Lacrosse continues to grow across the Sunshine State as Florida’s Webber University announced the addition of men and woman’s lacrosse for the 2021 season. Located in Babson Park on the shores of Crooked Lake, the Warriors look to take the field for their inaugural season playing in the NAIA Division I Sun Conference.
ILWT correspondent Andrew Baker caught up with Chris Burdick, the Director of Lacrosse and men’s team Head Coach. Burdick is currently an assistant coach with the Chesapeake Bayhawks and has put together a storied coaching career. His ties to Florida include an assistant coach position at University of Tampa as well as the Defensive Coordinator position for the former Florida Launch of the MLL.
AB: Thank you for taking time to do this interview, Coach.
CB: Thanks for having me Andrew!
AB: When were you first approached about the head coaching position at Webber? What was your first reaction?
CB: Lacrosse was on the agenda at Webber ever since they made plans to put in the new turf field. In discussions with then Athletic Director Darren Richie, I had indicated that I thought I could put a team together for the 2020-21 season. I drove out to meet with him; we had lunch and talked about the program. He was supportive of my pro coaching career so it was a good fit because I still wanted to work with the Bayhawks in the MLL. I saw it as an opportunity to grow the game in Florida at the college level and that was appealing to me.
AB: Can you explain the difference between NAIA and NCAA lacrosse?
CB: The NAIA operates almost identically to the NCAA in terms of how the programs are structured. Full time coaches, trainers and strength coaches. Funding for scholarships and budget lines such as travel and equipment are similar. Play of the game is exactly identical as the NAIA has adopted 100% compliance to the NCAA lacrosse rules manual. I would guess that we probably have dished out more athletic aid at Webber than our neighboring DII and possibly even DI Florida schools in the past year.
AB: This is now the second program you’ve helped build from the ground up in Florida. What are the similarities to helping start the program at University of Tampa and Webber? What are the differences?
CB: I actually came to Tampa in year two but the marketing and promotion of the programs are very similar. At Tampa I was able to build a network of prospect opportunities as well as engaging with the lacrosse community through camps, clinics and club teams. Starting our program at Webber, we have had some great success with our prospect camp programs and connected with a lot of recruits though those events. When you look back at the early years at Tampa, it was very similar in that you had to reach out with information to help get the name out there. Once the players visited, they really liked it and the same goes for Webber.
AB: What are some of the challenges you enjoy when starting a new program? What are some the things you dislike about starting from square one?
CB: I love everything about starting a new program. When I was hired at Providence years ago, my goal was to bring the program to the NCAA’s. We did that three times while I was there. It was the same at Tampa where we went to 6 NCAA’s. Putting a program that had never been to the tournament in the tournament is a goal of mine. Now at Webber, we are striving for the NAIA championships this May.
AB: Do you feel the Covid-19 shutdown helped or hurt the formation of the Webber Program?
CB: It’s hard to say how it actually affected the recruiting process for us. On one hand we had to shut down the visits and prospect programs but the addition of the Zoom recruiting sessions really helped students from Canada and the northern states get a good look at us though these sessions.
AB: You have another Kew playing lacrosse in Florida. How did that come about and has he really been playing since the age of three?
CB: Alex is Andrew’s ‘little’ brother but actually is now an inch taller. Andrew and I have a great relationship as can be seen from not only our time together at Tampa but also to us drafting Andrew with the Launch and eventually bringing him on board with us at Chesapeake for our championship run in 2019. Alex came down to visit his brother while Andrew was still living in Tampa and we did a visit. He liked Webber and eventually committed to come play for us. In Oakville, ON, most kids can cradle a stick before they can walk so I would bet Darren Kew, Alex and Andrew’s dad and coach growing up, had a stick in his hand for sure at the age of three.
AB: Your coaching and playing experience started well beyond the state of Florida with stints at Providence, Cornell, UMass, Delaware and Notre Dame as a coach and Delaware as a player. What is it about Florida that drew you here and keeps you here?
CB: I love the lacrosse community in Florida. My former associate with the Launch and good friend Brian Duncan is starting his program at Flagler and we talk every week about the process. All of the high school and club coaches are great to work with and support growth at all levels. And the players in Florida have a deep respect for the opportunity to play and be coached. It’s a really great community to be a part of.
AB: You started playing as a midfielder before switching to goalie, the position you played in college. Pretty safe to say you know defense. What was coaching like at Notre Dame, a program known for its defense?
CB: Notre Dame was an unbelievable place to start a coaching career. I would go from a practice on Kraus field with Kevin Corrigan, who I believe is the most talented coach in the game of lacrosse. Then I would stick my head in the JACC and watch a practice with John MacLeod who used to coach the Knicks. Then a chat with Lou Holtz in the coaches’ locker where he would share some insight into leadership. Everything about Notre Dame was larger than life.
AB: In addition to your responsibilities at Webber you also coach in the MLL. What was it like coaching players like Tucker Durkin and Austin Kaut for the Florida Launch?
CB: When Tom Mariano called me after he got the job with the Launch he asked if I wanted to coach the defense for him… I was like, give me some time to think about it and then said yes right away. I mean pro lacrosse, Steven Brooks, Connor Buczek, Tucker Durkin and Austin Kaut? Sign me up! The most impressive thing about those guys is not just how committed they are to the game, but they are the best people you will ever be around.
AB: What are the differences in coaching at the college and professional levels? How would you describe your coaching style and is it different between pro and college?
CB: The pro game is so much different and I think changes us all for the better once we have a chance to do it. You can literally be down seven goals and nobody will bat an eye. It teaches you how to be less reactive on the sideline and to trust your players and to trust your process. When I watch college games now and some of the conduct on the sidelines it makes me wish that everyone could have the pro experience. From a lacrosse perspective, you do a lot of things different schematically in the pro game due to how talented players are. However, scouting reports and video work is very similar, at least for us at the Launch and the Bayhawks.
AB: You reunited with coach Tom Mariano with the Chesapeake Bayhawks along with the legendary Dave Cottle. Can you describe that experience? Weren’t you reunited with a former UT player?
CB: When the Launch closed operations after the 2018 season, Tom was able to jump on staff at Chesapeake and Duncan and I were looking at sitting the year out along with staffs at Charlotte and Ohio. I was actually at the T99 in Dallas recruiting for Tampa when the Bayhawks were there to play the season opener vs. the Dallas Rattlers. Coach Cottle couldn’t make the trip due to a death in his family. Tom took a break from preparation to come over and watch some of the T99 and mentioned that Coach Cottle couldn’t make the trip so they had a space on the sideline and wanted to see if I could jump on with them for the game. I went back to the hotel, ripped through film till the wee hours on Dallas, put slides together and joined the team for the 8 a.m. walk thru alongside my college coach Bob Shillinglaw to help the defense. That evening we beat Dallas, and Coach Cottle got the report from guys like Isaiah Davis-Allen where the quote I believe was “Bring Mariano’s guy on board.” Coach called me the next week and invited me on staff. Two weeks later, Tom and I suggested that Coach Cottle add Andrew Kew to the roster and the rest is MLL history!
After Kew scored the championship game winning goal in Denver, Coach Cottle put his arm around be and said “you know Chris, none of this would have happened if it weren’t for you.” As I was beginning to say thanks, feeling all warm inside, he wittily followed up with “Because you brought us Andrew Kew!” Coach Cottle has a great sense of humor like that. That is my favourite memory of that championship moment and I learned a lot from just one season with Coach Cottle.
AB: During the 2020 MLL Championship in Annapolis, the defending champion Bayhawks played like the team to beat until an unfortunate positive Covid-19 diagnosis forced a forfeit. You have all the pieces for another run at 2021. What makes the Bayhawks so good?
CB: From the leadership of former owner Brendan Kelly and former GM and Head Coach Dave Cottle on to our current coaching staff, the culture of the Bayhawks has always been led by the players in the locker room. You hear people talk about Lyle Thompson being the best player in pro lacrosse, but he is also the best person in pro lacrosse. Our locker room is full of guys like that. IDA, Phipps, Costabile, the list goes on and on. The emergence of Andrew Kew as a top player in the league and the additions of some of the talented younger guys including Holden Garlent on defense puts us in a really good spot for a title run in ’21.
AB: How do people support Webber University lacrosse?
CB: You can go to www.webberathletics.com to connect with Webber Lacrosse or reach out to me via my email on the website.