For Penn State men’s lacrosse coach Jeff Tambroni, it’s all about family.
From his decision to come to Penn State eight months ago, to the brotherly camaraderie he wants his players to share, he said his life and coaching philosophy has always remained the same — family first.
On June 17, 2010, Tambroni made the decision to leave a perennial national championship contender in Cornell to become head coach of a team that has never won a title, Penn State.
“If you look at the blend of opportunities Penn State and State College provide for a coach, for a father of three girls and as a husband of someone who went to Penn State,” Tambroni said, “you realize there are a lot of things that make Penn State an attractive place.”
While his wife, Michelle, an All-American field hockey player at Penn State from 1988-90, played a role in the decision, Tambroni said she tried to stay out of the decision as much as possible.
“She is a Penn Stater in every sense of the word so certainly she had a biased opinion,” Tambroni said. “But she tried to take a step back because she didn’t want to skew my opinions professionally.”
As head coach of Cornell, he helped maintain an expectation of excellence throughout his tenure for a Big Red program that has won three NCAA national titles and 25 Ivy League championships. He took over June 8, 2000, and never looked back. He resurrected a program that laid dormant in the 90s, compiling a 109-40 record in 10 seasons. He made the NCAA tournament in eight of those years, and won eight Ivy League titles. Tambroni led Cornell to the NCAA Championship game in 2009, but lost to Syracuse.
With his resume, some may ask why he would leave a national contender he helped lead to three of the four previous Final Fours for a Lions team that went 2-11 last season.
To Tambroni, it is the challenge that drew him to State College.
“When I went through the past 10 years at Cornell, certainly there will be a lot of games and people I will remember,” Tambroni said. “But it was about the opportunity to build on an already established tradition. When I took the job [at Penn State] I was 40 years old and I just thought it was the next step in my career and an exciting challenge.”
In addition, he said Penn State’s commitment to excellence was also a huge draw.
“If you look a little bit deeper at the lacrosse program, it is the opportunity to work within this quality of an athletic department,” Tambroni said. “I think Tim Curley does a wonderful job of setting a prime example of what the ‘success with honor’ Penn State model really means.”
Even with his track record, Tambroni said he knows success at Penn State wouldn’t come without surrounding himself with the right people.
Tambroni recruited two top coaches to serve as his assistants in Peter Toner and Chris Doctor.
Toner comes to Penn State after serving as head coach of Bryant the past two years, leading the nation’s stingiest defense last year.
From the other side of the ball comes Doctor, who served as Lafayette’s offensive coordinator from 2007-10. Last season, the Cougars’ offense ranked sixth in the NCAA, averaging 12.6 goals per game.
Between the trio, Tambroni believes they can eventually build Penn State men’s lacrosse into a national contender.
Though all three coaches bring great experience, in the end Tambroni said the success will be brought on by his players.
“It’s about those 35 young men we have on the team right now,” Tambroni said. “They have been willing to buy into a collective vision that will create the foundation we need to breed success.”
Besides building a foundation for success with the players already in place, Tambroni will look to recruit top student athletes using both his connections and the Penn State name.
“Penn State is clearly recognizable all over the U.S., in all of lacrosse circles, especially Pennsylvania,” Tambroni said. “But hopefully with some of my prior relationships we will be able to draw from outside the state and recruit personalities who share our vision.”
Tambroni’s tenure got off to a solid start, winning his first game as the Nittany Lion head coach Saturday against Binghamton. While he’s not necessarily focused on wins right away, Tambroni does believe Penn State lacrosse will be headed in the right direction.
“If you place too much emphasis on just winning you’ll miss the boat,” Tambroni said. “At times you may have success, but you will never have it consistently, and consistent winning is what we want for Penn State.”