Based on the reaction over the last three days to the ouster of Maryland lacrosse coach Dave Cottle, it's hard to come up with a coaching change that was so welcomed by fans who follow the game and so panned by those inside the sport.
It's a striking dichotomy, and both groups have their sets of priorities. Coaches squirm at the idea they could get fired for not making the final four. Fans want to win a title NOW, and since many weren't enamored with Cottle's arrival nine years ago, they aren't sad to see him leave now regardless of who replaces him.
But, to channel Lady Macbeth, what's done is done. While Cottle may not have had a national title in him (28 years to date said he didn't), there's no guarantee that five or six years down the road Maryland won't be wondering if his successor can, either. It won't be until then (if ever) that some serious introspection about the program, the hurdles facing it and its place in the national pecking order will ever occur on a larger scale.
Whoever that successor may be, he would be wise to avoid enduring some of the defeats that so clearly did in Cottle. His teams lost 45 times in 10 years, and if any one of a handful of them went the other way, this wouldn't be a topic of conversation.
Among the worst moments:
10. Virginia 14-4, 2003 NCAA semifinals. Cottle got Maryland to the final four for the first time since 1998, so playing in the first semifinals staged in a pro stadium should have pacified some folks. But the Cavaliers, who lost to the Terps 8-7 in Charlottesville almost two months earlier, got 18 saves from Tillman Johnson. Yeah, No. 9 could do that to people, especially on that specific weekend.
9. Duke 18-9, 2005 NCAA semifinals. This was a bit of a surprise appearance, given that the Terps were 5-5 in mid-April. But they won the ACC tournament, earned the No. 3 overall seed and wound up with a third date with the Blue Devils. Of all the games on this list, no other result had as much to do with the opponent as this one. Duke was simply magnificent that day in Philadelphia, and it fooled a lot of people into thinking it would do the same to Johns Hopkins two days later.
8. Virginia 10-9 (7OT), 2009 regular season. The '09 season would have looked a lot different if it was Maryland that escaped Charlottesville with an epic victory. Heck, it didn't even need to be epic, since Grant Catalino had a goal waved off in the early moments of the first overtime thanks to an inadvertent whistle. Give the Terps that one (over the nation's top-ranked team) and pair it with defeats of Duke and North Carolina, and Maryland (a) Wins the ACC regular season; (b) Probably is seeded and (c) Likely doesn't get stuck facing Syracuse in the quarterfinals. Instead, the Terps were toast the second the brackets were unveiled.
7. Bucknell 7-6 (2OT), 2006 regular season. Not a big one in the grand scheme of things, but it did sap Maryland of some good feelings early in the season. Maryland was 3-0, having already defeated top-ranked Duke (before the Blue Devils' season descended into the misery of false rape accusations), and was ranked No. 1 for the second straight week. But the Bison pulled the upset on a blustery, frigid March evening on the Terps' tiny turf field near Comcast Center, knocking Maryland from the No. 1 perch. The Terps haven't returned since, though they did rebound to make the semifinals that season.
6. Princeton 9-8 (OT), 2004 quarterfinals. The ultimate oh-so-close game. Maryland led 8-7 with less than a minute to play when sophomore attackman Joe Walters couldn't help but to fire on an open goal. He missed, Princeton regained possession and scored in the closing seconds. The Tigers later won in overtime. It would be curious to know if four straight final four appearances in the middle of the decade would have really mattered all that much. With one different decision, we might have found out.
5. Navy 10-4, 2009 regular season. A miserable performance for the Maryland offense, which was blanked for more than 30 minutes and got no points from Catalino. The Midshipmen got 16 saves from Tommy Phelan as the Terps lost to Navy for the fifth time in six years. It was also the most lopsided setback to the Mids since 1992, and one of a school-record seven losses on the season.
4. UMBC 13-9, 2007 NCAA first round. This really wasn't as bad as folks would like to believe it was. The '07 team had a rebuilt offense, and if any of Cottle's teams could be excused for an early postseason departure, it was this one. But losing to an in-state school, and doing so just a few hours after the other seeded team in the quarter of the draw was upset (Virginia), ensure the perception of the setback remains significant. Losing to the Retrievers in the 2008 and 2009 regular seasons didn't help, either.
3. Johns Hopkins 10-4, 2008 regular season. If ever there was a chance to zap Hopkins, this was it. The Blue Jays had lost five in a row, were coming off a 17-6 dissection at Duke and had tumbled to No. 15 nationally. After a methodical first half, Hopkins produced a 6-1 run in the third quarter to put away Maryland and deny the Terps consecutive victories at Homewood Field. Cottle was 2-7, and while some one-goal losses hurt, this was the one that made the least sense at the time. Hopkins, by the way, wouldn't lose again until Memorial Day.
2. Massachusetts 8-5, 2006 NCAA semifinals. Arguably low tide for the entire nine-year run. The Terps had held their seed in the first two rounds, and no one was going to blame them for losing to unbeaten Virginia on Memorial Day. But they needed to deal with the plucky Minutemen first, and a senior-laden offense couldn't pull it off. Between overly tactical coaching and four veteran stalwarts who happened to stink on the same day, it was a game where absolutely nothing went right for the Terps. UMass predictably was blown out a couple days later, and Maryland has yet to get another crack at the final weekend in May.
1. Notre Dame 7-5, 2010 NCAA quarterfinals. Strictly based on what led to Cottle's ouster, this one has to top the list by default. Had the Terps won on Saturday, it is highly unlikely a change would have occurred this year and Maryland would be preparing for a semifinal date with seventh-seeded Cornell. As unfair as it is seems that one game was the linchpin for the decision to make a change, it's hard to argue with the evidence and suggest that isn't the case.