The Navy lacrosse job opened precisely a month ago. At the time, Rick Sowell casually thought the position could be a great opportunity.
He didn’t consider it much —- until Navy reached out to him in the last week.
Sowell was named the Midshipmen’s coach Thursday after a five-year stint at Stony Brook and a rapid courtship as Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk searched for a replacement for the ousted Richie Meade.
“I didn’t think about it too much,” Sowell said in telephone interview. “It wasn’t until maybe five days ago when things started to turn. … Things picked up the last couple days. I had some good conversations with the athletic director and went down and visited the grounds [Wednesday] —- it was a snowball effect. Once it got rolling, I felt very excited about what I was hearing and Chet was excited. It seemed like a really good fit.”
Sowell is 86-81 in 12 seasons as a Division I coach. He led Dartmouth to its only NCAA tournament berth (2003), was hired to restart the program at St. John’s and later took Stony Brook to the NCAA quarterfinals in 2010.
He is one of 16 coaches in Division I history to take multiple schools to the postseason and brings two notable elements to his new job —- familiarity with the area and a history of rebuilding programs.
Sowell graduated from Washington College on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and later was an assistant at Georgetown from 1990 to 1998 before beginning his head coaching career.
“I think it’s a great choice by the Naval Academy,” Georgetown coach Dave Urick said. “I think the world of Rick.”
And by the standards of Sowell’s career, taking over a 4-9 Navy team bedeviled by inexperience, injuries and five one-goal losses is mild compared to other situations he inherited.
In five years, he took Dartmouth from perennial Ivy League doormat to a conference title. He then jumped to St. John’s to revive its dormant program. Then came the stint at Stony Brook, where he was 47-26 and a one-goal loss to Virginia away from leading the Seawolves to their first final four a year ago.
“I like to think it’s going to help me a lot,” Sowell said. “I’ve been through getting the St. John’s program started. There was Stony Brook. Dartmouth was certainly way down there and we had a lot of building to do. I think what attracted my name to Navy is the fact I do have some experience [with turnarounds]. At the end of the day, each situation is different. Certainly at Navy, I think I can adapt, which I’ve done at these previous stops.”
Sowell, who received a contract extension last year through 2015, is coming off a 10-4 season at Stony Brook that ended with a loss in the America East final to Hartford. The Seawolves’ 23 victories since 2010 marks the winningest two-year stretch in program history.
Producing similar results at Navy, which played in the national title game in 2004 and made six straight NCAA tournament appearances before missing the postseason the last two years, will be a priority. Sowell’s old boss believes he’ll be a solid fit in Annapolis.
“A lot of his character and a lot of things he embodies will mesh well with the Naval Academy,” Urick said. “He has a very disciplined approach to what he does. You look at him physically, and you think he could still be playing. He has a good approach that will and should be responded to. It’s going to be a learning process. It’s a different environment to coach over there, and you have to realize that.”
Sowell said he intends to bring assistant Ryan Wellner, whose duties included working with Stony Brook’s defense, with him to Navy. He said he plans to speak with Navy assistant Anthony Gilardi, who ran the Mids’ offense the last three seasons.
It’s not a situation Sowell foresaw unfolding a month ago —- but it is one he is already embracing.
“With the lacrosse tradition and the support across the board, whether it’s the athletic director, the superintendent, everyone seems to be excited about the lacrosse program,” Sowell said. “I just think I’m walking into a great environment.”
—- Patrick Stevens