Both were there for decades. Neither of these guys won a lot of games consistently for Wesleyan, in any of the three sports, but they both did a lot for the school, and for the kids who played for them. Alums from all of those teams remember their time at Wesleyan fondly, and I don’t know that a lot more wins could improve that. And Lasagna seems to a lot like these coaches of yesteryear but he’s doing it today… and it’s actually refreshing to see.
Listen, I like wins as much as the next guy, but Bates seems happy with him. I don’t hear the alumni I know clamoring for his head. He approaches the game in a different way, and while he doesn’t rack up NESCAC championships or gaudy win totals, he gets the job done in every other way. If he were a D1 coach, or even a coach at a storied D3 lacrosse school like Middlebury or Salisbury, I could see why a call for change might be in order, but in this case, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
You can call me soft or a liberal, or even an apologist. Or you can say that every college team should want to win. Perhaps you believe that is why we play the game; to win. However, there is a bigger picture, and a larger reality, out there, and if one NESCAC school is willing to take a slightly different path, with a slightly different set of priorities, I would tend to applaud them for it, rather than call for a change.