MLL's Steve Guglielmo caught up Tim Soudan to get his thoughts on taking over the team mid-way through the 2011 season and his expectations for his first full season as head coach of the Rochester Rattlers.
You have now been on both sides of the coin, a player and a coach in the MLL. How have you seen the league grow and evolve over the years?
I was involved at its absolute infancy. I think I see a lot more excitement around now and I think it’s very well respected in the lacrosse community as a whole and I think it has gained a lot of ground. What they’re able to do with marketing and the website and everything else is just way ahead of where we were back then. As far as gameplay I think it’s very similar. I do think that the players coming out of college are more athletic every year; they’re very fast, equipment has changed a lot. One of the big differences from when I played is that they allow another long stick on the field, which as a coach I think is great. I think that keeps the continuity coming from the college level, getting another athletic pole on the field. A guy like Joel White pushes offense like any midfielder would.
How does having played in the league help you prepare as a coach?
I think it helps. I played professional lacrosse for 15 years. I played three years for MLL and the thing that I take away from that is I have a decent understanding of what the guys go through on travel days and what it’s like to work a full week and then flip the switch and be as competitive as possible. Getting your work out in during the week and taking care of your body to be as competitive as possible on the weekend can be tough. It’s way different than some of these other professional sports. Guys have other jobs and then they still come out and play at the very highest level of lacrosse. Another thing is that as a former player and learning from previous coaches is that I don’t want to control guys with x’s and o’s. I want to give the game back to them. That’s why they’re the best in the world. The game comes so fast to these guys, especially with the shot clock it’s a real run and gun game. My biggest rule for these guys is go out and make mistakes and be creative but try not to make the same mistake twice. When you start doing that is when we get into trouble. It was successful for us last year when I came aboard and the guys really felt good about what we accomplished. I think we could have done better but I’m looking forward to this year and my approach is just going to be to give the team back to the guys but let them understand that it’s their game to win or lose. I’m going to do my best on the sidelines to make sure they’re in the best position to win games and make the right calls with timeouts and slight adjustments. The bottom line is that these guys are smart; a lot of them coach at various levels themselves and it makes the atmosphere on our sidelines very good. It’s great to have our veterans being vocal in the time-outs and huddles because they see it out there on the field whereas we’re seeing a different angle. Having a guy like Striebel on the field is critical. My biggest thing is continuity, having guys enjoy playing together and having a very good camaraderie. I’ve been on teams that were ultra talented but didn’t care about each other and we faltered. Whereas the teams that were less talented but better in the locker room were always more successful. You win the tight games when you care about each other and share the ball. We have a really unselfish bunch of guys this year that love to move the ball and they love each other in the locker room and that will really go a long way.
After taking over the team last year, you designated team captains. How did this impact the team?
I think it was great. It gave everybody a voice. My first week I was on the phone with as many guys as I could asking what is right and wrong about the team. What are our strengths and weaknesses? What can we get back as far as giving up stupid goals. A lot of the transition stuff as far as getting back on defense and substitutions were just awful. Everybody knew it. That was one of the changes we made. Having the guys speak up to address those issues was huge. Cleaning that up was a major focus. Defense has to be a focus in MLL. We came in with a ‘do what you’re doing on offense’ but defensively it was critical that we’re all on the same page. We really did a nice job sitting down before the Chesapeake game and the guys did great. We were in that game. The guys really turned it around defensively and we got a couple of good wins against Denver and we turned it around. That is our big focus.
How important is strong veteran leadership in a sport like lacrosse?
I don’t think there is anything more important. I’d rather have a couple of really good chemistry guys than have 6 superstars on our offensive end at one time. One of the things that we talked about in the draft was to not pick guys that are exactly the same as each other. We want a couple of downhill dodgers at the midfield. We want a couple of guys who play off ball at the midfield. We’re looking for a strong right-handed feeder because we have Crotty on the other side. We’re trying to fill slots with different types of players to always have another option instead of just having a certain type of player. The character is critical. You have to enjoy the grind in the summer. These guys are away from their families. If they don’t care about the guys they’re playing with and they’re just collecting a paycheck it doesn’t make sense for anybody. Our guys last year bought in and they loved travelling together and spending time together. There’s banter over email during the week and it’s just really all positive. When you get that atmosphere you feel like you can win every week. You’re in it every week. We weren’t a championship-caliber team last year but we could play with championship caliber teams. This year we will be even better. Like I said, when you put quality character leaders in place the rest falls into place and then you just weed out guys who don’t fit in. I’m really excited to get started. I get emails from all different types of guys from all over the place saying how excited they are and it has really been a fun exercise for me.
Have you begun to think about captain appointments for this season?
We’re definitely going to have to find somebody at the defensive end. We’ve got some guys who are going to be in their sophomore years. I don’t know if they’re ready but they were great leaders last year. It really hasn’t struck me to figure that out quite yet. I’m still looking at getting our roster from 47 guys to 25. I think it’s pretty clear that we’ve got some guys, obviously Streibel, Kevin Leveille. I will probably ask them both to step up. You look for experienced guys who are level headed that can run a huddle. We have so many timeouts in this league that are long enough that I can’t talk for two minutes every single time. It’s great to have those leaders and we have some really smart defenseman. We have a young core there. It is going to be interesting. We will have to pick a long pole to be a captain. I had three guys last year who I picked but I think you’re only supposed to have two.
You guys got off to a rough start last season but started to come on at the end of the season. How will you keep that momentum going into next season?
I think that building an atmosphere where guys feel comfortable and building a team around character guys has been a major part of our off-season effort. We had a tremendous team last year. Losing Anthony Kelly and Bice, two of my captains, to go play in Columbus, it helped us in the draft but it hurt our leadership. We’re going to have to develop that and see who comes on and who fits in and who doesn’t and if you don’t fit in we’ll happily pass them on to somebody else. We did background checks on most of the guys to see who we were getting and one of the first things I do when I’m looking at a guy is I call a couple of guys to ask what they know about him. Guys give me an honest estimation and I weigh out the pros and cons and they’re honest about each other. We’ve done a good job of assembling a team that is going to have good chemistry together. That’s one of our biggest focuses. That was the critical thing was getting those guys turned around last year.
What are your expectations going into the season?
I sent an email out to the guys and I said that there is no other goal to be had in this league then to shoot for the championship. I think we’re going to be a completely different team. I think having the team from the beginning all the way through will be different. On paper we look a lot better than last year. Barring injuries and barring any other issues that come along I think that if we have the right guys on the field each week we will be successful. Early in the season as we choose players and the best players we try to stay away from guys who have conflicts. We will come out of the gate strong this year and hopefully get a couple of early crucial wins. Nobody runs away with the league, so I have to be able to do better than 2-10 that we were last year. I’m shooting for over .500 and make the playoffs and then make a run.
2012 MLL All-Star Game
MLL will host its marquee event in Palm Beach County, FL this year on Saturday, June 30! To buy your tickets now,
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The 2012 MLL All-Star Game will feature the best lacrosse players in the world, all one one field and will be aired live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.