The once-in-a-lifetime chance slipped away for All-American Charley Toomey and Baltimore's Loyola Greyhounds 22 years ago. The senior goalkeeper was part of a 21-9 loss to Syracuse University in the NCAA Division 1 men’s lacrosse championship at Rutgers University.
If he ever returned to the national championship game, it would have to be as a coach. He never dreamed he would become Loyola’s head coach 15 years after he graduated and get the school that national championship opportunity.
“We played in the national championship and I left for Australia two days later,” Toomey recalled of 1990. “I already had my plane ticket. Win or lose, I was going to Australia and I lived there for five months. It was in that time in Australia that I really missed Loyola, the people and, obviously, lacrosse.”
Soon, Toomey returned to Loyola as a volunteer coach for two years before becoming an assistant at the U.S. Naval Academy and then head coach of the Severn School. By 1999, he returned to Loyola as an assistant and seve years later, he took over the program.
“I’m sitting in my bed last night and I was getting through the texts that were sent,” Toomey recalled. “It’s 3:48 (a.m.) on Monday and I had 100 or 150 texts. I just hadn’t been able to get to them.”
He tried to answer each one. Most of the time, his reply was the same, but the sentiment never waned.
“A special day for a special program,” his texts read.
“It really hasn’t sunken in,” he said June 5 in a conference room inside the Rev. Father Harold Ridley, S.J., Intercollegiate Athletic Complex in Baltimore.
Jesuit Father Brian Linnane, Loyola’s president, and many other administrators past and present have spent countless hours and money supporting the athletic program over the years.
“I think everybody associated with this program is in a dream,” Toomey said. “I just happened to have my name at the head of it. There are so many people that make this thing up, that have their fingerprints on what just happened. It’s not Charley Toomey. It’s not even close.”
The financial investments – including the $62 million, 6,000-seat Ridley complex that opened two years ago - are paying dividends.
“Loyola just kept pushing through,” Toomey said. “I know half of this is bonded and we’re up to our ears in debt. Hopefully, we just took a little pressure off that because I think the fundraising might be kick started.”
Loyola is the first Catholic school to win the men’s lacrosse title and the smallest school as well. Toomey has been on ESPN, the Internet and social media in the wake of the national title.
“For our lacrosse program to put Loyola in the national spotlight and to show a lot of people what we already know, what we live every day, to me is probably the most gratifying thing in all of this,” he said. “There are so many people that are reading about Loyola for the first time – a school of 4,000 and asking what’s it’s all about.”
Loyola’s run to the championship – powered in no small part by Eric Lusby’s record 17 goals during the NCAA tournament – was improbable. The Greyhounds began the season unranked, but were became the nation’s No. 1 by the end of April. Loyola’s only loss came to Johns Hopkins April 28.
By the middle of May, people in Baltimore began to think something special was happening with the Greyhounds. Pat Moriarty, who is the father of Loyola senior Kevin Moriarty and the vice president of football administration for the Baltimore Ravens, arranged for linebacker Ray Lewis to give the team a pep talk May 16 during a film review session.
“I opened that door and he was pacing.” Toomey said of Lewis. “It was game day to him. He walked in and their jaws hit the floor. It was right on point. It was what we needed. It was about preparation and taking care of a teammate. He said at the end, ‘I’m going to get a text says the Greyhounds are national champions. I can’t wait for that.’ ”
Lewis, of course, was right.
Toomey thinks back to that national championship game in 1990. Everything might have seemed crushing at the time. If he only knew then what he knows now.
“A lot of people have asked me ‘What’s more special – would it have been winning it as a player or as a coach?’ Hands down, as a coach,” Toomey said. “It’s special. I can’t even begin to put it into words.”
Since the Greyhounds played on Memorial Day weekend, that meant Toomey and his staff weren’t recruiting for weeks while others team were on the trail.
“As my (athletic director) says, those are high-class problems,” Toomey jokes.
Just days after the title win, Toomey was traveling up and down the East coast to find the next player who will fall in love with Loyola, just as he did 25 years ago.
“I can go out and say you’re coming to a place that is committed to winning a national championship and, oh, by the way, we’ve done that,” Toomey said.
Matt’s sideline note: During my conversation with Toomey, remembered an article written about him in the Catholic Review in 1984. He was a sophomore at Archbishop Spalding (Toomey later transferred to Boys’ Latin) and his team had beaten Cardinal Gibbons.
“I still have it cut out in a scrapbook in my basement,” Toomey said.
In the article, which actually misspelled Toomey's first name, his coach says: "I think Charlie Toomey has the chance to be a major college player. He has a very bright future."
He hit the nail on the head, didn't he?
Here is that article, 28 years later:
June 07, 2012 04:18
By Matt Palmer