Coaches Corner: Q&A with Tufts Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach Mike Daly

In this week’s edition of Coaches Corner, Championship Productions’ editor Adam Warner sits down with Tufts head men’s lacrosse coach Mike Daly. Last season, Daly led the Jumbos to a 2010 NCAA Division III national championship with a 9-6 win over perennial power Salisbury, notching the first-ever title for his lacrosse program. In Coaches Corner, Daly reveals his coaching philosophy and plans for defending his team’s national title, talks about the perks of being a Div. III coach, and even details how he got into lacrosse after growing up playing football and baseball.

Talk about your background and your unorthodox path to becoming the head men’s lacrosse coach at Tufts in 1998.
“I went to Tufts as an undergrad and then got into graduate school here. As a graduate student, I also worked as an assistant football and lacrosse coach. The lacrosse program was struggling at that point. Our coach at the time left to take a football job and the position was assigned to me roughly a month before the season started. From there, I never looked back.

I played football and baseball growing up, but not lacrosse. I was a sociology major at Tufts as an undergrad and left with a masters degree in education and teaching. Growing up, lacrosse didn’t have the presence in Massachusetts that it does today, but I always had an interest. My friends played in high school, so there was always a stick around. It was during my grad school years where I really fell in love with the game.”

Your team is now one season removed from winning a national title. What’s the key to maintaining focus this year in order to defend your ’10 championship?
“The biggest key is to remember what got us here and really keep focused on the fundamentals. Right now we’re 6-0 overall and still No. 1 in the country, so I think the guys are grounded and focused on the ultimate goal this season.”

What’s the key to maintaining success year after year?
“We have some great players and great guys who work extremely hard at their lacrosse and academic lives. They just make it a joy to be around them and coach and be associated with them. We’re lucky to have great people in the program, including the assistant coaches and a supportive administration. At the end of the day, we have some terrific players who work their tails off and make plays on the lacrosse field.”

What makes up the complete Tufts player?
“We build our program on the players the world didn’t think were talented enough, but will still outwork all of their teammates and opponents. That’s the best part of Division III athletics, and the best complement you can give a player is to say they are an overachiever. We have a lot of guys like that. They will just flat outwork you.”

Who are your influences as a coach? Do you have a certain credo or philosophy that you particularly implement with your program?
“Early on, we really tried to emulate Billy Tierney and Princeton lacrosse. He took a similar situation to ours and got Princeton from the bottom to the top and eventually competing for national titles. We studied Princeton film and practices and I even talked to Bill himself. In those early years, whatever questions we had, he would take the time to answer them. He’s had a great impact on me.”

What’s unique about Div. III lacrosse and coaching at this level?
“We feel that we have a lot of players from top programs in the country. We are glad to have lacrosse junkies who love to play the game. They are great in the classroom and on the field, and their priorities are in the right place. Plus, they are really able to enjoy the college and lacrosse experience.”

Can you talk about one of your all-time favorite drills to run as a coach?
“My favorite drill is mechanics progression, which deals with your elbows, shoulders and hands and really focuses on the fundamentals of the game. If you can’t catch and throw, you can’t do anything in this game. There’s nothing more important than that. It may be mundane to our players, but it’s absolutely the cornerstone of our program.”

Do you have any superstitions or particular habits as a coach?
“I wear my pink breast cancer T-shirt on every gameday. I lost my mother minutes before a Skidmore game that we won in overtime a few seasons ago, and the game involved an amazing comeback by our team. I’ve always held onto that as a superstition. Also, for every national anthem, I find our head trainer Mark Doughtie and just make eye contact with him. Mark is a Vietnam veteran and what he sacrificed means the world to me. It reminds me that whatever’s about to happen out on the lacrosse field will never be as challenging as what he went through, and it settles me down.”

Can you dish out some advice for youth or high school coaches, particularly individuals who may be starting up new teams or looking to build a struggling program into a contender?
“It’s all about consistency, being yourself and not being afraid to ask for help. The lacrosse community is like no other – and it’s really true. Lacrosse has so many great resources and coaches, just make sure that you reach out and use them.”

Mike Daly has recently partnered with Championship Productions to produce a series of lacrosse videos. Check out the entire catalog by clicking here.

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