Hopkins Athletic Director Jennifer S. Baker announced in a press release on Tuesday that the men’s lacrosse head coach, Dave Pietramala, will not be returning next season after 20 years of service to the program. The news comes as a shock to many, given Pietramala’s rich history at Hopkins.
A former player for the Hopkins program, Pietramala won the William C. Schmeisser Award as the top defenseman in the nation twice and the Lt. Raymond Enners Award for most outstanding player. In addition, Pietramala was named a first-team All-American three times during his career and was a part of the 1987 National Championship team. Pietramala matched one of the most decorated lacrosse playing careers by becoming the program’s all-time winningest coach.
Pietramala bounced around several institutions serving various roles, from assistant coach to defensive coordinator, before finally returning to his alma mater in 2000. After 20 seasons, Pietramala amassed a 207-93 record, including 18 NCAA Tournament appearances, seven Final Four appearances, two National Championships and two Big Ten Tournament titles.
The 2005 national title was the first one in Hopkins history since Pietramala won it in 1987 as a player. He is the first and only person in Division-I lacrosse history to ever achieve this feat.
However, Pietramala’s impact goes far beyond his accolades on the field. Several former Hopkins lacrosse players took to social media to react to the news.
Former Hopkins midfielder Paul Rabil, who played on Homewood from 2005 to 2008, was especially saddened to hear that Pietramala would not be returning.
“[I’m] gutted by the news that Coach [Pietramala] will no longer be at Hopkins. I remember when we first met, his handwritten recruiting letters, impossible attention to detail, a relentless work ethic matched with levity and charm, and as witnessed on national TV, his tough love coaching style. He welcomed me and so many of us into a generation of legends who played on Homewood Field,” Rabil wrote on Instagram.
Joel Tinney, who played midfield from 2015 to 2018, shared his thoughts on Twitter.
“To the coach that was more like his players than I knew, recruited me at 15 years old, Had my back on and off the field more than any coach could’ve. I wish I had done more in my four years to help you stay cuz [sic] it’s what you deserved. Hopkins royalty. Thank you,” Tinney tweeted.
Matt Bocklet, a defenseman on the 2007 National Championship team, told U.S. Lacrosse Magazine about Pietramala’s presence in the program.
“It’s impossible to imagine Johns Hopkins lacrosse without Dave Pietramala at the helm,” said Bocklet.
In the same article, Bocklet emphasized Pietramala’s influence off the field.
“Even on my worst days, I could always sit down with him face to face, and it was a conversation,“ Bocklet said. “It was like you disappointed your dad. He’s not mad, just disappointed. He just told you how it was and made you realize you weren’t bringing it that day, that you didn’t use that opportunity to make yourself or the team better. Behind closed doors, you could always have the conversation with him where you did get to see the human side and how much he truly cared.”
With Pietramala’s deep connection to the Hopkins program, the decision to cut Pietramala certainly does not pass without scrutiny. This season, the men’s team began its season 2-4 before the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s cancellation of all sports due to the coronavirus. The record might have been the cause for his departure.
However, the same U.S. Lacrosse Magazine article cites the limited role of top recruit Joey Epstein this season, as well as a tendency for Pietramala’s teams to bounce back after a rough start as reasons why the firing might have not been justified.
Wells Stanwick, who was a member of the 2015 team that started 4-6 but went on to the Final Four, backed that statement up.
"In the past, typically when we started out a little slower, we ended up doing pretty well," said Stanwick.
Over his tenure as player and coach, Pietramala has become a name synonymous with Hopkins lacrosse. His accolades speak for themselves, but what made Pietramala stand out was his ability to connect with his players in a way that went beyond the game of lacrosse.
As current players and next year’s recruiting class adjust to this new reality without Pietramala, there is no doubt that Pietramala had a deep impact on the Hopkins lacrosse program and that being his replacement will be no easy task for the next coach of the Jays.