wall. He showed up in mid-winter in a convertible bearing a license plate that said “Laxcat 1.” He was peddling jewelry, silver lacrosse pins and buckles he had made himself. Not bad stuff either. He wore red cowboy boots.
That was a dozen years ago. I still think he’s off the wall, but give him credit — he’s an interesting guy and, more importantly, a pioneer in this sport.
Mickey-Miles’s name is synonymous with lacrosse in the Southwest. Admirers there call him “the real thing” and “a true icon.” One, really stretching credulity, says he’s “the John Wooden of lacrosse.”
Mick left the East in 1976 to bring lacrosse to Arizona. He started the club team at the University of Arizona in Tucson and coached it through 2001. Three times he took the team to the national club championship tournament. Eight years ago he retired. Or so we thought.
Now he’s back. At 64, he returned this fall to coach Arizona again after “a recent period of instability in the program’s leadership,” according to a university press release. There have been four different coaches in eight seasons since Felton’s departure.
The natives apparently are ecstatic for his return.
“We’re really excited to get him back,” says the team captain, Alex Beauchamp. “He can bring back some of the tradition.”
Maybe you think I should apologize for saying Mickey is off the wall, but I don’t think so. He says that sort of thing about himself.
“I’m not your typical coach,” he admits. “I don’t want to be. In the early years I was outspoken and kind of a nutty guy. Our team wore uniforms so garish I always said no batteries were needed. But that was all to get attention for Arizona lacrosse. Negative publicity is better than no publicity.”
In the old days Mick would arrive at a convention in the East with the aura of a visitor from a foreign land. Plus, he was from then little-known college club lacrosse. Today there are 213 teams divided into 10 Men’s Collegiate Club Lacrosse Association conferences. Michigan is the 2009 champion.
Looking back, Mick says the best thing he ever did was to go west.
“I remember the moment I knew it was time to go,” he told me recently. “I was working as a commercial real estate broker in New York and I hated it. The pressure. The noise. The pace of the city. My collar was tight.
“One day I was coming up from the subway and I saw this poor guy who was so beaten down he was practically crawling up the stairs. He had to hold on to the rail. I looked at him and said, ‘That’s me in five years if I stay here.’ The day I arrived in Arizona I knew that was the place for me. Who would have thought then that in a few years I’d be in the Olympics?”
Before the opening of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles there was a lacrosse exhibition featuring six teams — U.S., Canada, England, Australia, Native Americans and California All-Stars. Mick coached the California All-Stars. Therefore, technically he may not have been in(italics) the Olympics, but at least he was at(italics) the Olympics.
To have established this sport in a whole new part of the country, Mick must have been a lacrosse big shot, right? Hardly. He played at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut and then went to C.W. Post College on Long Island. He swears the coach there told everybody at the first practice to leave if they couldn’t play righty and lefty. That ended Mick’s playing career.
“Ten years ago,” he says, “Lacrosse Magazine ran a poll to find out who had the hardest job in the sport. They said it was Tony Seaman coaching at Johns Hopkins. That was laughable.
“A guy in that job has 20 people helping him. We were a one- or a two-man operation at Arizona. Our budget was $175,000. The university gave us $4,500. Each kid had to pay $2,600. We had to raise the rest through auctions or whatever. And we were going to the national championships.”
Mick wonders why he’s not in the National Hall of Fame, and maybe he thinks another tour coaching Arizona will do the trick. In retirement he could see the players were not having fun.
“If your sole goal is winning,” he says, “the players can’t relax and enjoy playing a game they love. They should pay more attention to growth and relationships. They need to have fun.”
I’m with him on the fun part. I wish more of today’s coaches believed a little fun is a good thing. As sure as there is cactus in Arizona, Mick’s players are going to have fun.