Bill Daye has worn many different hats throughout his lacrosse career; as a National Championship winning goalie for the University of North Carolina, as a Major League Lacrosse Player and assistant coach, and as the 2011 coach of the year for the MLL Champion Boston Cannons. Bill is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet and is a great ambassador for the sport of lacrosse. Recently Bill took some time to catch up with me and answer some questions for Capital District Lacrosse.
Let’s look back at your college career as goalie at UNC. You came out of Harborfields High School, what made North Carolina the place you wanted to play?
BD: Back in those days there were a few schools that were dominant in the sport, North Carolina was one of them. I had always been a Tar Heel fan since my parents are both from North Carolina so the idea of wearing Carolina Blue and competing at the highest level in our sport was a dream come true for me.
I remember you suffering an injury to your neck (vertebrae) at UNC. How did that end up happening and how were you able to come back from that?
BD: Probably one of the most difficult times in my life to get through that season in my senior year. We were undefeated and hosting Hopkins down in Chapel Hill. In the first quarter Hopkins had a fast break, made a few passes, got a good look and I saved a shot from the RH attackman and the ball hit off my leg and ricocheted to the left. Being an aggressive goalie I went after the loose ball and while I was trying to bend down and pick it up, Terry Riordan and I collided in an awkward position and the next thing you know I was laying on the field and couldn’t move. Little did I know then (or in the second half when I went back in) was that I had a fractured c-6 vertebrae and was very fortunate that I didn’t have complete long term paralysis. After watching the rest of the season from the bench and the heartbreaking loss to Syracuse in the NCAA Finals that year I was cleared to play that summer and went on to win the Vail Championship with MAB Paints and the inaugural East End Cup Championship with MR Ducks.
You went on to play in three Final Fours during your collegiate career. What would you say was the toughest game you played in and came out on the losing end?
BD We made the Final Four all four years I was a member of the team which was awesome and truly a testament to how dominant of a program we were in the late 80’s, early 90’s. The toughest game I will always remember was the 1992 semifinal loss to Princeton at Penn Field in Philadelphia 16-14. I’ll never forget it because as we were coming off the bus and headed into the locker room, Syracuse was walking onto their bus and talking trash about playing us again and beating us again (loss up in the dome early in the season), right there as I think back on it that is what really threw us off. Instead of being focused on playing a very good Princeton team, we had Syracuse on our minds and a match up on Monday vs. them. This combined with our FOGO getting sick due to the heat and dehydration, we did not play as well as we were capable of and personally I felt I didn’t play up to my potential either. It was a great learning experience for me personally as well as for the team which really got us focused for the 1993 season.
Your 1991 team captured the National Championship as a perfect 16-0 after winning the ACC tourney having to beat Loyola, Syracuse & Towson. What do you remember most about that run and the defining moments of that championship?
BD: It was a phenomenal team and we all bought into playing for each other and staying in the moment. We were a very confident group and had great leadership from our senior class (Dennis Goldstein, Graham Harden, Mike Thomas, Craig Hasslinger, Andy Piazza, Brooks Matthews, Robert Azeke). The biggest moment I remember was getting the opportunity to play in the championship game after our starting goalie Andy Piazza was called for an illegal hit. The score was 3-2 and Towson had scored the last goal and had a little momentum. I came in on the EMO opportunity for Towson, made 2 saves and through an on point outlet to Craig Hasslinger and we went down and scored man down to make it 4-2. From there we went on a run to close out the 1st half up 9-5.
You coached as an assistant at UNC 94 , Hopkins 95 & Boston College 98-99 what was the biggest adjustment you had to make as a former player in your new coaching roles? Back then was head coaching something you wanted to pursue at NCAA level?
BD: The biggest adjustment for me was learning how to coach players and not expect them to know what I knew if that makes sense. Having played at the highest level, I assumed a lot and took things for granted and that was a learning experience for me when I first started off coaching. I was young and wasn’t sure in what direction I wanted to go in back then but I definitely enjoyed my time coaching and learned from a lot of great mentors (Dave Klarmann, Joe Breschi, Tony Seaman, Dave Pietramala, Joe Cowan, Ed Moy).
You played Goalie for the Boston Cannons in the inaugural year for the MLL in 2001, what was that experience like and how much different is the league now then it was then?
BD: It was great being a pioneer for professional lacrosse. Getting paid to go play the sport you love was a dream come true. Prior to that we were playing in the USCLA (United States Club Association) and that was the who’s who of lacrosse competing just for fun and a chance to call yourselves the USCLA Champions. Now it was pretty much the same crew of players playing professional together. Back then the league was definitely more offense orientated, there was little if any team defense being played. No one’s fault but in reality with travel limitations and very little practice time it was what it was. The game was a little bit more violent back then as well as they let a lot go officiating.
The following year in 2002 you suffered another neck injury against the Rochester Rattlers early in the season that ended up eventually leading to your retirement from playing. What happened that led to the injury and how did it shape the rest of your MLL career as a coach?
BD: It was very similar to the incident at North Carolina where I came out of the goal but the player jumped up and landed on top of me basically and it shut my spinal cord down, which I later found out is normal as it went into protective mode to prevent the sort of fracture like had occurred back at UNC. It was definitely scary (again) and I just had gotten married that April so my wife was very concerned seeing her husband lay on the field without moving for a few minutes. Fortunately there was nothing serious as before but it was enough for me to make up my mind to give up the game at that time. I wouldn’t say I was focused on coaching at that point as I was still upset, depressed, bummed that my pro career had come to an abrupt end.
In 2005 you became an assistant coach for the Boston Cannons & then took over as Head coach the following year in 2006. Coaching until 2011 when you led the Cannons to the Steinfeld Trophy and Coach of the Year honors, what was it like winning that championship for a team you had been with for 11 years as both player and coach?
BD: In 2004 I made a decision to try and come back to play for the Cannons. During my last week of training before camp opened, I tore my Achilles tendon. This was a sign in my mind that I was meant to move onto the next phase of my career and the next season Scott Hiller asked if I wanted to join the staff and be an assistant coach. From there it took a few years to understand how to coach the top players in the game and build a culture that you wanted your players to understand and buy into. In 2011 after a couple of years of not breaking through although being the best team in the regular season, we finally captured the Championship and brought it back to Boston. The feeling still to this day is indescribable, it was a huge weight off the shoulders of everyone involved from ownership, internal staff, our players and our great fan base to bring this Steinfeld cup back to Boston- one of the original 6 teams of the MLL. Having been involved with one franchise for my entire professional career was something I am very proud of as it truly made that moment when the last second ticked off the clock and it was done truly one of the most memorable parts of my lacrosse career.
You were thinking of getting out that last year to spend more time with your family how hard was it walking away after just winning a title?
BD: It was difficult for sure, the competitor in me wanted to come back and give it another go with basically the same team we had from 2011. However, a new job with Nike, seeing my kids (who were 5 & 2 at the time) very rarely during the summers was really the driving force behind the decision. Being able to spend these past six summers with the family and sharing those experiences has been invaluable. Life is short and time flies by very quickly, I wouldn’t trade those summers for anything as it truly has been amazing watching them grow and do things that I am able to be there to witness and enjoy.
Last year UNC recognized your 1991 National Championship team during Final Four and Carolina ends up winning the title as unranked team. Tell us about being there and being able to experience that with all your former teammates.
BD: Probably one of the top 4-5 moments in my life to be perfectly honest (outside of getting married, and my two children being born) as it was an unbelievable weekend. Not only were we getting the team from 25 years ago back together but the mens’ team was in the Final Four for the first time since 1993. Just that in itself was awesome, that we were going to be able to tailgate as alums with each other and everyone else who has worn a Carolina jersey. Then you throw in the fact that the women are there, both teams advance to the finals and then both teams win!!!! Holy smokes, can you write a better ending to a story?? The best part was being honored at half time on the field with my teammates and then going over to form a Carolina Blue tunnel for the 2016 team to run back onto the field through. You talk about emotions!?!?!! That was an unbelievable lacrosse game and the fact that they were able to pull it off was just a perfect ending to a perfect weekend.
You are now working for Nike Lacrosse, tell us about what you’re doing for them.
BD: I am the lacrosse specialty sales director for Nike and am involved in all facets of the business. Working for a global sports brand such as Nike has been dream come true, having them be so involved in the sport I grew up playing and love has made it surreal. I remember my first pair of Nike’s as a kid, I was so pumped that my mom had bought them for me. That emotional connection to the brand from such a young age and to know be involved in the lacrosse business for the company is full circle in my opinion and I’m excited to continue driving innovation and making lacrosse players perform better when they take the field.
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Follow Bill Daye on Twitter at: LaxSchool