Cornell Confident Interim Coach Can Reverse Fortunes


Peter Milliman inherits a group of young and talented players hoping to turn the tide for the Big Red.

Cornell had a rough start to the 2017 season, losing each of its first five games to Penn State, Hobart, Albany, Virginia and Yale. After a losing season in 2016, the Big Red had fallen far from the team that was only seconds away from an NCAA men’s lacrosse championship in 2009, the apex of four trips to championship weekend in a span of seven years.

But then a young team, led by star freshman Jeff Teat, began to gel. Cornell finished the season winning five of its last eight games, a sign that the Big Red might be on the rebound.

“I feel like we’re right on the edge and the tipping point of taking that next step and becoming a great team, making the Ivy league tournament and making a push there,” junior midfielder Clarke Patterson said. “We were starting to put things together toward the end and as a team. That’s going to help us continue into this season.”

However, not long after the 2017 season concluded, head coach Matt Kerwick resigned and left a vacancy at one of college lacrosse’s most historic programs for the fourth time in a decade. The administration, led by athletic director Andy Noel, decided to stay out of the summer hiring frenzy, instead handing the interim head coach job to assistant Peter Milliman. The idea was to fill the vacancy quickly in an effort to “keep the momentum going,” according to a source close to the program.

Milliman, who served under head coaches Ben DeLuca and Kerwick after joining the Big Red program from Princeton in 2013, is tasked with continuing the progress made by his predecessors. But the Cornell dynasty is long gone — and it has now been 40 years since the Big Red won the last of their three NCAA championships. With Maryland ending its well-documented title drought this year, the burden shifts from College Park to Ithaca.

If Milliman has his way, Cornell will follow Maryland in ending the murmurs among its similarly passionate fan and alumni base. But he’s not looking that far ahead. He said he’s just happy to lead a program with a rich history.

“I really appreciate the opportunity to be around guys like this and a program that has a culture like this,” said Milliman, also an assistant coach for the U.S. indoor team. “This isn’t something new or implemented just a couple years ago. This is something that goes back to Coach [Richie] Moran and even before that.”

Milliman said he has reached out Moran — the legendary Cornell coach and architect of its three national titles in 1971, 1976 and 1977 — for advice on leading the Big Red. And as far as Moran is concerned, Milliman is the head coach.

“I told him, ‘Pete, you’re the head coach. Don’t worry about any other title,’” Moran said. “‘You’re going to do a great job. All you can do is be yourself.’ Keeping the continuity in the program is very important. …The interim title sort of makes you sound like it’s going to be one-and-out. Let’s hope it’s not. Let’s hope it’s a career opportunity for him.”

There is a precedent for Milliman to shed the interim tag. When DeLuca was fired in November 2013, two months after a hazing investigation led to the cancellation of Cornell’s fall season, Kerwick was named the interim head coach for the 2014 season. The Big Red started 9-0 and advanced to the first of two straight NCAA tournaments, and the university kept Kerwick at the helm. Kerwick resigned in May, however, after Cornell wrapped up consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the 1990s. He’s now the director of lacrosse at IMG Academy in Florida. DeLuca, after stops as an assistant at Duke and Harvard, now is the head coach at Delaware.

Milliman said he’s not worried about the future as it pertains to coaching at Cornell. He’s more focused on continuing the growth set forth by a youthful team in 2017.

With Teat leading the way — he broke Rob Pannell’s school record for freshmen with 72 points — the Big Red’s underclassmen made up six of its top seven scorers last season. Petterson and Connor Fletcher finished second on the team with 32 points apiece.

Those underclassmen were part of recruiting classes largely compiled by Milliman, who served as the recruiting coordinator prior being named interim head coach. Milliman’s pedigree on the recruiting trail certainly didn’t hurt his chances at a promotion, and he’s happy about the incoming class, which includes middie Matt Licciardi out of Cold Spring Harbor (N.Y.) and long pole Andrew Fowler out of Landon (Md.).

“I don’t know if this recruiting class that is coming to campus isn’t the best we’ve had in the last few years,” Milliman said. “This is the first year that we haven’t looked at them and known that they were going to have the opportunity to compete for a lot of time right away, because we have a lot of returners. This is the first class we can, in the last few years, really focus on developing.”

Cornell will enter fall ball on the heels of two losing seasons in a row — the first time since 1998 — with a combined record of 11-15. Milliman and his team will look to reverse course. It wasn’t long ago that Connor Buczek, who now serves as an assistant to Milliman, and Rob Pannell helped lead the Big Red to Ivy League titles.

Could Teat be the next Cornell great? Will this season lead to Milliman taking over the position permanently? A lot will be figured out in the coming months, but it seems Milliman already has a few supporters.

“He’s got the chemistry that’s really important,” Moran said. “He’s had some excellent people coaching him and playing for him. He’s developed the Peter Milliman technique. Now, he’s going to be able to put it on display.”

As for Milliman, he said he’s setting his sights as high as they can be for this team.

“This is not a program that is satisfied with a sub-.500 season, certainly, but not even a .500 season or a 10-win season,” he said. “We’ve got an opportunity to compete and win an Ivy League championship, and that’s really the most that I’m focused on with those guys.”

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