The Prodigal Coach

In his twenties, Dave Scarcello has already built impeccable resumes as a lacrosse player and coach.

Dave Scarcello will be a coach for a long time. About this, he has no doubts. And frankly, why should he? At every stop of his playing and coaching career, he has excelled and made a legitimate impact. However, he did not always think that coaching was in the cards as a career choice. Being a great player does not easily translate to coaching, and Scarcello also knew that a successful collegiate coaching career is atypical.

Scarcello graduated from Marist in 2015 with no shortage of accolades on and off the field. The goalie was a two-time team captain, and in his senior year, led the Red Foxes to a MAAC championship. Once in the NCAA Tournament, they captured their first-ever victory in a play-in game against Bryant University. He was named the MAAC Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for his efforts in the team’s run to a title, all the while making the MAAC All-Academic Team twice. As another component to his remarkable senior year, he was named a United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Scholar All-American goalie.

After all of his achievements, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Scarcello would have continued his lacrosse career in some form or another. But that is something much easier said than done. After graduating from Marist, Scarcello attended Concordia University Wisconsin to get his master’s degree in business administration. He also took on an assistant coaching role with the lacrosse team while he was there. His focus then was more on the former than the latter, however.

“When I first got to school for my masters, coaching was not something that I thought about often. I initially went there with the idea that I’m getting my master’s and after that, I’m gonna pursue something in the business field,” said Scarcello. “As I got more and more into coaching, I realized the cyclical changes during the coaching year keep the job super interesting and enjoyable.”

His love for lacrosse meant coaching was a constant interest for Scarcello dating back to his playing career; it just never seemed feasible long-term to him. As his time at Marist went on, he became more connected with multiple coaches.

“I had spent countless hours in the office with Coach (Wilkinson) and got really close with him during my playing time at Marist,” Scarcello said. “Another factor was that my best friend’s older brother was a division three head coach. He asked me to come visit Concordia Wisconsin, and he started fielding the idea of me coming there as a graduate assistant to feel out the profession while pursuing a master’s.”

Scarcello said that when he was recruited to try out coaching at Concordia, his friend’s brother knew that he would gradually get “hooked” on coaching. He was right. Marist lacrosse head coach Keegan Wilkinson also saw potential in his star goalie in the time they spent together.

“Dave being a two-time captain for us put him in a position where he spent extra time with the coaching staff, not always talking about the X’s and O’s of the game but the culture of the program and some of the tough decisions that have to be made when you’re in a leadership position… that was almost a vetting process and it was clear Dave was good at the small details that go into having a successful program,” said Wilkinson. “When you’re an athlete surrounded by your peers, and you can communicate and hold them to a high standard, that’s when you start to see the potential that coaching can be in their future.”

Perhaps Scarcello was a coach for years, and he did not even realize it. He even harkened back to when he was in high school, and his coaches would come to “pick his brain.” There are plenty of great athletes, but not all of them are also great leaders. One sign of a great athlete who is also a great leader is when the skill level directly translates to wins. Marist elevated its already impressive play to a new level behind Scarcello. Not only did he take to coaching, but in turn, coaching took to him. He found immediate success at Concordia. As defensive coordinator, the team finished fourth in total defensive rankings amongst all Division III schools. Scarcello’s next stop saw him going to Division I as the defensive coordinator at Virginia Military Institute. Two of his players ranked second and sixth in caused turnovers per game, respectively. His tenure there would not last when coach Wilkinson gave him the opportunity to join his staff. Scarcello was coming home.

Wilkinson reached out to Scarcello about coaching when he was first at Concordia, but Scarcello had reservations about returning to his alma mater at that point in time.

“I still felt like I was committed to the school I was at for another year,” said Scarcello. “Being in Division III for two years was huge for me to get a voice and speak to athletes… Another huge factor was that I didn’t want to come back to Marist and coach the guys I played with. I thought it might be tough for me to truly learn and fall in love with the profession if I was surrounded by guys who were my teammates only months earlier. But coming back to Marist was a huge piece of it… once both our seasons ended we got the wheels rolling right away.”

Last, and certainly not least, Scarcello credits his success to Wilkinson. Being close to him and seeing how he does his job through the years gave Scarcello a subliminal lesson on what it takes to be a coach. He says they are trying to build the coach and player relationships and instill a better culture with the current roster by spending personal time with each athlete and having difficult discussions about what is most important for the team. This type of culture and relationship is especially important in a time like this.

In 2019, the Red Foxes captured another MAAC title. Since then, COVID-19 has interfered heavily with the last two seasons. The good news is that coach Scarcello’s career is just getting started. He and the rest of Wilkinson’s staff hope to continue where they left off as the team comes off a lengthy pause and tries to salvage the 2021 season.

Edited by Connor Kurpat and Jonathan Kinane

Photo from Marist Athletics

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