By Steve Guglielmo | 3/22/12 10:15 AM
MLL's Steve Guglielmo caught up with Charlotte Hounds Head Coach Mike Cerino to discuss the ups and downs of building an expansion team and what he's doing to prepare for the upcoming season.
You’re the head coach of the expansion Charlotte Hounds. What challenges come along with coaching a new MLL team?
A lot of them came early on. Front office infrastructure is one example. We’re very lucky that our president has an extensive professional sports background and our marketing and ticket sales guys have all been involved in professional sports at all different levels, which adds a great sense of purpose to the organization. They really understood their roles and what it took for a professional team to be successful regardless of the sport. It was a very healthy process as we went through what the team should look like, what type of player we wanted to draft and what type of team we wanted to be in years one, two and three. Those goals were clear and we were able to assign value to the type of player we were looking for and where we wanted to be each year. It certainly alleviated some of the pressures of almost like a Fantasy Football feel to the draft. There are just a bunch of names on the board but we had a very clear goal for the organization each year for the first three years. People are excited about how we put things together, but the challenges were putting together that front office staff first before we brought a team together. With good, clear vision from the professional side, it made the drafting a lot easier. We’re still just names on paper, but we feel good about the direction that we’re moving in.
You have already managed to put together a very talented roster. Describe the drafting process for us.
We targeted certain players to build around. We felt that Matt Danowski was a building block, and Stephen Berger and Brian Carroll were guys that we could build around for a few years. And then just like anything, it kind of got a life of its own. People were getting excited. They felt like the team was moving in a good direction and decided that they wanted to be a part of that.
But it’s still just names on paper. We still have to play and put it together. There are some wonderful rosters out there throughout the league, but we really like our guys and we went with guys who wanted to be Hounds, who were passionate about playing the sport. That’s what we were really trying to build around, guys who wanted to be in Charlotte. I think people are noticing that we were trying to pick players that complement each other. Sometimes we might have skipped over certain talent because we thought other players might play better together.
In going through the MLL Expansion, Supplemental and Collegiate Drafts, were there any specific types of players you looked to add?
We look for guys who have had some history together. Part of that will help the chemistry, guys who have played together in college or in similar type programs and offenses. Obviously, the team has a little bit of an ACC feel to it. We’re lucky with that and the region that we’re in, it’s kind of a talent and a marketing pull at the same time to get guys who had strong ACC careers. You look at the style of offenses at UVa or Duke or the style of defense at Maryland, a lot of these things blend together. Picking from the ACC was a nice thing for us.
In regards to the draft, when I signed on as head coach and GM, it’s really a two-headed monster. Our president, every decision that is made, he signs off on. He’s a big part of the decision process even when it’s just picking pure talent. We needed to have some people ready to play in April. When I started to look at what we were going to look like and when are some of the top draft choices actually going to be available and how beat up will they be coming out of college? I looked and said 'who can we have in training camp in March?Who are career MLL guys?' There were some players available. I knew once the draft went into play, we would lose control. Once picks start coming off the board, they’re never going to fall the way you think they are. You are never sure who is going to get picked where. We tried to get as many players that we wanted on the roster before the draft started. The Denver trade was important for us and worked out and we were able to land Billy Bitter and Brett Schmidt before the draft started. Jeremy Boltus felt like he'd have a good opportunity to play this summer and in the future. We felt like he was a building block. We had been working with Long Island and then when the chips fell into place, obviously the first draft choice in college was very exciting, but we felt like if we could have MLL players like Danowski and Berger who were outstanding in place when we opened, that was pretty exciting too. If you looked, it was the second round of the draft and we executed the trade with Long Island and we already had 5 MLL ready players by the second round of the expansion draft. That was our goal, to try to control as many factors as we could before we got deep into the draft. The truth is, by the time we got to rounds 4, 5 and 6 it was really starting to spin. It went in more directions than we would have thought. By the time the college draft came we weren’t sure what we would look like. Now we felt like we knew who we would be by the time we opened. When we went to the collegiate draft we were truly going with best available athletes who we felt would help us fit in now and in the future. That’s why you saw us take another goalie, even though we are thrilled about the two goalies we picked up. The college goalie won’t be available until May.
How do you get a group of players who maybe haven’t all played together to gel as one team? What will training camps look like for the Hounds?
This is my first training camp, too, at this level. I have reached out to other staffs that have been successful. We have been reaching out to the players to try to get their feedback about what they’re comfortable with, how they see it, teams they have been on, the things that have been successful and haven’t been successful and just trying to blend them together (much like you might do with a QB in game week). If it’s Wednesday or Thursday and you aren’t comfortable with this play, then we aren’t going to run it. So we’re trying to get a feel back from some of the experienced players we have. They’ve been great. We really have a lot of guys who seem invested and excited about the Hounds being competitive, so there has been a lot of information sharing that way. The other thing was I tried to pick staff that was familiar with me and my coaching style so that I could speed that process up. If I don’t have to spend as much time coaching the coaches we might be able to spend more time helping the players come together. And the front office has been very helpful in trying to help us plan the training camp and team building activities and other things we can work on off the field to try to bring this team closer together.
I spoke with Jeremy Boltus and Stephen Berger and both mentioned that the fans are excited to have a team in Charlotte. Have you gotten that sense as well?
I have. I’ve been lucky enough to be in this region and have watched it grow. I played in the Carolinas for most of my career. The demographics are great for the sport but when you mix the weather in, they’re excited about it! They just love lacrosse in the Charlotte area. The game is booming. And then there is a little bit of a vacuum. It’s a pro sports town. There’s professional football and basketball but there isn’t anything downtown in Charlotte in the Spring. So we’re hoping to fill that void a little bit and certainly our front office has done a great job marketing that and creating that feel. So our players are excited about that. We want to be the big ticket in the spring into the summer.
What kinds of things are you doing to prepare for the upcoming season?
We have been meeting to try to go ahead and make sure we’ve got the guys in situations where they will be comfortable coming together. With coaches who all have college and high school backgrounds, limited practices are something new. We’re going to have to get used to not having five days per week to get your point across. So we are working on ways of being clearer and simpler as we try to get our message across. That’s what the staff is working on going into training camp and into the season. As far as expectations for the season, we’re really trying to stay with the three-year plan. We want to be as competitive as we can coming out of the gate. Step 1 was trying to fill the roster with players who complement each other with the skill sets and with guys who wanted to be Charlotte Hounds. There is talent on every roster we’re going to play. I’ve heard everything from a playoff team to remember they’re still an expansion team. We’re going to take it one at a time and really hope to add it up and see where we are at the end. We’d love to come out of the gate and be competitive and have a better record in the second year than we did in the first and hopefully be in a position where we’re competing for a title in the third year. But we’re going to see how far we can take it in the first year. We’re going to do everything that we can to come out of the gate swinging but there is still a little bit of a learning curve as this group comes together and has to find their comfort level and style of play. It looks great on paper but we still have to make it happen on the field.