Was anyone truly surprised when Maryland lost to Notre Dame in today's NCAA quarterfinals? I mean truly, absolutely shocked? Because in all honesty, I wasn't. I missed the game, came home and saw the score, and thought, "Probably should've seen that coming."
Maryland was presented with by far the easiest path to the NCAA finals in the tournament, and they didn't take it. It's a disappointing way to end the year, no doubt about it, and was even worse considering that Maryland - the #3 team in the nation - was entirely outclassed by a supposedly worse Notre Dame squad.
The result holds greater significance for Maryland's head coach, Dave Cottle. After reaching the NCAA finals at Loyola - not exactly an easy task - he was hired at Maryland in 2001. Since then, he's had a rather respectable run: eight straight NCAA tournament appearances, not a single losing record (though, to be fair, Maryland's never had a losing record), and two ACC championships. He's done a decent job of recruiting considering his competition, the majority of which possess big names and big academic reputations.
But there's a greater problem: he's never been to the NCAA finals, let alone actually won a championship. This is troublesome, particularly considering he was able to do so at Loyola, a school with less money to spend, less of a reputation, and a significantly smaller fanbase and student body. In his nine years at Maryland, Syracuse, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Massachusetts, Virginia, Navy, and Princeton have all been to the finals; some are high-level Ivys, but others like Syracuse, Massachusetts, and Navy, have no inherent advantage over Maryland. The Terps, meanwhile, have fallen victim to bad luck and poor finishes.
Cottle might fall victim himself to a drought that goes back longer than he does: Maryland hasn't won an NCAA title in lacrosse in 35 years. Only none of those years of those can be attributed to Cottle, but that makes it no harder to swallow, nor does it legitimize his own struggles.
Were Cottle under contract, I'm not sure I'd be in favor of firing him. After all, he hasn't done that much bad, has he? But he has no current deal - which means the administration must either condemn or commend his recent performance - and that raises the question: does Maryland re-sign him for another few years? Does he deserved to be re-signed?
Basically, it boils down to whether or not he's done a good enough job to be extended; it's a much simpler decision, in my mind, than a decision to fire or extend a coach's current contract. Either he's succeeded or failed; there's no economic factors, no worries about buyouts.
In a sport when there are only four playoff games and a handful of truly competitive teams, the only real goal is to win the NCAA championship. The sport isn't big enough to warrant a big, tradition-filled school in the sport's most-popular hub to slot anything less than the finals and eventually a championship as a true goal. And Cottle hasn't provided either.
Patrick Stevens, who is far more knowledgeable when it comes to lacrosse than I am, and I got into a debate over Twitter about this last week. Clearly I'm ill-equipped to handle myself when it comes to this sort of stuff, and I didn't present much of an argument to his points about the positives of Cottle. But with the success of Syracuse and even teams like Massachusetts and Navy, I can't quite support the theory that it's nigh-impossible for non-academic powerhouses to compete. Besides, Maryland's problem has always been about coaching as much as it has talent; this year's senior class had more top 10 players than any team other Virginia, including Syracuse, Duke, and UNC. Lack of talent doesn't seem to be the big problem.
I'm not an expert, but my untrained eye doesn't see any reason why Cottle should remain. Where, exactly, did he earn his spot? I also have trouble seeing where anyone would be surprised if there was someone other than Cottle on the sidelines next year. It's time to move on and try something new.