In some ways, John Tillman is a very lucky man today.
He has jumped from a school where lacrosse wasn't taken all that seriously for years (certainly not in comparison to Ivy League brethren Princeton and Cornell) to a place that has earned NCAA tournament invitations 33 times in 40 years.
He takes over a team that returns, depending on whether Will Yeatman petitions and receives a restored year of eligibility, eight or nine of 10 starters.
He parlays a 20-19 record over three years --- including a not-so-pleasant 1-10 record in one-goal games, which I'll admit I was surprised to discover --- into a seven-year contract with a program that safely lands somewhere in the Second Five in terms of overall upside of college lacrosse programs.
(That would be behind Syracuse, Virginia, Johns Hopkins, North Carolina and Duke, in the same neighborhood as Cornell and Princeton and ahead of Georgetown and Notre Dame).
And in some ways, Tillman isn't so fortunate.
He inherits an impatient fan base that wanted to win big yesterday.
His track record as a head coach is sparse enough that the second he absorbs a dubious defeat, there will be questions about his readiness for the gig.
His day-in, day-out facilities lag behind the rest of the ACC.
In the short term, he'll receive minimal credit for anything that happens next year short of a national championship, simply because he inherits a loaded team.
Stretching it out a bit, he'll need to rebuild both his attack and his defense in 2012 when graduation takes a severe toll on the Terps.
It isn't paradise, and it isn't a disaster, either. Assuming Tillman does his usual recruiting magic, Maryland's talent level won't be an issue in the years to come. It wasn't in recent years, either.
The more this hire gets analyzed, the easier it is to come to the conclusion the eventual outcome of Tillman's tenure will likely say more about Maryland than it will about the coach.
Sure, Tillman's a bit of a risk. Of the 60 Division I lacrosse coaches this past spring, 35 have coached in an NCAA tournament game. Tillman has not.
At the same time, he's bright, engaging and personable. He helped scheme Navy to the final four in 2004 and the quarterfinals a year later, and it is an indication of how quickly he generated interest (among fans and especially recruits) at Harvard that going 6-6 this season was a mild disappointment.
Toward the latter half of his 12-year stint in Annapolis, it seemed clear he would be a capable head coach one day. Maryland understandably agrees, having made the most of the candidate pool willing to listen to it.
(An aside: Virginia assistant Marc Van Arsdale, who also interviewed at Maryland, was another fine possibility. Despite struggling during a head coaching stint at Penn --- not exactly a lacrosse bastion for the last two decades --- he's done an amazing job with the Cavaliers' offense and quietly is often the smartest man in the room --- by far. That Maryland eventually zeroed in on Tillman and Van Arsdale suggests a job well done by its search committee in figuring out the most capable options for the job).
Of course, there's a question that lingers not far beneath the surface and will remain submerged for a while: What if Tillman winds up producing results much like Dick Edell and Dave Cottle did?
The pair combined for 27 seasons in College Park, nine final fours, three Memorial Day appearances and no national titles. The Terps reached 21 NCAA tournaments in that span, including 18 in the last 20 years.
Contrary to popular opinion, failing to win a national championship does not constitute failure. Edell went 171-76 (.692) in 18 years and was inducted into the sport's hall of fame. Cottle was 99-45 (.688) in nine years, and with 280 total victories to his name will probably get the chance to coach again if he pleases.
Assigning a five-point scale (0-national title, 1-finalist, 2-semifinalist, 3-quarterfinalist, 4-first round, 5-missed tournament) to Maryland's results in that span, here's a breakdown of the average results of their stins in nine-year increments --- Edell I (1984-92), Edell II (1993-2001) and Cottle (2002-10):
Edell I: 3.56
Edell II: 2.78
Maryland was a quarterfinal team on an annual basis under Cottle, and a little better in the second half of Edell's time in College Park.
Nearly three decades is a pretty decent sample size. And at some point, after players, coaches and administrators come and go, the onus has to eventually fall on something as faceless as the institution.
If Tillman is outrageously successful (read: snaps the 35-year championship drought and vaults Maryland past Virginia and Hopkins on the national pecking order on a consistent basis) or an abysmal failure (a descent mirroring North Carolina's tumble in the late 1990s would fulfill that definition), he'll get the credit or blame. No one's done either lately at Maryland, and he's the changing variable.
But if he plugs along, wins nearly 70 percent of his game and reaches a final four every three or four years, then it will really be time for those who shunned a serious examination of the program vis-a-vis the consistent title contenders in the last month to reconsider their perspective of Maryland lacrosse.
And there's plenty to think about.
It starts with a locker room just a step above the visitors' digs at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The lousy condition of the Byrd Stadium field --- not to mention flipping between an overbooked practice field and the football turf facility that doesn't have lacrosse lines --- exacerbates matters.
But other questions exist. They include coaches' compensation, especially for assistants (that data will be interesting to discover). Same goes for wiggle room with admissions standards; anyone who believes that issue is confined to football is mistaken, even if no coach or athletic administrator can do a much about it.
The funny thing is no matter how much Maryland (again, this is the school, not the athletic department) tries to make people believe it is an academic juggernaut, it still won't be perceived to be in the same conversation as the Ivies, Hopkins, Duke and Georgetown. It's the same thing when Maryland is compared to North Carolina and Virginia.
Feel free to argue the reality, though that's beside the point. Perception means more in recruiting, and Maryland doesn't quite possess the same cachet to the parents of the future lawyers, bankers and financial gurus of America as a Princeton or a Hopkins or a Duke does.
The point of this isn't to degrade Tillman, who has a chance to be a superb coach and is a choice difficult for anyone to object to thanks to his smarts and savvy.
But, if like his predecessors, he doesn't win the big one, it will more likely reflect the environment in which he toils rather than his own efforts and competence to get the job done.