Janczyk's 400 Wins Simply a Byproduct

The coach and his family were all smiles after the game.


Janczyk's 400 Wins Simply a Byproduct

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Gettysburg hadn't defeated Washington & Lee in three years, and everybody on the staff was well aware of it. There was urgency as Jamie Steele, the Bullets defensive coordinator just before the turn of the millennium, crafted a scheme to slow the Generals' offense down.

Steele stood in front of the amassed Gettysburg staff, including head coach Hank Janczyk, and attacked the board, rolling out his plan to win the contest and reset the series. The chalk moved with boxer's speed, Xs and Os sped across the wall's expanse. For the uninitiated, it seemed like a chess master revolutionizing the defensive end of the field.

For the coaches in the room, it looked suspiciously like a distracted plan for sliding adjacently.

Janczyk has been on the Gettysburg sidelines for the last 28 years, and become the second coach in NCAA lacrosse history to hit the 400-win plateau on Wednesday. (Gettysburg Athletics)

"Jamie called it the 'Storm Defense,'" chuckled Dave Cornell, the offensive coordinator during Steele's time at Gettysburg and now the head coach at Connecticut College.

Steele finished his proposal and sought out the visual imprimatur of Janczyk. He got a slow nod of the head in return.

"I could tell he didn't agree with me, and before the game he said, 'Are you sure about this?' We ended up doing it and winning and playing well defensively," said Steele, now the head coach at Ursinus. "I remember him coming up to me after the game telling me how proud he was of me."

This wasn't happening at some lacrosse backwater. This was at a consistent Top 5 Division III team with annual aspirations of a national title. During the tenure of Steele and Cornell, the Bullets earned their first No. 1 ranking in program history. Still, Janczyk was able to subjugate the most basic preservation instinct – doing it yourself – to completely trust an assistant just a couple of years removed from dressing on gameday.

"A lot of coaches bring their assistants in and tell them what to do," Steele said. "Coach Janczyk almost never told me what to do. One of the reasons that his guys have been so successful is because he let us figure it out. He let us make mistakes. I'll be forever grateful to him for that, because that's hard to do now that I'm sitting in big chair."

This opportunity was not limited to Steele. It is standard procedure at Gettysburg under Janczyk, and it has paid off in a long line of successful coaching offspring.

"I played goalie there and I asked coach when I got the job if I could work with the offense," said Steve Koudelka, now the head man at Lynchburg. "He obviously oversaw the offense, but every year I was there he gave me more and more rope to kind of hang myself with. That was definitely one of his greatest strengths: empowering the young coaches. It allowed us to become more and more addicted to what we were doing."

"He was always open to new ideas," added Dan Sharbaugh, head coach at Centre and a former Bullets assistant. "We tried different drills and offensive ideas at practice. Some things worked, some things didn't, but he was willing to try. It's no surprise his assistants go on to bigger and better things pretty often. I was able to do a lot of things other assistants didn't get to do."

"He is a great enough coach and a smart enough guy where he could do it all himself," said Justin Domingos, the former head coach at Colby and now an assistant at Division I Boston University. "But allowing the collaborative process and allowing his assistants to lead speaks to the success that program has had over the years."

On Wednesday, Janczyk won his 400th game as an NCAA head coach by beating Franklin & Marshall, becoming just the second NCAA coach in any division to hit that milestone. Twelve of those wins came in his two-year stint as coach of Division I Colgate and another 33 came as the head man at Salisbury. The vast majority of the triumphs – 355 of them – have come on the Gettysburg sideline.

And he did it while constantly putting his fate in the hands of his assistants.

"He put so much trust and faith in you that you didn't want to let him down," Cornell said. "That shows a lot about his character, strength and, to be honest with you, his faith. The fact that he could step away and say, 'It's going to be OK. God's going to take care of it.' How many coaches do you know who take a second and a third year assistant coach and say, 'Go get 'em?' And that was the first year we were ever ranked No. 1 in the country. That's one of those examples where you say he lives life a little differently than other folks. What gives him the strength to do that?"

* * *

"That was definitely one of his greatest strengths: empowering the young coaches," said former Gettysburg player and assistant, and current Lynchburg head coach Steve Koudelka (above, standing to the left of a kneeling Janczyk). "It allowed us to become more and more addicted to what we were doing." (Gettysburg Athletics)

There is no telling the Hank Janczyk story without understanding the role the role that Christianity has played in his life. Incorporating religion into anything, especially for a teacher at secular liberal arts institution, is fraught with peril. Janczyk does not hide from it, nor does he proselytize. He testifies not in words, but in action.

"It's just the way he lives his life," Cornell said. "He lives it differently than everyone else and you take notice of it. There's nothing that he is pushing in your face. He talks about it, but he talks about what it means to him. He doesn't say, 'You need to do this.' You kind of see where he came from, what his background was like and the family he came from, and it's not surprising how much success he's had."

With a strong faith comes strong convictions, especially when it comes to shepherding young men through their most turbulent years. Cornell learned firsthand about that.

"His passion is more than just the sport," said Tommy Pearce, now the head coach at Frostburg and above while an assistant with Janczyk. "It’s more about what you can get out of a team and working for something as a group. I truly want to learn about my guys, care about them and want them to do well in school." (Gettysburg Athletics)

A talented midfielder out of Levittown, N.Y., Cornell committed to Gettysburg after Janczyk showed up in an institutional station wagon and sweet-talked his Christian parents into sending their son to Pennsylvania. Cornell quickly stepped on the field for the Bullets. "I started because I was a better player than the other guys, but it wasn't because of my habits off the field," admitted Cornell. He was drifting through school and life, so Janczyk broke out the nuclear option to get Cornell back on the right path.

"He took lacrosse away from me," Cornell said. "He said, 'You know what, you're not playing lacrosse anymore. Everything comes too easily to you. You are not reaching your potential in the classroom and socially, you're not doing everything you're supposed to.' I'm from a pretty blue-collar town, and he told me that I'd be working at a deli for the rest of my life if I didn't get my act together. By taking lacrosse away from me, he was the first person to say no to me. It really changed my life."

Cornell returned from his lacrosse banishment a changed man, and eventually stayed five years at Gettysburg to recoup his lost year of lacrosse. He was a two-time captain and twice earned All-American honors for the Bullets, helping the team reach the national semifinals in 1995. It was a lesson that has lingered with Cornell, and he is still using lessons he learned from Janczyk this spring as the Camels endure a 4-11 season.

"It made me become a coach and I try to coach that way," Cornell said. "Even this year, we're having a rough season and we're going through some stuff, but I'm going to hold guys accountable. I don't care if I win fewer games because of it. In the end, we're trying to build men and create lessons, and we're going to win more games as a program because of those things."

Peter Milliman also ran up against Janczyk's unwavering mission statement. Milliman, now the assistant coach at Division I Cornell, was a first team All-American and one of the key cogs in the Bullets run to the national championship game in 2001. Talent once again didn't alter any of Janczyk's expectations.

"I had some struggles there and I had to leave for a year because of family issues," said Milliman said. "I was young and I didn't have a lot of discipline. I was being selfish and youthful. I had a lot of long talks with him and there was some discipline, and he probably wouldn't have let me play lacrosse even if I didn't take that year off because he was so strongly convinced of what was right. We all believed him and trusted him. If he felt like there was an appropriate punishment, that's the way it was. He made it pretty clear that he has priorities, and while lacrosse is in the mix, it's nowhere near No. 1."

"Coach Janczyk is always talking about getting your priorities in order, and lacrosse can't be your number one priority," said Tommy Pearce, a former player and assistant for Janczyk, and currently the head coach at Frostburg State.

Cornell is just one of Janczyk protégés who have adopted many of his methods. Mike Plantholt, the head coach at third-ranked Ohio Wesleyan, is another who emulates many of Janczyk's approaches learned as a player and assistant at Gettysburg.

"Certainly one of the things I learned from Coach Janczyk is being firm, but still being flexible," Plantholt said. "Giving kids second chances, especially when you feel like they deserve them. That's something I've taken to heart playing for and coaching with him."

"Obviously he's a great coach and he knows the game well, but he definitely puts an emphasis on character and integrity over everything," added Sharbaugh. "He is not somebody who wants to win if he wins the wrong way. He would prefer to lose the right away if anything."

Plantholt was so moved by Janczyk's stern mentorship that he asked his former coach for a special favor.

"He actually married my wife and I. He was the officiant at our wedding, if that gives you any idea of how tight we are," Plantholt said. "He is my mentor. He is somebody I look up to. He is somebody I talk to probably at least once a week, if not more. There are so many guys out there that want to be like him, which I think is the ultimate compliment."

* * *

"He is a lax rat," said Ohio Wesleyan head coach Mike Plantholt. "He'll call Bill Tierney or Dave Pietramala and ask what they're doing on offense or defense. He met with [Denver assistant] Matt Brown for two hours at the convention one year to see what they were doing offensively. It was just to see if he could put the Denver offense in with the guys he had at Gettysburg. He's on the phone a lot with a lot of different coaches talking Xs and Os." (Kevin P. Tucker)

Janczyk certainly has a paternalistic component, and there is no denying the importance of his faith. It's a mistake, however, to think of him as someone constantly thumbing through his bible while lamenting about "kids these days." As one would expect with someone who has 400 wins, Janczyk is extremely competitive and, by all accounts, a masterful recruiter.

He is also a crafty motivator who isn't afraid to transform himself in a key situation.

The 1997 campaign wasn't the greatest for the Bullets. They needed to beat Ithaca in the last game of the season, and do it in convincing fashion, to even get in the discussion for the eight-team NCAA tournament. Gettysburg picked up the win, but there was an air of pessimism as the team waited in a classroom in the school's athletic complex to hear the word. This was back before web announcements or online video presentations. Basically the coach got a call in his office on Sunday afternoon informing him of whether his team qualified or not.

"He is clearly a man of strong values and character and a man of God. He does not sway with the tides of popular opinion. He has impacted so many of his peers and former players in his life," said Hampden-Sydney head coach Ray Rostan about Janczyk, here with current Frostburg State coach Tommy Pearce and Scranton coach Doug Sage prior to the Bullets '08 semifinal game with Salisbury.

"I'm outside his office and he walks out," Steele said. "The look on his face was just utter defeat. He didn't say anything to me."

Steele followed Janczyk down the stairs to the classroom and watched him stride to the front of the assembled team.

"He turns to the team and says, 'Guys, sometimes in life things just don't work out the way you want them to.' Everybody in the room just dropped. He turns around, grabs a chalkboard eraser and flings the eraser across the room. It hits the other side of the room and basically explodes. Then he says, 'But not this time! And we've got Salisbury!'"

"He literally chucked the eraser across the room," recalled Domingos, who was a player on that team. "The place erupted. The guys were just out of their seats, throwing chairs around. It was calamity."

"At that moment, everyone in the room knew that we were going to beat Salisbury, who was the No. 1 seed," added Steele. "Chairs were getting broken. I thought a chair was going to get thrown out the window. Salisbury was awesome that year and, talent-wise, we shouldn't have beat them, but we did. And we almost beat Washington College. The excitement in that room to go play Salisbury and the way he set that up; his ability to understand the situation and how to deliver a message. Just the way he set his face. It was pretty amazing."

Milliman recounted a story on the other end of the spectrum. Having just lost to an inferior opponent, Janczyk was clearly not pleased. "You can just tell by the way he walks that it's not going to be pretty," Milliman said. As the players warmed up doing standard line drills, the coach just stood off to the side, glowering at his team.

"It was one of the most intense times I've spent around him," Milliman confessed. "He didn't speak for the first half an hour. You just knew that he was watching you. It was as a focused as a practice as you can get. He was just staring at us, and we were petrified."

These were not necessarily extemporaneous performances.

"He really thought a lot about how he came to practice every day," Pearce said. "I remember when I was there coaching, he started to feel like guys were just showing up at practice. They weren't working. He started to talk about punching the clock, and when you come to practice for two hours, you are there to work. He started coming to practice with a sledgehammer and a hard hat. He made sure that they knew he was coming to work, and they better be ready to work, as well."

"The psychologically side of things is big," Domingos said. "He understands people. He understands relationships. Whether it's taking a guy who is having trouble with a girlfriend or pushing a guy to get extra reps at shooting so he can become an All-American, he just gets the psychological side of it."

* * *

"Anybody who worked for him learned a lot about integrity and loyalty and how to work hard," said Salisbury coach Jim Berkman, who is the only other NCAA coach with 400 wins and was once Janczyk's assistant coach. "He exemplifies all of those great traits, as any great man would." (Kevin P. Tucker)

His 400 wins, and however many more he'll tack on over the rest of his career, will cement Janczyk's legacy in the sport of lacrosse. It'll be his coaching tree that will keep his legacy alive far after he hangs up the whistle. In that context, there is a perfect symmetry in Janczyk becoming the second coach to ever hit the benchmark.

He was the man who brought the first individual to hit 400 into the coaching realm.

Janczyk was an assistant coach at St. Lawrence back in 1982, and he decided to ask a fiery midfielder for the Saints named Jim Berkman to be his assistant when Janczyk was named the coach at Salisbury. Berkman accepted the position, earning his Master's degree while acting as Janczyk's right-hand man. Five years later, Berkman was the head coach for the Sea Gulls, starting his march to the summit of 400 wins.

"He was always a great mentor," Berkman said. "You look across Division III, there are a lot of connections between Hank and a lot of different coaches. You look at the top group right now. I'm obviously in that group and you have Coach Koudelka at Lynchburg. Coach Steele at Ursinus is having a great year. There are a bunch of guys who have come from me and there is a whole coaching tree that is fortunate to be a part of what he got started. Anybody who worked for him learned a lot about integrity and loyalty and how to work hard. He exemplifies all of those great traits, as any great man would."

"The psychologically side of things is big," said Justin Domingos, now an assistant at Boston University. "He understands people. He understands relationships. Whether it's taking a guy who is having trouble with a girlfriend or pushing a guy to get extra reps at shooting so he can become an All-American, he just gets the psychological side of it." (Gettysburg Athletics)

It's difficult to say whether Berkman would have evolved into the best coach in Division III lacrosse history without Janczyk's tutelage. Regardless, the Salisbury coach is appreciative not only of what Janczyk did for his career, but also how he is able to remain successful even as the sport evolved.

"I owe a lot to him giving me an opportunity to get into the game and learn from him about the recruiting part," Berkman. "He is so good with the families and the ability to sell his program. He has also changed over the course of time. He has reinvented himself in different ways, both offensively and defensively, that has kept him so competitive for this many years."

Finding a system and sticking with it while coaching at the same place for nearly 30 years would be the easiest route, but it's not the formula for 400 wins. While he is among the most senior members of the coaching fraternity in any division, he has a passion for innovation that belies his years.

"He is a lax rat," Plantholt said. "He'll call Bill Tierney or Dave Pietramala and ask what they're doing on offense or defense. He met with [Denver assistant] Matt Brown for two hours at the convention one year to see what they were doing offensively. It was just to see if he could put the Denver offense in with the guys he had at Gettysburg. He's on the phone a lot with a lot of different coaches talking Xs and Os."

"I've heard him say it a thousand times: 'I don't want to let this game pass me by,'" Pearce said. "He's always looking for the new thing. He drove up and spent a weekend with [West Genesee's] Coach Mike Messere. He kept saying, 'Why do they always win? Why are they so awesome?' He always wanted to sit down and talk to people and pick their brains. As he was learning new stuff, he was just taking me a long with him. We were learning it together. As an assistant coach, I was learning the same things, he just happened to have 300-some wins at the time."

For all of the professional growth that led to all of the victories, it's mostly a secondary facet of the Hank Janczyk story. His role in the sport has very little to do with the win column. Not one of the individuals interviewed for this story uttered the words "400 wins" when extolling their admiration for Janczyk. It's simply a byproduct.

"I learned a ton of the Xs and Os stuff that I've carried on today and into the world I coach in, but just as importantly, I learned from Coach how to handle people," said Koudelka. "Whether it was people on his staff or people at the college. He was a man of his word and a man of great faith. As a young man, you're watching. You don't have a family or a wife, but you're watching. We were all watching. I'm not sure if there is a player who went there who could say they weren't better off from those visible moments – how he cared for his family and how he cared for his faith, even though I never felt like he was over the top with either one of them."

"He is much more than an athletic coach," said Hampden-Sydney coach Ray Rostan, a long-time friend and rival of Janczyk's. "He has been an inspiration over many years to many in our profession and outside of it. He is one of the tireless workers in the lacrosse coaching profession at any level. Hank has always understood how blessed we all are in this profession to have this opportunity to coach young men during one of the most important times in their lives. He is clearly a man of strong values and character and a man of God. He does not sway with the tides of popular opinion. He has impacted so many of his peers and former players in his life."

* * *

After Janczyk's historic win against Franklin & Marshall on Wednesday, the coach and his family were all smiles. (Gettysburg Athletics)

Standing on a field an hour after a big conference win isn't always the best time to fully contemplate reaching the 400-win mark and what it means in the bigger picture. It's even more difficult when your team is 14-0, ranked No. 2 in the country and you're fighting for a potential top seed in the south region of the NCAA tournament.

At that point, the focus is on the moment at hand, not the journey.

"We didn't play too well today," said Janczyk after beating F&M on Wednesday, 10-8, for the milestone win. "I'm not sure how we won it."

As we wind through some of the anecdotes from his former players and assistant coaches, with many of the stories punctuated by Janczyk's coarse laugh, some of his views start emerging. He says he hates it when hears someone say, 'That's the way we've always done it,' because he sees it as stagnation. "That and a buck will get you a chili dog," he says, dismissively. He also admits that it's not easy to take lacrosse away from a player, even if he knows it's the correct path. "At the end of the day, it's always the right decision to stick to your guns and do what you say, and say what you do."

Janczyk also admits that there have been some ups and downs incorporating his faith into lacrosse, especially with his pregame prayer. He now makes it crystal clear to the parents and players during the recruiting process what they should expect. "I always look them in the eye and tell them that my faith is the most important thing in my life."

When analyzing Janczyk's 400 wins, it's telling that the wins have very little to do with it. It's about impacting lives, almost always for the better. It's about sending men off into the world with a sense of purpose, whether it be coaching the sport or just being contributing members of society.

"I'm as proud of that as I am anything," Janczyk said.

The ability to impact another person's life to that degree is a blessing, and it is never forgotten. When asked what Janczyk has meant in his life, Jamie Steele was quick to respond.

"Everything, really. Coach means the world to me."