Fraught with emotion at the start of his final news conference at Syracuse, retiring men’s lacrosse coach John Desko exuded confidence that the program he’s helped build over the past 46 years as a player and coach will be in good hands.
Desko, 63, announced his retirement on Monday and will be succeeded by former Orange star Gary Gait, who has spent the past 14 years as the Syracuse women’s lacrosse coach. Gait becomes just the fifth men’s coach in the program’s 105 years.
“I’m so happy with that,” Desko, who won five national championships in his 22 years at the helm, said Tuesday. “I see many benefits going forward. It’s very important. It’s great to have him there. I think it’ll be seamless. I’m here to help and support in any way.”
Desko said he had spoken to incoming athletes that he recruited to let them know that he’s “very comfortable with this.”
“I’m going to be around in some aspect and watch it grow and get better and win championships,” he said. “I’m really proud of everything that we’ve accomplished.”
Gait led the Orange to three straight national championships (1988-90) in the most dominant stretch in program history, when Desko served as an assistant. As a professional player, Gait won three titles in both National League Lacrosse and Major League Lacrosse.
“This is an exciting opportunity to be able to coach the team I made so many memories playing for, and my family and I are excited for this transition,” said Gait, who guided the Orange women to three national championship games, including 2021.
Before taking over the Orange women’s program, Gait spent two seasons as head coach of the NLL’s Colorado Mammoth and led the team to the 2006 league championship. He also coached four seasons with MLL’s Baltimore Bayhawks and won titles in 2002 and 2005, and as an assistant coach at Maryland won seven titles.
“Gary is as knowledgeable about the game of lacrosse as any person in the sport. He is the greatest player of the modern era,” Syracuse director of athletics John Wildhack said in a statement. “He is the right person (for the job).”
Desko arrived at Syracuse in 1975 and began his coaching career as an assistant to Roy Simmons Jr. immediately after his playing career. He spent 19 seasons as an assistant to Simmons and helped build the Orange into a perennial power before taking over in 1999. He was with the program for all 11 of its NCAA championships, was a two-time national coach of the year, and has a record of 265-92.
His decision to retire came after a disappointing 7-6 season that began with the Orange ranked second nationally and ended with a lopsided loss to Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
When asked before the tournament if he expected to coach the Orange next season, Desko said he had no plans not to return. Flanked Tuesday by Wildhack, who introduced him, Desko said family was very important and felt the time was right, though he admitted, “I almost still don’t know the total answer to that.”
“My wife’s been there the whole time,” Desko said, looking out at wife Cindy. “Raised four children, gone weekends in the summertime, seven days a week during the season. So, one thing that I’m starting to get a feel for is better appreciation for her and what she’s done for me and our family.”
Asked if he would consider coaching elsewhere in the future, Desko said he hadn’t thought about it.
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