ILWT Feature: In conversation with Tom Mariano

One of the joys of working in lacrosse is making the acquaintance of some great people. I have greatly looked forward to the next guest in our Florida Lacrosse series since he took over as the head coach of the Florida Launch.

Tom Mariano has worn many hats since his playing days at Nazareth, when he was on the 1992 Division III National Championship team. He is currently the Assistant Athletic Director and Men’s head coach at Pace University in New York, while also serving as the President of the USILA. Every stop in his MLL career was a successful one, most recently in Chesapeake. Prior to these positions, Mariano served as the head coach for Sacred Heart University where he oversaw the transition from Division II to Division I.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was conducted prior to the MLL’s absorption by the PLL.

Tom Mariano takes in the national anthem in front of the Chesapeake Bayhawks. 7/6/2019; Annapolis, MD, USA; Atlanta Vs. Chesapeake at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. (Mandatory Photography Credit: Jermain Rangasammy)

AB: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Tom. Please share some of your background with us.

TM: I played football, basketball and lacrosse at Ossining High School in New York. I had a great experience as a PG at Perkiomen Prep. I played at CW Post as a freshman then transferred to Nazareth College. I was fortunate to have played for many great coaches growing up like Tom Caione, Joe Variano, Roger Rowe, Dan Ricci, Billy Bates, Dutch Pritts, Ken Baker, Reid Watson, Tom Postel, Stan Kowalski, Rob Randall and Scott Nelson.

AB: Starting out as a player, did you ever envision yourself as a coach? Can you walk us through your transition from player to coach?

TM: I always had such great respect for my coaches and appreciation for what they all did for me. It was always in the back of my mind but I wasn’t sure of a career in it. The summer after I graduated I was ready to join the Marines when the opportunity to become the head coach at Marist College for $4000 came up. I figured ‘who can turn down $4,000?’ so I jumped into coaching. I played in my last game in May and in September was a D1 head coach. I had no idea what I was doing and just tried to instill what I had learned in my career as a player. I have always tried to coach the way I played – fast, up-tempo.

I truly believe that if you give it your all in what you do, you will have success. You may not always win championships but you will win in so many other ways.

AB: The word is that while at Sacred Heart you tried to get a certain football player to come out for the lacrosse team, that being ILWT favourite Bill O’Brien. Any validity to this and what did you see in him if so?

TM: It is true; we tried hard. Bill was a force on the football field, playing with so much energy and passion. We would see him in workouts, absolutely crushing them. When we heard he had played lacrosse, we figured we had to give it a shot.

AB: You hold several positions at the college level in addition to your MLL duties as head coach. How do you manage to keep all of those roles balanced? Your time management skills must be phenomenal.

TM: Thankfully they are all based in lacrosse so it allows these positions to cross over at times. I have a great family who supports me on these adventures and coaching staffs that do a ton to help me. I rely on my calendar a ton for time management. A big key for me is to focus on things that matter and spend my time on getting those tasks done.

AB: How did you decide to coach at the professional level?

TM: Bear Davis had just been hired with the Ohio Machine and he couldn’t find anyone to take the huge salary that he was offering, so I think I may have been the last man standing. Bear has been a close friend for years. We both enjoy challenges and we knew the Machine was going to be a challenge. We jumped in headfirst and it was one of the best decisions I have made. It has been a blast to be in pro lacrosse and I have been so fortunate to be around so many great players who have impacted me in many ways.

AB: While with the Machine from 2013 through 2015 you served as the defensive coordinator for a team known for its offense. Their defense became one of the better units in the MLL and it paid off in the form of a championship in 2017. How did you go about that transformation and how did it make you feel to finally see them win a championship?

TM: I was so fortunate that when we got to Ohio there was a bunch of hungry, team-first competitive men on the roster. We also added players who were extremely competitive with a combination of great athleticism and size. It started with installing some defensive philosophies that were very team based and the players bought in. That defensive unit played for each other and had a blast doing it, it became the best unit and ended up winning a championship. We had come close with playoff losses while I was there and knew the team was right there. I was pumped up that the Machine won a championship, truly thrilled for all the players and coaches who worked so hard to get there.

AB: In 2016 you went to the Bayhawks as offensive coordinator and goalie coach. What made you want go to the Bayhawks?

TM: I think things happen for a reason and at times you take chances. Brian Reese is the best so the chance to work with him was tough to turn down. The Bayhawks, with Dave Cottle and Brendan Kelly, a great owner who is as passionate about pro lacrosse as anyone, made me think about trying something different. We had turned the Machine from the worst team to one of the best so a chance to go work for the premier organization was something I couldn’t turn down.

AB: You went from coaching defense to offense, which shows a true understanding of the game. Was it a difficult transition?

TM: Players like Abbott, Danowski, Walters, Mundorf, Mackrides, Jones and Westervelt made it easy. I truly believe that putting in the preparation and helping players be successful doesn’t change whether you coach the offense or defense. A huge part of coaching is building relationships. The reality is, at the pro level, the players make the coaches look good.

AB: In 2017 you took over as head coach of the Florida Launch. The roster was loaded with talent and you took them to their first playoff appearance in team history. How were you able to do that? If the team had not ceased operations do you feel a championship was in the cards?

TM: I can tell you this, we would have chased that championship and never given up in that pursuit of it.

What an amazing experience and so thankful for this part of my coaching career. The Launch had many of the pieces to the puzzle. Great leadership and commitment to doing what is needed to get better were keys that year. We created a belief and love for each other that was special. It was never just me; there were so many involved in that pursuit of being the best we could be. A supportive front office, the best ops director in lacrosse (miss you Heather), great coaching staff with Chris Burdick and Brian Duncan, off-field staff Jesse Vanatta and Matt Dugan, GREAT FANS, the best athletic trainers and doctors (lots of IV) and last but not least TRULY OUTSTANDING MEN IN THE LOCKER ROOM.

Head coach Tom Mariano chats with Andrew Kew of the Chesapeake Bayhawks. (Photo credit: Major League Lacrosse)

AB: When the Launch folded you went back to the Bayhawks in 2019 and won the Steinfeld Cup. What was it like coaching a team with Lyle Thompson leading the offense? What made Andrew Kew’s transition from Division II to MLL so successful that year?

TM: Let me go back to the part where I say great players make coaches look good. Lyle is the best to coach; his passion for playing has taught me so much. We had so many players who contributed to that run. It was a long season and players were outstanding all season long, they did a great job. Kew is competitive and can score goals. It doesn’t matter what level, he finds a way to score goals.

AB: Going into the 2020 championship tournament, Chesapeake looked like the team to beat until an positive Covid-19 test led to a forfeit. That had to be disappointing, to say the very least.

TM: We felt we had a team that could compete for a championship and we did. It was a tough situation to be a part of, and that seemed like 2020 in a nutshell. As a team we made the decision to step away, not forfeit, for concern about our safety, our families and the other teams. My goal for the 2020 season was to stand together and have each other’s backs. We did from start to finish. We had hungry men in the locker room who want to win a championship.

AB: Tell us about your coaching staff at Pace.

TM: I feel very lucky and fortunate to have great men around me who have a passion for the game of lacrosse and helping others get better. We have a lot of fun together and hopefully that translates to the players.

We have a lot of fun as a staff. Dan Mulholland is the godfather of Pace Lacrosse and helped start the program. Ian Prate was a great player who transitioned into coaching. Lew Janavey brings tremendous experience and perspective to the program, and Matt Simone keeps Lew grounded and does a great job with the team.

AB: What are the differences between coaching professionally and collegiately? Any difference in recruiting?

TM: The great thing about the game of lacrosse is that passion for the game doesn’t change by level. You love the game and you try to instill that in your players.

The pros are great players who can make adjustments on the fly, which makes it easy to coach at times. A big part of the job is managing the players and working to find the best way for the team.

At the college level it takes longer to instill things but you also have a lot more time to work with them in doing this. You’re also working with them 24/7 in their lives to support their role as a student athlete.

Recruiting is very similar in that you do a lot of evaluations and try to find the right men who can fit into the locker room in the pursuit of excellence.

AB: How can the fans support Pace?

TM: Social media is great avenue for fans to learn about any lacrosse team. When it’s safe, get out and watch games. There is such high level lacrosse being played all over now. It’s a great time to be a lacrosse fan. I hope that all fans of lacrosse continue to grow and spread the love of the game to many more. We need to create more lacrosse fans.