Ben DeLuca was fired as coach of the nationally ranked Cornell University men’s lacrosse team, two months after the program was suspended over alcohol-related hazing.
DeLuca was informed of the decision today by Athletic Director Andrew Noel, the Ithaca, New York, school said in a statement. Assistant coach Matt Kerwick was named interim coach of the program, which has won 26 Ivy League titles and three National Collegiate Athletic Association championships.
“While Cornell University recognizes the contributions DeLuca has made to our nationally ranked lacrosse program as a player and assistant coach, it is the university’s belief that new leadership is required to best serve our students and to continue our lacrosse program’s decades-long tradition of excellence,” the school said in the statement.
It didn’t give a specific reason for the dismissal.
In three years as coach, DeLuca led Cornell to a 37-11 record and a pair of Ivy League titles. An e-mail sent to DeLuca’s school account seeking comment on his firing wasn’t immediately returned.
Rob Pannell, a Cornell lacrosse captain last season and winner of the 2013 Tewaaraton award as player of the year, said that in three years playing under DeLuca he never felt that the coach lost control of the program.
“He knew what he was doing when it came to lacrosse, when it came to being a coach and when it came to being a friend,” Pannell said in a telephone interview. “When you needed to talk about anything, he was there for you. He was as good a coach as anyone I’ve ever played for.”
Cornell spokesman John Carberry said in September that the lacrosse program, which finished last year ranked No. 3 in the country by InsideLacrosse.com, was suspended for the fall semester due to “coerced alcohol consumption” by underage freshmen.
The suspension began on Sept. 13, and included the team’s fall schedule and exhibition games. Players have been allowed to practice during the ban. Men’s college lacrosse is primarily a spring sport.
Pannell said the team and alumni thought the hazing allegations were behind the program. He said current players he spoke with were “surprised and dumbfounded.”
“They had no idea this was coming and are very upset with the news,” Pannell said.
Kerwick previously served as coach at Jacksonville University and Hobart College. Cornell will conduct a national search for a new coach, according to the statement.
“Whoever they bring in will not have the knowledge that Coach DeLuca had regarding the history of the program and his relationship with alumni,” Pannell said. “Something like this can change a program forever, and I think that’s the case here.”
-- Editors: Larry Siddons, Michael Sillup