Syracuse Men's Job is Gary Gait's 'Dream Come True'

PHOTO BY PEYTON WILLIAMS


A new era started this afternoon inside the Iocolano-Petty Football Auditorium at Syracuse, but one with a deep link to and respect for the past.

Gary Gait, who guided the Syracuse women’s lacrosse team to three national championship game appearances (including 2021) since he returned to his alma mater in August 2007, will now lead the men’s team, which he lifted to unprecedented success during his playing career that’s widely considered one of the greatest of all time.

“He is the Michael Jordan of lacrosse,” Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack said while introducing Gait as the fifth head coach in Syracuse men’s lacrosse history.

“Some people have asked, ‘Why do you think the men’s position is better than the women’s position?’” Gait said. “To be honest, it’s not better. It’s just something that I’ve wanted to do. I’ve had opportunities in the past, and I’ve stayed with the women’s game. I had opportunities to move and go to the men’s side, but I truly believe that my value at the time was on the women’s side.

“As time moves along, you turn down opportunities. You think good thoughts. You work hard, and an opportunity like this comes along at the right time. To be able to come back here and coach at Syracuse is certainly a dream come true. It was a dream to come back and coach the women. But now to have that opportunity to be on the men’s side is unbelievable.”

The announcement was made official Tuesday and comes in the wake of John Desko’s retirement after being a part of 11 national championships in 46 years at Syracuse, including five as head coach. The Orange have not reached Championship Weekend since 2013, when they fell to Duke 16-10 in the title game. The team posted a 7-6 record this spring after a 18-8 first-round NCAA tournament loss to Georgetown and a season engulfed in controversy surrounding Chase Scanlan.

“Succeeding Coach Desko is a tall order for anyone,” Wildhack said. “Coaching Syracuse lacrosse comes with great expectations, but Gary is more than capable of leading our men’s program back to the championship level that we all covet.”

Gait began his opening remarks with a look to the origins that led him to this point. Growing up in Victoria, British Columbia, he got his first experience coaching a team of 12-year-olds with twin brother Paul when they were 15. Gary Gait said he tried to carry over the lessons from one of his first coaches, Ron MacNeil, who according to the Etobicoke Hall of Fame still holds the distinction of being the all-time leading goal scorer in the history of box lacrosse in Canada. A relentless innovator who created the first plastic lacrosse stick, MacNeil, Gait said, is the reason he’s coaching today.

“He was a forward-thinking coach,” Gait said. “He didn’t look at our age, he looked at what we could do. And then he proceeded to teach us how to play the game. But more importantly, he taught me how to learn the game.”







Still, Gait never envisioned at the time and for many years later that coaching would ever be a potential career. That perspective changed after Hall of Fame coach Cindy Timchal offered him an opportunity to be an assistant on the Maryland women’s team. His daughter, Taylor, was about one month old at the time. He said he’d give it a try.

“From there, I knew I wanted to be a coach, and I truly loved it,” Gait said of his years in College Park (Md.), during which he was a part of seven national championship teams.

Gait turned down the first offer to return to his alma mater as the women’s head coach.

“It’s awful cold there,” he told his former teammate Matty Palumb, who at the time was working in Syracuse’s athletic department. Palumb called again a year later, while Gait was floating in a pool at a hotel in Mexico during a corporate retreat with Kroenke Sports Management.

“Don’t say no,” Palumb said. “Don’t say no.”

Gait recalled an interaction when his daughter asked for a Louis Vuitton pocketbook back when the Gaits were living in Colorado while he was coaching the NLL’s Mammoth. It helped clarify his choice to accept the women’s head coach position in 2007. Taylor Gait, who went onto play for her father at Syracuse, was about to go into the eighth grade.

“All my friends have them,” she explained of the luxury request.

“You know what I love about Syracuse?” Gary Gait said. “The people are down to earth. It’s a blue-collar community, the way I grew up, and it felt like home. That’s the reason that I came back. Love the university and I love the people in the community. That’s why I’m still here.”

The decision to take the men’s job didn’t take more than two seconds, Gait said, and was made easier by the fact that he’d be able to stay on campus and continue to help the players he recruited on the women’s lacrosse team. As a part of the transition, Syracuse announced that Caitlin Defliese, who spent the past five years as an assistant on Gait’s staff, would serve as the interim head coach while a national search commenced.

While there has been much speculation as to who Gait would tab to fill out his staff, a reference he made that Pat March was on the road evaluating recruits at summer tournaments, suggests the offensive coordinator’s spot will remain intact. Gait said there would be forthcoming announcements in the next couple days about the men’s staff.

“What I think I pulled away from Syracuse the most in the coaching world was you need to build chemistry, you need to know your players and you need to create a family atmosphere,” he said. “When all those things come together, you can almost put in any Xs and Os, but you’ll come out on top if everybody works as one team, one unit.”

He said he hopes to bring that heightened level of chemistry back to the program, as well as a flair for the dramatic on the field that’s rooted in substance.

Of course, there is another ultimate goal at his alma mater.

“I look forward to the day we can both raise a national championship,” Gait said of the Syracuse men’s and women’s lacrosse programs. “Hopefully that will be very soon.”

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