Before he became the Dick Vermeil of lacrosse — a coach equally lampooned as he is adored for his sideline histrionics and raw, visceral displays of emotion — Kevin Warne was the Dick Vernon of Delaware.
As a part-time assistant coach for the University of Delaware men’s lacrosse team from 2001-04 — a time not so long ago when few programs had the resources to provide living wages for multiple coordinators — Warne would spend seven hours per day in a windowless room with moody and maladjusted preteens as a middle school suspension monitor.
When the bell rang at 2:30 p.m., Warne was as eager as the students to bust out. He’d race down I-95 and arrive at Rullo Stadium in Newark just in time to deliver punchlines as he and the players sauntered out onto the AstroTurf together.
“It’s fun. I coach lacrosse. I wear khakis and a golf shirt to work every day. That’s pretty good living,” said Warne, now in his ninth season as the head coach at Georgetown. “The cliché is, if you love what you do, you really don’t have a job. You don’t work a day in your life. My wife will add that I’m extremely immature and find it easy to relate to 22-year-olds.”
Detention is over for the Hoyas.
Once an NCAA quarterfinal mainstay, Georgetown can again say it’s among the elite eight in college lacrosse following a 14-year hiatus during which some questioned if the sport had grown beyond the grasp of a private Jesuit research university in Washington, D.C.
The fifth-seeded Hoyas followed up the first-ever Big East championship three-peat with an 18-8 throttling of Syracuse in the first round last Saturday at Maryland, the place where Warne first became known for cathartic celebrations and as one of the best defensive coordinators in college lacrosse.
Georgetown will meet fourth-seeded Virginia in the NCAA quarterfinals Saturday at Hofstra, the place where Warne was a two-time All-America East defenseman and honorable mention All-American as a senior in 1999.
It wasn’t long after the Hoyas clinched their first NCAA quarterfinal appearance since 2007 that Warne started receiving text messages asking if he would take the team to Vincent’s Clam Bar, his favorite pregame meal spot when he played for the Pride. He swears by the chicken parm, and you take the East Setauket, N.Y., native at his word.
“I’m like Benjamin Button,” Warne said of his consecutive homecomings. “I’m going the other way.”
“He’s like John Madden back in the day. There’s a genius behind there.” — John Tillman
Even when he had to monitor middle-school miscreants, Warne at least could count on a good night’s sleep. That wasn’t necessarily the case at his first stop as a college assistant.
After graduating from Hofstra in 2000, Warne worked for veteran lacrosse coach Tom Gill at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., where he lived in an apartment underneath the basketball arena. Then-Mariners basketball coach Billy Lange liked to get in a practice before the 6 a.m. reveille.
Warne often woke up to the thump-thump of basketballs pounding the floor above his bed.
“I didn’t need an alarm clock,” he said.
Warne also was awakened to how much he loved coaching lacrosse. Gill gave him a lot of responsibility, including a recommendation to coach in the annual Battle of the Hotbeds summer all-star game at Delaware, where he caught the eye (and ear) of then-Blue Hens coach Bob Shillinglaw.
“Who’s that guy yelling over there?” Shillinglaw asked one of his assistants. “He seems to have a lot of energy.”
Shillinglaw hired Warne to coach the Delaware offense. It wasn’t a full-time position. But it was a Division I job in a conference with which he was familiar. Delaware and Hofstra both migrated from the America East to the Colonial Athletic Association in 2001-02.
Evan Washburn first met Warne as a freshman defenseman for the Blue Hens in 2004. The defining images of Warne’s career — keeled over, clutching his head and sobbing uncontrollably on national TV after Georgetown won the Big East championship in 2018 — would not come for another 14 years.
A reporter, host and analyst for CBS Sports, Washburn called that game at Villanova. The win over Denver sent the Hoyas to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years.
But a different “sports-movie moment” comes to mind when Washburn thinks of Warne. It happened during the first week of winter session in the Delaware weight room. Washburn had little interest in lifting after defensive coordinator Greg Carroll told Washburn he was redshirting him for the season.
Warne interrupted his own workout to talk to the freshman.
“Hey,” he said. “Do you realize that you could be an All-American?”
“If you get your head out of your ass and attack this redshirt season with intensity,” Warne continued, “you have the potential not just to start, but to be a great defenseman.”
Washburn did just that. He went from being the top cover guy on the scout team — bulking up and sharpening his approach against attackmen both big and elusive like Matt Alrich and Cam Howard, respectively — to starting for Delaware’s final four team in 2007. As a senior the following season, Washburn was the Blue Hens’ captain and a first-team All-CAA defenseman.
“He’s not out of a conventional coaching textbook,” Washburn said. “Kevin Warne is raw. He’s authentic, but it’s relatable. If you’re the right kind of athlete, it can really resonate with you.”
Where there’s Warne, there’s laughter. He invites the potshots about his loyalty to the New York Jets, the jabs about his 6-foot-2, 230-pound physique and the comparisons when he’s told he looks like a combination of Shrek and Brett Favre. He takes no offense, but rather considers it the ultimate compliment when a former player shares an out-of-context screenshot of one of his sideline agitations. Is Crying Warne a thing yet?
“He should be a meme,” said Dan Bucaro, a 2019 Georgetown graduate and former two-time All-American attackman for the Hoyas.
“It’s Frank the Tank meets Elaine Benes,” ESPN announcer Anish Shroff joked during a replay that keyed in on Warne’s flailing limbs accompanying a fast break during the Syracuse game.
Navy coach Joe Amplo watches Warne on TV and sees the same madman who painted a skull on his face when their rival high school teams — Sachem and Ward Melville, respectively — played each other in the 1995 Suffolk County championship game. Warne wears his insides on the outside for everyone to see.
“I thought he was a wacko,” said Amplo, who was Warne’s roommate when they played together at Hofstra.
The two of them grew to be inseparable, however. And their careers have followed parallel paths, most notably as adversaries in the Big East when Amplo was at Marquette and now as head coaches at prestigious institutions separated by just 40 miles on Route 50.
Both have that jocular Long Island vibe about them. Amplo was the best man at Warne’s wedding.
“He’s himself,” Amplo said. “He’s got his shirt untucked on the sidelines. His clothes don’t fit. He jumps and his belly hangs out. He yells and screams like he’s going to have a heart attack. He’s the same guy who, when everybody else is wearing a Michael Jordan or Ken Griffey Jr. jersey when we’re in college on Jersey Night, Kevin Warne is wearing Al Bundy’s Polk High jersey. That’s Kevin Warne.
“My college friends, when we’re watching the game or texting, they’ll say the same thing. You could put a Polk High jersey on Kevin Warne on those sidelines, and it’s the same human being.”
What’s lost in all the banter and bluster, however, is just how good Warne is at his craft. He was the defensive coordinator at UMBC (2005-07), Harvard (2008-10) and Maryland (2011-12) before Georgetown came calling in the summer of 2012. Along the way, Warne developed a reputation not just as the orchestrator of Maryland’s mosh-pit celebrations, but also as one of the best recruiters and defensive schemers in the game.
“He’s like John Madden back in the day,” said Terps coach John Tillman, who hired Warne at Harvard and brought Warne with him to Maryland. “There’s a genius behind there.”
While the Tewaaraton candidacy of all-time leading scorer Jake Carraway and the emergence of midfielders Graham Bundy and Dylan Hess have made headlines during Georgetown’s playoff push, Amplo watches the Hoyas’ No. 1-ranked defense (7.93 goals allowed per game) and sees all the hallmarks of a Warne-run unit.
Great on-ball posture. Sticks out in front. Shorties in crosscheck position looking like they’re ready to win a one-on-one war. Off-ball defenders in a linebacker stance with their heads on a swivel. See man. See ball.
Schematically, Bucaro said he still can’t decipher what Georgetown is doing on the defensive end. That’s by design, and maybe a little osmosis. Asked what he does for fun, Warne said he watches lacrosse with the same nerdy disposition that made Amplo roll his eyes when he started regurgitating high school stats their first day on campus together at Hofstra.
“Don’t be fooled by the exterior,” Tillman said. “If you think he’s just a big goofy guy that wants to joke around, you’re really not seeing beneath the surface. There’s a guy that’s watching the game, evaluating, analyzing and making adjustments.”
“I think he’s the best defensive mind in the game,” said Gibson Smith, the Hoyas’ senior All-American defenseman. “But at the end of the day, he’s just going to outwork you. That’s his M.O. And that’s the type of person that Coach Warne likes to recruit as well.”