2013 was a banner year for the Georgia men’s lacrosse team. The Lax Dawgs posted a 15-5 record, captured the SELC championship, and finished ranked 20th in the final MCLA poll. The Red and Black’s five losses were to Arizona State, Clemson, Colorado, Colorado State, and Georgia Tech; only one of those setbacks came in Athens, and three of them were by margins of five goals or fewer. The Bulldogs avenged their regular-season losses to the Tigers and the Yellow Jackets by beating both of those opponents in the conference playoffs, leaving just three teams to conclude the campaign above .500 against Georgia: the national semifinalist Sun Devils, the national finalist Buffaloes, and the national champion Rams.
Following that stellar season, the Lax Dawgs parted ways with head coach Bill Lewandowski.
Coach Lewandowski’s tenure in the Classic City could hardly be characterized as a failure. In addition to guiding the Bulldogs to this year’s SELC crown, the Atlanta native and Milton High School product also earned conference coach of the year honors in 2012 and put together a 33-15 ledger as the Red and Black skipper. Why, then, did the Georgia program decide that "it was time to go in a different direction"?
In order to obtain an answer to that question, I reached out to rising senior Conner Reed, an Alpharetta High School graduate who will receive his degree in marketing from the Terry College of Business next year. Conner is the current vice president and former president of the Georgia men’s lacrosse program, and he was named an honorable mention All-American at midfielder this season, despite not playing on a high-profile team.
Conner, who agreed to be quoted, was frank without being disrespectful of Coach Lewandowski, acknowledging that Georgia’s lack of nationwide notoriety was part of the problem. Said Reed:
As a program we really just felt like we needed to move in a different direction. We felt like we had outgrown the previous coaching staff on and off the field. . . . We felt like a change was needed for us to grow.
The goal of that anticipated growth is "to become a more nationally recognized program," with the ultimate objective of bringing Division I lacrosse to Athens. I wholeheartedly support that goal, and I believe it to be within reach. It is noteworthy, therefore, that, at the end of a conference championship season, the Lax Dawgs sent packing a head coach who had won nearly 70 per cent of his games since arriving at Georgia.
At a time when Georgia’s varsity sports administration is drawing criticism for being too tolerant of mediocrity (or worse) in the service of the bottom line, one of Georgia’s most successful club sports teams has declared that it will do better, and that it will make the changes needed to improve, rather than rest upon recent laurels no one deems less than impressive.
Earlier today, the Bulldogs announced the hiring of Billy O’Haire to lead the Red and Black men’s lacrosse team, effective immediately. Coach O’Haire, who currently resides in Forsyth County, played on two NCAA Division II national championship teams in his four-year college career, and his "passion and knowledge of the game" were praised by the club’s present president, rising junior defenseman Peter DeWispelaere. Peter went on to state plainly the purpose of this move, saying: "His hiring shows UGA’s dedication and desire to put forward a consistently competitive men’s lacrosse team – not only within the SELC, but at the national level as well." I added the emphasis in print, but DeWispelaere and his coevals added the emphasis through their actions.
This, quite simply, is how leadership that is serious about its sport behaves; this is the mark of a team that is sincere about not letting the merely good be good enough, and is committed to adding that little extra that makes the difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary. I thank Coach Lewandowski for his service, I welcome Coach O’Haire to the Classic City, and I look forward to the achievements these young men are so dedicated to ensuring will be accomplished for the university we all love so dearly.