ELDER: Dom Starsia deserved better
In its second preseason exhibition game this winter, the Virginia men’s lacrosse team scrimmaged Maryland Saturday in College Park. After losing to Bucknell, 9-7, last week, new head coach Lars Tiffany’s team mustered out a 17-15 win in five periods against the NCAA runner-up Terrapins.
According to reports, the Cavaliers impressed with their new up-tempo brand of offense and talented two-way midfielders, including sophomore Ryan Conrad and senior Will McNamara. Tiffany, who takes over after 10 years as Brown’s head coach, seems like a good fit after leading the Bears to Championship Weekend last season behind a potent offense that scored 16.32 goals per game — good for best in the nation.
However, it is important to remember that — at best — Tiffany was Athletics Director Craig Littlepage’s third choice for the job. His hire took place after over a month of messy public rumors regarding who would coach Virginia in 2017. The process was a total disgrace to former coach Dom Starsia — the winningest coach in Division I history.
May 17 last year — 17 days after Virginia’s season ended with a 19-11 loss against Brown — Inside Lacrosse first reported Starsia’s contract would not be renewed for next season. But two days later, it was reported Starsia had been offered a three-year contract renewal after over 200 alumni came to his defense and contacted the University and President Teresa Sullivan’s office.
All of this came a week after Littlepage publicly refused to commit to Starsia for 2017 and beyond.
“In recent years we haven't played at a championship level so we're now in the process of determining what's necessary for our men's lacrosse program to be successful and reach our desired goals,” Littlepage said May 11, 2016.
After a week of public speculation without a word from anyone in the athletics office, Starsia was dismissed May 23. In June, Starsia made his first public comments to LaxSportsNet regarding the end of his 24-year coaching career in Charlottesville.
“Soon after our season ended, I spoke to [Littlepage] and he indicated that he thought he wanted to make a change,” Starsia said. “He was out of town for two weeks, and during that time we had a series of short discussions. By the time he was back in town, they had changed their mind. Now they want me to coach again, but we couldn’t agree on how that was going to be — call it a contract if you like — I had an idea of what I need to run the program successfully, and they didn’t agree. The night before the announcement was made, I turned down their last offer.”
Littlepage tried to lure Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan — a Virginia alum — back to Charlottesville, but Corrigan said he was staying in South Bend, Ind. June 8. Ultimately, the Cavaliers hired Tiffany June 21.
The — again — very public coaching search only added insult to injury after the athletics office botched Starsia’s dismissal.
“There was no anger, but at the same time there was some angst that wasn’t always necessary,” Starsia said.
To say the least.
Starsia led Virginia to 21 NCAA Tournament appearances, 13 Final Fours and four national championships. But his impact in the community went much farther than the lacrosse field.
He led Virginia through a horrific ordeal in 2010 when one of his players, George Hugely, murdered Yeardley Love, a University student and women’s lacrosse player. He was a regular ambassador for both Virginia and the sport of lacrosse at public events. And after covering the team in 2015, I can vouch that he is as genuine of a person and family man as everyone says.
To be fair, Littlepage certainly had reason to question Starsia’s future — Virginia had losing seasons in two of the past four years and had failed to qualify for the ACC Tournament for three consecutive seasons. But the public back-and-forth and pity short-term contract offer was a slap in the face to Starsia and his supporters.
“Ultimately, I wasn’t going to accept putting a band-aid on the situation,” Starsia said.
He shouldn’t have. In fact, the situation should have never reached that point. Much like Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, Starsia deserved the right to leave gracefully on his own terms.
After the Starsia debacle and failing to land Corrigan, Tiffany will man Virginia’s sideline when the Cavaliers open the season Feb. 11 against Loyola. He has big shoes to fill.
Robert Elder was the 127th Sports Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @R_F_D_E.