By Steve Guglielmo | 3/28/12 4:30 PM
MLL's Steve Guglielmo caught up with Long Island Lizards head coach Joe Spallina, who was the assistant coach of the team for the past two seasons and takes over the reins this year.
I coach for a living. It’s my job. It’s the only job I have. I don’t sell things on the side. I’m not a salesmen or a lawyer. I coach. I think that is going to be something that will help. I’m dealing with the sport. Obviously, women’s lacrosse is a little different but I’ve been around Jim Mule as his assistant for two years with the Lizards. I think having success and knowing how to run a successful team is the foundation of anything. You take a lacrosse ball and try to stand on it, you can’t use a lacrosse ball as your foundation, you have to have team rules and ethics and morals and all of the things that you want to try to build a franchise around. We’re going to bring that philosophy and more of a team atmosphere to our guys. Dave Cottle was the head coach at Loyola and Maryland for years and he’s going to bring a very similar philosophy. We have a lot of the same thoughts and mindset in the ways of running a team. Coach Stagnitta is taking over at Denver and he was the coach at Rutgers for years, so I think you’re going to see a little more of that in the league, which I think will make teams run in a more traditional way by guys who coach full-time.
I think it’s a huge advantage. I think a lot of people have a perception of how MLL is run and played. As much as you want to say that lacrosse is lacrosse, it’s different because you’re dealing with guys and you don’t get 24 hour access to them like you do in college, six days per week. You have to learn how to manage egos and you have to learn to manage as much as you learn to coach. That will be a huge advantage for me having coached under Coach Mule who has had tremendous success in this league and to see how it all works. And then knowing how the guys operate; I think as an assistant you’re sometimes in the trenches a little more than a head coach. So that will help too, knowing how both sides of the fence are handled. It will give me an advantage as far as personnel goes, even for self-evaluating a lot of the guys we have. I know a lot of the guys that we have on our roster. I know the talent in the league. I can come in and have a better understanding of what exactly we have under the hood. In addition to that, I think as an assistant coach you always have your ideas of how things should be run or how things are going to be run. So as much as we will keep things similar, there will also be differences. I think in a positive way we will try to build off some of the success that Jim has had, and also put my own twist on things and try to maximize the guys’ performances.
I think offensively we will have a different look. That’s not a knock on the way the offense was run last year but I think that we have a different twist of personnel. Last year we had a lot of guys who would just go and do it, this year you’re going to see us emphasize a little more ball movement a little bit more of a cohesive unit. We went out of our way to get a lot of local guys, guys who view practice as important to them. The guys that we don’t have that are local are guys who are around the sport for a living. So that’s one of the things that we’re going to emphasize. Defensively, I love the way that we have played in the last few years. We’re going to have a little different personnel look. We’re not done tinkering with our roster, but we’re able to add Kevin Unterstein who is one of the best shutdown d-middies in the league, which is a middie league. Based on that, we think that our midfield defense is phenomenal. And then adding some two-way middies like Max Seibald and Peyser in trades, I think you’re going to see us get up and down the field better than we have in the past. Just from a black and white standpoint, an area of emphasis for us through training camp is going to be our special teams. We were good on the man down and part of that is because we were man down a lot. That’s something we’re going to look to deal with. We want to play blue collar and play nasty but we also have to stay out of the box. And I think that we had the worst extra man unit in the league last year. I think we had seven goals the whole season. That’s something through personnel that we really went out of our way to address. We got Grant Cattalino who I think had 7 goals by himself on the man up, and Seibald will be great.
I think defensively we want to play similar to the last couple of years. We need to become a more consistent offensive team, and not have to rely on our defense all the time for success. And I think that the big thing in this league is if you turn it into a half-field game with the shot clock…we have to find a way to create offense out of our defense by scoring some transition goals and scoring some easy goals. You don’t want to make a living of playing all 6 on 6 to score goals, we want to get transition. We really want to dial that up this year and get out and run. Our staff has broken down every game tape of ours and every individual performance. We’ve gone over what worked and didn’t from an Xs and Os stand point. I spoke with some of the teams that were successful and we watched things that worked for them. We looked at their offense and their subs. The best coach is the best thief, so we went to the teams that were the most successful and looked at the things that they were doing and figured out how we could implement them into our team.
We want to maximize our practice time and become a cohesive unit. We felt like our defense was really good because our defense was always at practice. We still have some tweaking to do, like shoring up our roster. We think that we’re putting together the right mix and we want guys who want Long Island. We think that we’re pretty close to putting together a playoff team and a championship contender.
Brian, in my opinion, is one of the top defensemen in the league. He was our best cover guy last year with the Lizards. I call Dave Cottle every day and try to steal him back. I want Brian to be back with the Lizards. As far as that goes, if we have to go up against each other, we’re both fierce competitors. It doesn’t change that he’s my brother and I love him with all my heart. After the game we’ll still hug each other and probably pose for a picture or two.