Kennedy ready to lead the LMU men’s lacrosse program
Published 4:13 pm Thursday, July 12, 2018
HARROGATE, Tenn. — Carroll Kennedy knows a thing or two about leadership and winning. He did, after all, do his fair share of winning while spending time on the sidelines with two of the nation’s most accomplished coaches before taking over as the head men’s lacrosse coach at Lincoln Memorial University.
Kennedy’s rise in college coaching has been meteoric to say the least.
He got his start in 2013 when he served as an assistant coach at Adelphi University, his alma mater and one of the winningest programs in the history of NCAA Division II lacrosse. That season, the Panthers went to the national semifinals and finished with a 14-3 record.
After that, Kennedy joined the staff for another well-established, immensely successful program when he moved south to Limestone College. In his five seasons in Gaffney, South Carolina, a Limestone program that had existed since 1989 won three national titles and made four consecutive appearances in the national championship game.
For Kennedy, that deep-seated history was what made those programs so special and perpetually successful.
“One of the biggest things is just the tradition, people respecting what came before them,” Kennedy said. “It was pretty cool to be around that and those programs, the foundation that those people built and seeing how they still felt a part of it afterwards is something that is really unique about both of those places. I think a lot of the programs that are traditionally at the top have that fraternity feel as far as people still feeling a part of the program and having some type of ownership over it.”
Following his tenure at Adelphi and Limestone, which have nearly 100 combined seasons between them, Kennedy finds himself in an entirely different situation: leading a program that is entering just its fifth season of existence.
“I’m coming into a situation with a young program that started to have some success last year and hopefully is getting ready to peak,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully I’m coming in here at the right time. It’s interesting to go from an established program that’s been around for over 25 years and has won national championships in the last two decades to a new program.”
But Kennedy isn’t coming in blind. In order to push the LMU men’s lacrosse program to the next level, he will draw upon the experiences gained and valuable lessons learned during his previous two stops.
“The biggest things that stick out to me from those two places is the culture that has been established in those programs and how long it’s lasted,” Kennedy said. “Just trying to have some kind of continuity and what kind of approach we want to take is going to help establish the type of program we want to be moving forward.
“I certainly don’t want to come in here and act like I’m reinventing the wheel. These guys have been around lacrosse for probably the majority of their lives. It’s all about being able to pull from my experiences and try to apply it to here and whatever can help to make this program be the most successful it can be.”
The first experience Kennedy will lean on seems intuitive but is sometimes lost in the day-to-day chaos of a college coach. Keep things simple.
“The best way to put it is the simplicity of everything, not to overcomplicate things,” he said. “That’s really what I learned. There’s nothing wrong with working hard and getting everything right, but it’s not brain surgery. At the end of the day the kids are here to get an education as well as be prepared for life through athletics.
“What are the types of lessons that are going to make them people who contribute to society as citizens, what’s going to make them upstanding citizens, how are they going to carry themselves on campus and in practice? That’s the stuff that’s going to translate to the games.”
Second, take an active role in the development of leadership to steer the culture of the program in the right direction and maintain a feel for what is best for the team as a group. Kennedy learned that it’s important to identify the players that have the courage to have difficult conversations when the team needs it the most.
“It really comes down to the leadership that you create, who you put in situations to influence the team,” Kennedy said. “That really does have a huge implication on where you are going to go. Recognizing that fight-or-flight mentality in some of the players, seeing who people are willing to follow, and seeing who is going to lead the team.
“That’s one of the things I certainly picked up, the importance of captains. The captains can really sway the pendulum for the team and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad. One of the biggest things as a coach is being able to have a read of your team.”
Kennedy learned two very different lessons from his two most important mentors: Gordon Purdie and J.B. Clarke.
In his one season with Purdie at Adelphi, he learned the importance of being accessible, open and loving.
“I think him being willing to be a person to the players is something that really sticks out to a lot of them. Him being a human as opposed to some coaches that are kind of cold and standoffish is what makes his teams play hard for him.”
In his five seasons next to Clarke at Limestone, he saw exactly what it took to achieve the highest levels of success in terms of preparation and attention to detail.
“He never left any stone unturned,” Kennedy said “That’s one of the things I really learned from him, being thorough, strategic and organized.”
A combination of those two models shapes Kennedy’s vision for the kind of head coach he ultimately hopes to be.
“I want the players to know that I care about them and that they can come to me for anything,” he said. “One of the things I want to convey to them is being truthful and upfront about stuff is going to help you out in the long run.
“I also like to be a strategic coach. I would hope that some of the coaches in the South Atlantic Conference are worried that I got hired here. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant, but I hope that they are. I hope that I can back that up or at least make them worried that I’m here.”
Kennedy’s resume is more than enough to concern opposing coaches. In his six seasons as an assistant, his teams have advanced to at least the national semifinals five times. Yet all that took place at programs with long histories and a tradition of winning at the highest level. So, what was it that made the jump to a young, up-and-coming program intriguing?
“The overall support for athletics. You can see it from top to bottom, even the support for academics,” he said. “The fact that they are putting resources not only into the academic side of things but the student experience, which engulfs athletics, is a place where it’s appealing because you think you can be successful here. If you have the support of the school and the administration, there’s only so much more you need to be successful in college athletics.”
Though a history of excellence can build upon itself, Kennedy knows that nothing is guaranteed, even for the most firmly-established programs. History doesn’t always repeat itself – not without putting in the work and developing the culture that winning requires.
“Trying to establish a type of culture right from the start is going to be the most important thing,” Kennedy said. “These guys had a taste of success last year and they certainly want to repeat that as anybody would. But what you did yesterday isn’t going to be good enough for tomorrow so we really need to use the fall to get better and be ready to hit the ground running with January rolls around.”
Kennedy inherits a program that won a program-record 14 matches and captured the first postseason win in program history last season. And if his personal history is any indication, that’s merely a harbinger of things to come.