Remembering Dick Edell, a Fierce Competitor and Warm-Hearted Friend

PHOTO COURTESY OF MARYLAND ATHLETICS

Dick Edell, known affectionately as "Big Man," died Wednesday of pneumonia after battling inclusion body myositis since 2001. He was 74.


Throughout his coaching career, Dick Edell was the master motivator whose players would do anything for him.

In his later years, he would hold court in the living room of his Howard County home for a steady stream of visitors thrilled to spend some time in the presence of the former Army and Maryland men’s lacrosse coach.

Throughout it all, the “Big Man” always had a sense of what really mattered.

“You’d lose a big game and he would pull you aside and you’re upset and angry and he’d say, ‘Hey, if this is the worst thing that’s going to happen in the rest of your life, you’re in a pretty good place,’” said Brian Burlace, a Maryland defenseman from 1989-1992.

Edell died early Wednesday from pneumonia at age 74. He was diagnosed in 2001 with inclusion body myositis, a degenerative muscular disease that forced him to retire and eventually robbed him of his mobility.

But not of his curiosity, his wit and interest in those he knew.

“You’d go over and check on him and ask how he was doing, and he’d say, ‘How are you doing? How’s your wife and family?’” said former Maryland defenseman Brian Reese, who played for the Terps from 1995-98 and lived about a mile from Edell’s home. “He was always happy to see you and ask about because he wanted to know. He didn’t want people to feel sorry for him.”







Edell’s 29-year head coaching career included stops at the University of Baltimore (1973-76), Army (1977-83) and Maryland (1984-2001), and he was inducted into the athletics hall of fame at both Army and Maryland. He won 282 career games and was a 2004 inductee into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

The honors were justified and cherished — he received an Army lacrosse helmet signed by the Black Knights’ roster during his Hall of Fame weekend last fall and proudly displayed it in his living room — but they don’t come close to summing up his full impact.

Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala first met Edell as a recruit and quickly developed an affinity for the tall, plain-spoken Dundalk, Md., native.

“I was an inch away from going there, and the reason was Dick Edell,” Pietramala said.

While Pietramala eventually chose Johns Hopkins — “One of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever had to make was that I wasn’t coming to play for him” — he ultimately enjoyed a strong friendship with the former Maryland coach.

As tempting as it is to daydream about Petro playing on some of Big Man’s stellar defenses in College Park, Edell usually coaxed everything he could from his players — particularly at that end of the field.

“I think it was his sheer intensity,” Burlace said. “That guy could get the most mild-mannered kid in the locker room ready to run through a brick wall. What I loved about him was, from a player’s perspective, he let you play. Certainly on the defensive end, he didn’t overcoach you. He didn’t tell you to rein things in or worry about getting a foul or a penalty. You got out there, you hit someone and then you hit some more. You played full-out however long the game went and let the chips fall.”

Defenseman Dan Radebaugh recalls a conversation during practice in 1993. Radebaugh played sparingly a year earlier as a freshman and was just beginning to play more regularly, but had picked up two penalties in the previous game. Edell then decided to share his philosophy on penalties with his young player.

“I’m nervous. I don’t know where this is going,” Radebaugh said. “Am I getting sent back to the bench? He said, ‘If you’re being lazy or not moving your feet or running offside or doing something dumb, I’m going to stick these size 15s where the sun don’t shine. But if you’re going 100 mph and bringing a piece of them with you on the way to the box, I can live with that.’ Don’t be lazy, don’t be dumb, bring a piece of them with me to the box. Got it. Those types of conversations were his way of instilling confidence in aggressive play.”

And aggression was the defining trait of Edell’s teams. They weren’t always the most talented (though they possessed plenty of skill), but almost always played hellaciously.

“It was always about the relationships,” former Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “It wasn’t generally about Xs and Os. His teams played with passion and they responded to each other and they responded to him. You could see that. That’s the way it was on the field. If you played Princeton, it was more of a strategic battle. When you played Maryland, the message was, ‘Button up your chinstrap, we are in for something.’”

What was the root cause? Edell understood people, with lessons learned during a childhood in the blue-collar Baltimore suburbs and his stint at Army helping to inform how he would approach his players.

Invariably, he would push the right buttons.

“Every week was something different with him,” Radebaugh said. “We’d play Virginia and he’d whisper, ‘They never recruited you. They took a bunch of guys from your high school, but you weren’t good enough.’ Playing Navy, he’d say, ‘These guys will jump on a grenade, and I can’t even get you to block a shot.’ He’d do the same thing as you moved into a larger role. He would say, ‘This guy’s got 50 goals. No one can stop him. What are you going to do?’ That type of stuff. He had a way of getting you in this state where you couldn’t be more motivated.”

Perhaps the most remarkable facet of it all was how engaged the entire roster would be throughout a season. It’s easy for a starter to remain invested over the course of a long season. It’s a greater challenge for a coach to keep a player who will be fortunate to play in two or three games to do the same.

Consider that one of Edell’s many gifts.

“It was a family — nobody was more important than the other,” Reese said. “He just made coming to practice while going through the grind of a season really fun. You never wanted to let him down. I wish we could have gotten him a national championship, but that never defined who he was. He just genuinely cared about his players. He’s the example of what I want to be as a coach. I want to have those relationships with my players and not make it a two-hour-a-day thing.”

Edell’s interest went beyond just his players. Albany coach Scott Marr — who would go on to serve as one of Edell’s assistants for six years — first met his future boss and friend under unusual circumstances.

Marr was 11 years old and attending a lacrosse camp at West Point. It was one of his first experiences playing lacrosse, and he got hit and had to be taken to the hospital.

“He took me to the hospital,” Marr said. “By the end of the hour we were there, I think he knew my entire family tree. I didn’t get in many words to the thousand questions he hit me with. It was never about him. The disease was never going to be about him. I know there were tough times when it was just the family. It was a difficult disease once he started to lose his control and ability to walk. The fact he fought this for 18 years just shows how strong a person he was.”

Ultimately, his living room became one of the most cherished places in the sport during his retirement years. Hall of Famers, former players, ex-assistants and their families would make the pilgrimage. Pietramala recalls a lunch with Edell and the late Hopkins coach and athletic director Bob Scott as an especially poignant gathering between two old coaches with deep respect for the other.

A visit meant questions — lots of questions. Edell was always prepared to gather insight on whatever he could, and his mind remained strong to the end. He would ask about relatives by name, and was always eager to learn.

“People would ask me how the visit went,” Starsia said. “If there was a curtain, you wouldn’t know he was sick.”

Big Man’s most impressive lesson was arguably his grace and positive attitude in response to his physical condition.

“What we were learning there — lessons in selflessness, in team-first and that you’re never out of a fight,” Radebaugh said. “You saw him put all of that into action. It was unbelievable that every time you met him or sat down with him, he was asking about your wife, your kids, what they’re doing. Ask him about himself, and it was, ‘It’s all good, I’m doing great.’ Never a complaint. When you think about his illness and how hard that must have been, he was just remarkable.”

Starsia appreciated one major similarity between himself and his friend. When a game ended, it was over and it was time to catch up on life. Starsia’s family always came down onto the field after games at Klockner Stadium. When Maryland played at Virginia, Edell’s family would do the same.

“There’s a heaviness I feel today,” Starsia said. “I haven’t felt this way in some time. This is a sad day. A little light has gone out.”

Added Pietramala: “We are a much lesser place without him.”

What’s left are memories of a kind, decent and giving man who elicited as much loyalty as anyone in the sport.

It’s a fitting legacy that transcends wins, losses, championships and honors.

“He loved his players and loved everybody around him and really treated people like they were special,” Marr said. “When you walked away from him, you always felt good. Even when I was an adult coaching with him, I still felt like I was 11. I was almost in awe every time I was with him even though I was with him every day for six years. I always felt that way. He had a unique presence.”

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