John Desko Announces Retirement After 46 Years at Syracuse as Player, Coach


John Desko formally announced his retirement after 46 years at Syracuse, the university revealed today.

After reports circulated Sunday night that Desko would retire and Gary Gait would take over as the fifth head coach in the long history of the men’s lacrosse program, Monday’s press release did not name Gait as Desko’s successor.

Desko was on the Syracuse staff since 1980 and took over as head coach in 1999. Syracuse went 7-6 this season and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the latest in a string of disappointing postseason performances by Syracuse.

See the full press release below.

Full Press Release

After a hall of fame career that helped turn Syracuse into one of the nation’s preeminent lacrosse programs, legendary coach John Desko announced his retirement from coaching on Monday.

“The last 46 years at Syracuse have been an incredible experience and I’m so grateful for my time here as a player, assistant and head coach.
“After talking with my family, I have decided to retire. I had planned on making a formal announcement later this week and will be addressing this decision in the near future – but in the meantime I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my family for all their support. My wife, Cindy, has been by my side every step of the way. I would not have been able to do this without her. I also want to thank all of the players who’ve been part of this program and the coaches for making my career so special. Moving forward, I’ll continue to be one of the program’s biggest supporters and I look forward to watching the team alongside Coach Simmons Jr. in the Dome.”

Desko has been with the program for all 11 NCAA Championships, including winning five as head coach. He finishes his career with the third-most national titles of any Division I head coach, 15th all-time in victories and third in NCAA Tournament victories.

“John Desko’s career as a player, assistant and head coach at Syracuse is truly remarkable,” said Director of Athletics John Wildhack. “John was part of all our national championships, first as assistant to Coach Simmons Jr., then five as head coach. John has impacted thousands of young men in his career at Syracuse. His legacy is one of greatness, commitment to his student-athletes, staff and Syracuse University. John is a hall of fame coach and a hall of fame person.”

Desko first arrived on campus in the fall of 1975. He began his coaching career as an assistant to Roy Simmons Jr. immediately following his playing career. He then spent 19 seasons as an assistant to Simmons Jr., helping build the Orange into a perennial power, before taking over the reigns as the program’s fourth head coach in 1999. Since then, he tacked on five national titles, cementing Syracuse as the sport’s most successful program.

The National Lacrosse Hall of Fame announced Desko would be enshrined in its 2020 Hall of Fame class, making him one-of-two active head coaches to have earned the honor at the time. He is also in the Upstate New York Chapter of the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame and the Camillus/West Genesee Sports Hall of Fame. Desko is a two-time national coach of the year, and five-time conference coach of the year. He is the first men’s lacrosse coach in ACC history to win ACC Coach of the Year in four-straight seasons (2015-18). No other coach has won it more than twice in a row.

A mentor to some of the game’s greatest players, he has coached 271 All-Americans, three Tewaaraton Award winners, seven Lt. Raymond J. Enners Award winners (presented to the nation’s most outstanding player), and a combined 28 national positional players of the year across the Turnbull, Schmeisser, MacLaughlin and Kelly awards.

As a head coach, Desko’s 265 victories rank 15th all-time, but he has been part of 529 victories as a member of the Orange (including his time as a player and assistant). Desko’s been part of more victories at Syracuse than all-but 18 NCAA Division I programs.

Desko and his family are Syracuse through and through. John and Cindy have four children — Tim, Nicole, Casey and Ryan — all who have Orange ties as well. Tim was a standout player for the Orange, Casey and Ryan are Syracuse alums as well, while Nicole spent two years working at Syracuse as a development coordinator.

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