Dave Pietramala Focused on Building Relationships, Trust at Syracuse

The sight of Dave Pietramala clad in a long-sleeve navy blue shirt with a small orange “S” on the left breast Thursday afternoon was slightly disorienting for anyone who watched him patrol sidelines at Homewood Field from 2001-20 as the head coach of the Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse team.

But Pietramala, who was tabbed by Gary Gait to be Syracuse’s defensive coordinator and said he’s been on strict diet the last eight weeks and lost 60 pounds, described the chance to join forces with his former competitor and fellow lacrosse legend like his new, smaller, duds.

“To be honest, it hasn’t been strange,” Pietramala said during his introductory press conference held via Zoom. “It really hasn’t. A year’s passed. I’ve been considering where the next opportunity might come, and when this one came, it didn’t take a whole lot of thought to realize that it was the right fit.”

The move unites arguably the greatest offensive player in the history of the sport with his defensive counterpart. As a player, Pietramala led Johns Hopkins to an NCAA championship in 1987 and was the national player of the year in 1989, when the Blue Jays fell to the Orange 13-12 in a classic title game.

Gait, the all-time leading scorer at Syracuse, took the top honor in 1988 and 1990. After coaching the Syracuse women’s lacrosse team since August 2007 and leading the Orange to three national championship game appearances, Gait was hired as the head men’s lacrosse coach at his alma mater.

“It’s nice to finally be on the same team,” Pietramala said. “I’ve enjoyed immensely all of my conversations with him thus far. I love that he’s willing to think outside the box a little bit and brings a different approach to the game.”

“A year’s passed. I’ve been considering where the next opportunity might come, and when this one came, it didn’t take a whole lot of thought to realize that it was the right fit.”

“Are you interested in getting back into to coaching?” Gait asked Pietramala in one of Gait’s first calls after he moved into his new role and succeeded the legendary John Desko, who retired last week.

“Gary, there’s nothing else I want to do,” Pietramala replied.

Pietramala drove up from his home outside Annapolis, Md., to Syracuse a few days later. He joked with Gait and offensive coordinator Pat March that his wardrobe featured few items with Syracuse colors. He said he made sure to buy a tie with some blue and orange in it before he visited Gait.

“Really? Did you need to wear a suit?” Gait asked him when he showed up at his house.

“Says the guy that wears a suit on the sideline,” Pietramala shot back.

The conversation at Gait’s dining room table came easy and lasted more than two hours. “What do you want in a defense?” Pietramala asked. “What are you looking for?”

The answer, in part, turned out to be him.

“It was great to sit down and talk lacrosse for that extended period of time,” Pietramala said. “When I left, he said, ‘I think it’s a great fit.’ I said, ‘So do I.’”

Pietramala called the past 12-plus months since he parted ways with Johns Hopkins in April of 2020 one of the hardest years of his life. “My belief is I’m meant to be and I want to be on a sideline with a whistle around my neck at the highest level of college lacrosse,” he said.

He stayed connected to the game as a lacrosse advisor for Legendary Sports Group and the IMLCA liaison for the NCAA rules committee. He was a guest speaker on team Zoom meetings for college teams at Jacksonville and High Point, among others. Pietramala viewed his hiatus as an opportunity to watch, listen and learn. He jotted down and kept notes from every conversation he had with fellow coaches.

“It’s amazing what people will tell you when you’re not the coach of Johns Hopkins University,” he said. He hopes to use what he learned in his new role — the first time he’s been an assistant since 1997 at Johns Hopkins.

Pietramala has his work cut out for him revitalizing a Syracuse defense that in 2021 allowed 18 or more goals in five games — the first time that has happened since 1974. Pietramala was in the stands at Maryland Stadium for the final game of the John Desko era, a game in which the Orange fell in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Georgetown 18-8. Syracuse graduated its three-year starter in the goal, Drake Porter, and short-stick defensive midfielder Peter Dearth, who was selected 17th overall in this year’s Premier Lacrosse League draft. 

When the job opening was brought to Pietramala’s attention, the first thing he did was pull up a list of committed recruits from the classes of 2021 and 2022. Then he looked at the roster and some film. He was already familiar with the team, having coached against the Orange as recently as 2020, but he wasn’t fully aware of how decimated they were by injuries on the defensive end this past season.

Pietramala talked with Desko and Lelan Rogers, Syracuse’s defensive coordinator since 2007, and said they had both been “unbelievable” helping facilitate the transition.


Pietramala communicated with the current team, too, tapping out an email that he described as “very transparent and very honest.”

“I’ve been sitting here in front of my computer for the last 30 minutes trying to find the words and most in particularly the right words to make the first impression, because you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” he said. “I thought that was really important. I told them that I was anxious and excited to earn their trust and respect. And what you learn about me pretty quickly is I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I am who I am, and I am very much relationship-driven. And I told them all that I was very excited to have the chance to get to know them not just on an athletic level, but a personal level, and get to know what inspires them and what excites them and know what their fears are.

“They’ve been great. They were very responsive. I received a number of really thoughtful emails back. I just texted back and forth with Brendan Curry and Jack Witherspoon in the last probably 10 minutes. They’re slowly trickling in. I’m well aware that email is not the preferred method of communication these days by teenagers.”

Pietramala’s twin sons, Dominic and Nicholas, are top recruits and rising seniors at the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland. Dave Pietramala helped coached the Boys’ Latin defense at practices this spring and gave a couple pregame speeches to the Lakers on their run to the program’s first MIAA championship since 2014. Both Dominic, a lefty attackman and the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2022 according to Inside Lacrosse, and Nicholas, a rangy defenseman, verbally committed to North Carolina last fall.

“I've been asked that question a lot,” Dave Pietramala said regarding if his new job would have any bearing on his sons’ future plans. “I’ve learned very quickly that there is no right answer. If I say one thing, people read into it one way. If I say another thing, they read into it another way. So what I would say is — I would respectfully say — they’re fortunate to love lacrosse and be a part of a sport that they love. They’re fortunate to be able to be recruited at a high level. I would leave it at that. They’re 17-year-old kids right now that are enjoying their summer. The last thing that dad needs to do is put any additional pressure on them.”

Pietramala said one of Gait’s greatest qualities was his poise and composure in pressure situations. No longer tasked with guarding or game planning against his fellow all-time great, his focus right now is to build a foundation at his former rival.

“My first priority with these guys isn’t scheme,” Pietramala said. “It’s building a sense of trust and a mutual sense of respect. My goal isn’t to tell them what they want to hear. It’s going to be honest with them and tell them what they need to hear. … I’ve been very clear about who and what I am, and I’m thrilled to hear that they feel like they have something to prove. I think I sit in that same boat as them. I feel like I have something to prove as well.”