Mindy McCord is leaving Jacksonville University to build another college lacrosse program from the ground up.
McCord, the only women’s lacrosse coach in JU history, has left the program after 13 seasons to become the first coach at the University of South Florida in Tampa. McCord’s JU teams compiled an overall record of 170-62 (.733), 70-6 in the ASUN (.921), won eight regular-season ASUN titles and eight ASUN tournament championships — which resulted in eight NCAA tournament berths.
Reaping the fruits: JU Dolphin lacrosse programs dominate post-season awards in ASUN, SoCon
McCord said the combination of coaching at the fourth-largest public university in Florida, with a budget nearly twice that of JU and the chance to start another program from scratch was too much to turn down.
And she said she was surprised when USF athletic director Michael Kelly got permission from JU’s Alex Ricker-Gilbert and called her out of the blue shortly after the Dolphins lost to Florida in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“I wasn’t looking … there was nothing wrong at JU,” she said. “I had not thought of another job. But the athletics culture we’ve built here, the family and faith feel, existed at USF. It’s not what I expected from a big school but it was there.”
McCord visited USF on May 20. Among the officials making their pitch was Will Weatherford, the former Florida Speaker of the House, a JU graduate and former JU board member who became chairman of the South Florida Board of Trustees last year.
“When things align and feel right, you sense it,” McCord said. “I had Michael Kelly and [deputy USF AD Kris Pierce], the dynamic duo, and Will Weatheford offering me and then it became a matter of why not?”
The Dolphins went 14-5 this season, beat Liberty 20-12 in the ASUN title game at Rock Stadium on May 7, then topped Stanford 20-8 in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the second season in a row in which JU won in the first round.
She previously coached the first Virginia Tech women’s lacrosse team, going from the club level to NCAA Division I, and won two conference titles at Oberlin College, then another at McDaniel College, in her hometown of Westminster, Md.
“We are absolutely thrilled to name a leader of Mindy McCord’s proven capabilities and passion for the sport as the first head coach in USF women’s lacrosse history,” Kelly said in a statement. “Not only does she have tremendous experience building a program from the ground up and leading it to multiple conference titles and national prominence, but also has done it in the state of Florida.”
USF announced it would form women’s lacrosse last year and play in the AAC, along with Florida, Vanderbilt, Temple, Old Dominion, Cincinnati and East Carolina. McCord can begin signing student-athletes and have fall practice in 2023, with the Bulls beginning play in the spring of 2024.
While McCord said she will continue to tap the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast for players (34 of the 46 rostered players at the end of the season came from Maryland, New York and New Jersey) McCord said USF starting women’s lacrosse should be a big factor in increasing interest in the sport in the Tampa Bay area at the junior and high school level.
“It can be transformational,” she said. “The athletes are there.”
McCord came to Jacksonville after starting the program at Nease in 2004 and winning district titles in back-to-back seasons. She and her husband Paul co-founded the national travel lacrosse team Lax Maniax Elite, which won the 2007 and 2008 Southeastern Lacrosse championships.
After plucking the program’s first coach from just a few miles away, Ricker-Gilbert said the program McCord built now demands a search for her replacement that will go far beyond the Florida border.
“As Mindy and her family embark on this next journey in their lives, I wish them nothing but the absolute best. I speak for the entire university community when I say that we will miss her dearly,” said Ricker-Gilbert in a statement. “[McCord] is leaving an evergreen legacy at JU and I am forever grateful to her. This will be a coveted job and we are going to get to work immediately to find the next great head women’s lacrosse coach at Jacksonville University.”
McCord’s teams had an offensive identity that rang out from coast-to-coast. Her 2022 team finished as the leading offensive team in the nation for the seventh time, averaging 17.21 goals per game. JU set the national record for scoring twice, in 2012 and 2018.
The Dolphins also performed in the classroom. JU’s lacrosse student-athletes posted the top grade-point averages at the school in the last two years, 3.76 in 2021 and 3.7 this year. The Dolphins finished with the third-highest team GPA in NCAA Division I lacrosse in 2014.
McCord played lacrosse at Lynchburg (Va.) University, after lettering in lacrosse, field hockey and track at Westminster (Md.) High School.
While at JU, she coached more than six dozen all-conference players, 17 conference player of the year, defensive player of the year or freshman of the year award winners and eight ASUN tournament MVPs.
“There are very few coaches who have made an impact on Jacksonville University the way Mindy McCord has. Our lacrosse programs are nationally prominent because of her. She took the dream of an institution wanting to be a destination for lacrosse and made it a reality,” Ricker-Gilbert said in his statement. “Mindy has put our young women first each day for nearly fifteen years. She epitomizes what we look for in a student-centered head coach.”
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: JU women’s lacrosse coach Mindy McCord leaves to start USF program