SportsMonday Column: Conry's vision

Sunday, February 11, 2018 - 9:03pm

Michigan men's lacrosse coach Kevin Conry is hoping to shape the program in his first year.

Michigan men's lacrosse coach Kevin Conry is hoping to shape the program in his first year. Buy this photo
Prashanth Panicker/Daily

There’s a small family-owned deli on Long Island — tucked in between a pizzeria and a liquor store — in the town of Rockville Centre.

It has a stone storefront and lounge chairs you’d probably see more often in a backyard than on the sidewalk. Drive by at night, and you’ll find four overhanging lamps spotlighting the words “Greystone Delicatessen.”

Walk inside and there are wood floors, with chalkboards hanging across the right wall listing every item on the menu.

There are two people currently residing in Ann Arbor who have worked at this deli.

One came to Michigan and decided to write for his student newspaper. That’s me.

The other?

Kevin Conry, the new head coach of the Michigan men’s lacrosse team.

***

Warde Manuel doesn’t remember exactly who recommended that he sit down with Conry, but he does remember that Conry was the first assistant coach brought to his attention.

It’s easy to imagine why that was the case.

Conry graduated from Johns Hopkins — where he was a four-year member of the Blue Jays’ lacrosse team — before embarking on his coaching journey that saw him make stops at Siena, Penn State, Fairfield and, most recently, Maryland. It’s at all of those stops that Conry says he “sharpened the knife” of his values.

Conry’s professional aspirations were always to be a head coach. And Michigan offered similar resources with the chance for him to build a program of his own.

He finished his final season at Maryland — one that ended in a national championship — before turning toward the future. Staying in the present, he says, was something he said he owed to his players.

But eventually he went to administrators at Maryland, asking if the Michigan job was still open. It was, and through a series of connections, Conry ended up sitting down with Manuel in Ann Arbor.

“This is a Big Ten university with unbelievable facilities,” he says. “It has an unbelievable academic and athletic reputation, so when you’re looking around you’re saying, ‘Oh man, that would be a gem.’ And I was just fortunate to be in the running of that one. Why now? It was just all the stars aligned.”

And on June 21, it became official. Conry was taking over the program, and he made sure to call each of his future players to let them know.

***

If you were to walk past Michigan’s locker room Saturday, in the bowels of the newly-constructed U-M Lacrosse Stadium, you would have found a somewhat peculiar sight.

Members of the Wolverines — fresh off a 15-5 victory over Cleveland State in their season opener and dressed in postgame suits — walked the hall picking up stray pieces of athletic tape.

It seems innocuous enough, but the scene is emblematic of the broader principles Conry has begun to instill.

As Brent Noseworthy describes, he has had to pick up other people’s garbage. His new coach is insistent that the team leaves places better than they found it — whether that be a bus, a hotel room or a piece of athletic equipment.

“How you do anything is how you do everything, and that’s something Coach Conry has really harped on,” Noseworthy says. “One of the thing he encourages us — make your bed every morning, because then you start your day off productive and you have something done.”

As for Conry’s explanation?

“Much like everything, you kind of grow up a certain way,” he says. “You kind of grow up with that respectful mindset, being accountable to all your decisions and your mistakes. Part of our mission here and what we talk about is we’re gonna play the game like we live our life and you live your life like you play the game.”

The culture change doesn’t end with garbage duty, though.

Last Friday, Conry had the freshman class and his captains over for dinner.

Noseworthy says he thinks the plan is to make sure every class goes over at least once, and that in the first iteration, the team spent time meeting Conry’s family. The assistant coaches brought their kids over too.

The food wasn’t bad either, complete with a spread of flank steaks, chicken, pasta and mac and cheese.

“It’s catered,” joked freshman Alex Buckanavage. “He doesn’t know how to cook.”

“I punted on that one,” Conry admits. “I couldn’t put that one on Mrs. Conry.”

Home-cooking or not, the purpose behind the dinner remains the same.

“I think we want to foster more of a family environment,” Conry says. “I want them to know my kids and watch my kids kind of grow up around this program. … But I want to build a championship culture, and everything that’s entitled to it. Part of it is the family orientation, but it’s also just excelling at the smallest details in every department.”

***

Look around the Big Ten, and you’ll quickly come to a realization. Five teams are currently ranked in the top 20 nationally. Michigan, the sixth, is not one of them.

The growth will have to come incrementally. No one is blind to that.

“The expectations were high,” says Warde Manuel, “while at the same time understanding, it’s not just gonna be built overnight because we have a new stadium, and now we’re gonna all of a sudden win.”

Conry admits that, as a first-time head coach, there are some things that no amount of advice can prepare you for. He says the best coaches, in his mind, adjust to those mistakes.

But there’s a sense of humor mixed in with the introspection.

He’ll say he misses bagels, pizza, crab and his family on the East Coast. But lacrosse and film study, he’ll joke again, have filled the void and improved his diet.

If Saturday was any indication, though, he’s been looking at more than just lacrosse and film since June.

“I’m a relationship guy,” Conry says. “… The relationships of life is what you take away. Everybody leaves a little coin in the well of your life and so you kind of build that foundation from there. For these guys, I’m gonna be around them 20-something hours a week to make sure I’m always a steady presence in their lives.

“They want to make sure they know me, get to know me for real, and build a foundation of success around it.”

Santo can be reached at kmsanto@umich.edu or on Twitter @Kevin_M_Santo. This wasn’t supposed to be an endorsement for Greystone Delicatessen, but if you’re ever in Rockville Centre, order The Big Spicy.