SU men’s lacrosse head coach Desko retires after 46 total years in Orange

Desko retires following 46 years playing and coaching for the Orange

Gary Gait, former Syracuse women’s lacrosse head coach, has been named Desko’s successor.
Published: June 7, 2021
Syracuse University men's lacrosse head coach John Desko speaks during the 2016 Media Day January 11, 2016, at Manley Field House. (photo by Russ Scalf)
Former Syracuse men's lacrosse head coach John Desko announced his retirement on Monday.

After 22 seasons as head coach of the Syracuse men’s lacrosse team, John Desko announced his retirement on Monday.

Desko started his career with the Orange on the field, an All-American defenseman who helped Syracuse earn their first NCAA playoff berth in 1979. It did not take long for Desko to move from player to coach however, as he was hired as assistant coach in 1980 immediately following his playing career.

During those 19 years as assistant coach alongside Roy Simmons Jr., Desko won six NCAA Championship titles. Becoming somewhat of a trailblazer, Desko was then named head coach of the men’s lacrosse team in 1999, the first person outside of the Simmons family to lead the team since 1931.

In the 11 years that followed, Desko won five NCAA Championships and brought his team to seven NCAA finals appearances and nine Final Fours, the most recent title earned back in May of 2009 when the alum led the Orange to a 10-9 overtime comeback win over Cornell.

Desko closes out his career with the third-most national titles of any Division I head coach, 15th all-time in victories and third in NCAA Tournament victories. He also coached 271 All-Americans, three Tewaarton Award winners, seven Lt. Raymond J. Enners Award winners, and 28 national positional players of the year across the Turnbull, Schmeisser, MacLaughlin and Kelly awards.

Overall, that totals 46 years in Orange for Desko, and the four-consecutive-time ACC coach of the year was elected to the National Hall of Fame in May of 2020, the first men’s lacrosse coach to do so in ACC history.

“The last 46 years at Syracuse have been an incredible experience and I’m so grateful for my time here as a player, assistant and head coach,” said Desko in a statement released by Syracuse Athletics on Monday.

Director of Athletics John Wildhack commended Desko on his extensive career.

“John has impacted thousands of young men in his career at Syracuse,” said Wildhack. “His legacy is one of greatness, commitment to his student-athletes, staff and Syracuse University. John is a hall of fame coach and a hall of fame person.”

Desko’s final season – the 2021 season – could have led to his retirement. The Orange had its third-worst season in Desko’s tenure, posting a 7-6 record and struggling to a 2-4 record in ACC play, the most losses against conference opponents in program history. Desko was also in the hot seat toward the end of the season when then leading-scorer Chase Scanlan was suspended from the team, then reinstated, and then subsequently arrested for his involvement in a “domestic-related incident.”

Newly appointed SU men's lacrosse head coach Gary Gait, shown here at the 2013 film premiere of
Former Syracuse women's lacrosse head coach Gary Gait was named as Desko's successor on Monday.

Former Syracuse women’s lacrosse coach Gary Gait will be the new Syracuse men’s lacrosse head coach, as announced by Syracuse Athletics on Monday.

Gait is bringing with him his own substantial history along with a familiar collegiate career, as he played for the Orange under Desko, who was an assistant at the time, from 1987-1990. While there, Gait achieved the All-American title four times, was a part of three NCAA-championship winning teams and earned the Lt. Raymond Enners Award twice, which is given to the most outstanding college lacrosse player.

Gait is also in the record books for Syracuse, currently holding SU’s career goals record at 192 and the single-season goals record at 70, which was an NCAA record until 2008.

From there, he launched into a 17-year professional career after being drafted 1st overall by the Detroit Turbos in the 1990 National Lacrosse League Draft. Winning NLL Rookie of the Year in 1991, Gait continued to excel, earning league MVP honors for five straight years, six times total, and winning All-Pro honors each season. He also led the league in points and goals seven times, won three league championships, and posted 1,091 points by the end of his indoor career.

Gait earned league MVP honors in Major League Lacrosse following his transition to outdoor lacrosse, and in 2005, he led the MLL in goals, points, and hat tricks. Gait has also done well on the international stage, receiving International Lacrosse Federation All-World Team honors, all of his accomplishments earning him the selection to the NLL Hall of Fame in 2006.

Gait chose to spread his knowledge of the sport by coaching lacrosse, first adding seven NCAA championship titles to his belt as an assistant coach of the women’s lacrosse team at the University of Maryland, then at the professional level, an additional two playoff appearances and a league championship as head coach of the NLL’s Colorado Mammoth.

Starting in the 2008 season, Gait returned to Syracuse as the second-ever coach of the women’s program. The Orange have had only one losing record in 14 seasons under Gait, an impressive feat on its own as Syracuse competes in the toughest conference in the country for women’s lacrosse.

He has also coached nearly every statistical leader in career and season records while leading his teams to 12 appearances in the NCAA tournament, including 3 championship games. This season, Gait coached the Orange to a 17-4 record and an appearance in the NCAA Championship against Boston College despite losing the best female player in lacrosse after the first game of the year.

“It is an honor to be named the fifth head coach of this program, and I thank John Wildhack for giving me the opportunity,” Gait said in a statement released by Syracuse Athletics on Monday. “I also want to thank John Desko for everything he means to Syracuse lacrosse and appreciate his help and support since I arrived at Syracuse.

“Coaching and developing the Syracuse women’s lacrosse program was phenomenal and I thank the coaching staff and players of that program, as well as the entire Athletics Department, for all their dedication and continued support. 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. The goal of every team I’ve ever coached was to win a championship and that goal will continue as the head coach of the Syracuse men’s lacrosse team.”