Lacrosse coach Dave Cottle's job security was far from goalie Brian Phipps' mind for much of the spring.
He couldn't get Cottle's departure from the program out of his mind a day after the Terrapins' season ended.
The school announced Cottle resigned Sunday, less than 24 hours after the Terps dropped a 7-5 quarterfinal to Notre Dame. A source said Cottle met with athletic director Debbie Yow, who informed him his contract would not be renewed.
Cottle then called a team meeting at 3 p.m., informing assistants Dave Slafkosky and Ryan Moran as he drove to College Park to talk to his players for one final time.
"I'm pretty devastated," Phipps said. "Because in my four years, I had a great time with him. I became really close to him, and he changed a lot for us for the better. We owe a lot of togetherness as a team to him. He preached that. It's unfortunate. It just sucks the game we lost has this much effect on our community."
Cottle's contract expires next month. In a release, the school announced a national search for a replacement would begin this week.
Cottle said in a telephone interview this evening that he told his team he was stepping aside and would not return. He described the meeting as emotional, and he hugged each player before he departed.
"The thing you're going to miss most is the kids," Cottle said. "These kids are special, especially the group we have together, it's an unbelievable group of people. That's the thing you're going to miss most."
Cottle had a 99-45 record in nine seasons since taking over after Dick Edell's retirement in 2001. But a four-year final four drought and the absence of a national title ultimately did him in.
The tournament troubles --- Saturday's loss to Notre Dame was only the latest example --- exacerbated criticism levied at Cottle dating back to his Loyola days. His teams have reached the postseason in 22 of the last 23 seasons, but never won a championship.
Cottle's 22 postseason appearances without a title is the most in the sport's history.
When asked if he had any regrets from a run that featured eight NCAA berths, three final fours and two ACC titles, Cottle pointed to the obvious.
"Just that we didn't win a championship," he said. "I wanted to try to do that for Maryland. I thought we were turning the corner."
The Terps, picked to finish outside the top five this season and at the bottom of the ACC, poached victories against Duke and North Carolina while also beating Johns Hopkins and Navy in the middle of the season. The Terps were the No. 3 seed --- their highest seeding since 2006.
Maryland will lose Phipps and defensive midfielders Bryn Holmes and Dean Hart, but the offense returns almost entirely intact. Third line midfielder Adam Sear (11 goals) and Hart (three goals) are the only players who scored more than twice all year who will depart.
He'll leave a close-knit group behind, one that touted its togetherness all season and was clearly crushed when it shuffled out of Princeton Stadium. The lasting impact of that loss will be felt a little longer than anyone planned.
"It was just how close of a family we were and how coach Cottle took us in and we fought for him every day," Phipps said. "We respect him so much and that togetherness and that sense of family is all directed toward him. He deserves it."Cottle's departure --- call it a resignation or an ouster, whichever you prefer --- is just the latest hint of how much winning in May is increasingly measured in the sport. Only Maryland and Hopkins have reached eight straight tournaments, and just Maryland, Cornell and Georgetown and posted .500 or better records in each of the last nine seasons.
"I'm not sure people fully appreciate how hard it is to win," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said after the Cavaliers' 10-9 defeat of Stony Brook in today's NCAA quarterfinals. "You're staring out there at a game against Stony Brook, it's the quarterfinals and we have our hands full. Two, three and four aren't playing next weekend, and that's never happened in our sport before. It's not getting easier. Dave Cottle is one of the finest coaches that I've come across in all my career, and we also go into this profession understanding there's a bottom line involved. I feel for him. I feel for him a great deal. In my mind, if Dave wants to continue coaching, someone would be crazy not to be jumping on the opportunity to hire him. He's one of the really bright guys in our profession."
Aside from the questions in goal, Maryland is set up to have its best team since at least 2006 --- if not in more than a decade next season. With a deep attack and a senior-laden defense, whoever succeeds Cottle will be in position to win.
And the message is clear: He'd better win big. Averaging 11 wins and not winning championships evidently won't cut it at Maryland, which has not won a national title since 1975.
"I think Dick got the program better and I got the program better," Cottle said. "Right now, I think the next guy's a lucky guy."