Replacing A Legend

Is is possible to replace a coaching legend with someone bound to become one of their own? CuseNation's Will Slattery takes a look at what that path looked like for head mens lacrosse coach John Desko.

It is hard to replace a coaching legend.

When all a program has known is success, the newcomer is expected to instantly replicate it. The fans don't want the new coach to just polish the existing silverware, but rather demand that he add a few new pieces to the cabinet.

Syracuse basketball fans often wonder what the post-Boeheim days will be like, and whether it will be like a post-apocalyptic wasteland devoid of anything worth cheering for. If Orange supporters want to glimpse the best-case scenario, they need only stroll a few hundred yards from the Carmelo Anthony Basketball Center to where the lacrosse team practices.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of John Desko's appointment as head coach of the Syracuse men's lacrosse team.

He too was replacing a legend. Roy Simmons Jr. won six national championships in his 27-year tenure with the Orange. A program that he lead to 16 straight Final Fours.

As an assistant for the last 18 of those years, Desko had a first hand view of the excellence that was required to lead a successful program. But being the commander in chief, versus the man who sits in a chair beside him requires two different skill sets.

Desko started off right where Simmons Jr left off. He took Syracuse to the national title game in his first season behind the helm. Three titles in the next five years followed and Desko was able to extend the Orange's Final Four streak to 22 before it finally ended in a first round loss to UMass in 2005.

With Desko, the honeymoon period never ended. He just kept surprising fans with getaways year after year, usually coinciding with the Final Four.

The simple fact that Desko was able to continue on the legacy of his predecessor is impressive enough, but he now has a resume good enough for Manhattan basketball coach Steve Masiello to pass off as his own.

Desko's five NCAA championships are only bettered by the six won by Simmons and former Stanford coach Bill Tierney. His 31-9 NCAA tournament record gives him the best tournament winning percentage of any coach ever.

He has only had one losing season since taking charge, going 5-8 in 2007. His team promptly went out and recorded back to back 16-2 seasons with twin championships to go with them. Not a bad response to a losing record.

Of course, a coach needs players to win games for him and Desko has had some special ones, especially Mike Powell and Mike Leveille. Both were four time All-Americans and both won the Tewaaraton award for the nation's best player, with Powell taking home the sports top honor twice.

The 15th year into Desko's tenure also marks Syracuse's first year in the ACC. While the team is 8-3, they are currently 2-3 in conference play.

But fans shouldn't be too worried. Remember how Desko responded after 5-8?


Cuse Nation Top Stories