The Washington Times - May 26, 2012, 04:44PM

 

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. | Richie Meade was not in his usual attire: Jacket, dress shoes, a purple and white striped tie.

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What he was about to step into, though, was perfectly appropriate.

No matter what was to unfold later just yards away on the Gillette Stadium field, something was very, very right in the lacrosse world Saturday. Meade was introduced as Furman’s first men’s lacrosse coach, an instant injection of credibility for a program that won’t play its first game until 2015.

“It’s a good challenge,” Meade said.

Few embrace them more eagerly than Meade, who for so long took them on in Annapolis.

Of course, Meade was forced out at Navy a little more than a year ago after a solid 17-year stint highlighted with an almost magical run to the 2004 national title game. He was 142-97 with the Midshipmen, and though Navy suffered a school record nine losses in 2011, Meade was one of 10 coaches in the country to average 10 wins a season over his last eight seasons.

More than that, though, he possessed a devotion to and appreciation of the academy’s mission few could match.

“The lessons I learned from those young men are going to be a constant source of motivation and inspiration to me as I move forward and I will think of that every day for the rest of my life,” Meade said.

He was, it seemed, the ideal coach for the Mids.

Navy’s administration did not agree. Meade “resigned” a little more than two weeks after the Mids’ season finale, though no one with a passing familiarity with him realistically believed it was his choice to depart.

There was also more than a little irony Meade was moved to a position at the academy’s center for ethical leadership – a man apparently unfit to lead a lacrosse team still working with some of the country’s future military officers.

Saturday wasn’t about the past, though. There were friends and former players in attendance for Furman’s craftily executed press conference at lacrosse’s signature event.

‘At the end of the day, I’m sitting up here with the chance to start a brand new Division I lacrosse program with support from the top down at a great American university,” Meade said. “So I have to look back on the whole year and feel I’m a very fortunate person.”

There’s little to argue with on Furman’s end. The Greenville, S.C., school with an enrollment of 2,600 fits perfectly in the trend of schools in the south adding the sport in recent years. Jacksonville and Mercer have already started play; High Point begins next year.

Nonetheless, who knew if this particular next act would be afforded Meade? Look around the sport, and there’s no doubt it is increasingly a young man’s game. Of the 61 head coaches in Division I this season, only 18 graduated from college before 1990 and just seven earned degrees before 1980.

Meade graduated from North Carolina in 1976, and he had other things to occupy his time. He said he enjoyed his year at the ethical leadership academy, and he is the head coach of the U.S. national team for the 2014 world championships.

Furman announced its plans for a lacrosse program in February. Its search led to repeated recommendations to talk with Meade, who visited the campus in mid-April.

“It was kind of like a first date,” Meade said. “After that, I was invited over to their house. It’s pretty nice. It’s a pretty nice house.”

Soon, there was a decision to make. Remain comfortable in Annapolis, or take a chance on starting a program for scratch.

His thoughts often drifted back to a sign in his mother’s Long Island home that carried an appropriate message.

“Ships in a harbor are safe, but that’s not what ships are for,” Meade recalled.

Yes, this is a risk for Meade. Life could have been more settled. With nearly three years before Furman’s first game, Meade’s patience will be tested.

He’s also a coach, back in his element at one of the latest schools to embrace lacrosse.

“He’s a winner – and he’s a winner in more ways than a won-loss record,” Furman president Rod Smolla said. “But I do have to say I’m looking forward to that time when we’re back here at the final four and I see some Paladin helmets on that field. So we’ll see you again someday.”

And college lacrosse will once again see Meade. That on its own makes Saturday a good day for the sport.

Patrick Stevens