Big Mac: The Players' Coach

Mac Diange

Mac Diange

June 10, 2014

by Tracy Nelson, Army Assistant Director of Athletic Communications

WEST POINT, N.Y. - When head coach Joe Alberici and the 2014-15 edition of Army lacrosse takes the field for fall ball, for the first time in a quarter century, it will do so without Mac Diange. The Black Knights' long-time assistant coach stepped down following the 2013-14 campaign, but didn't go far, taking over as an Assistant Athletic Director and head lacrosse coach at the United States Military Academy Prep School (USMAPS). Located just inside West Point's Washington Gate, Diange's commute is now five minutes shorter, but his impact will continue to be felt up the hill at Michie Stadium as it always has over the last 25 years.

The longest-tenured assistant coach in Army Athletics' tradition-rich history, Diange spent the weeks following the team's heartbreaking season-ending loss to eventual NCAA Tournament runner-up Notre Dame reflecting, basking in a 25-year career that saw him attain his dream of coaching Division I lacrosse. While Diange and the entire program would liked to have seen the 2014 season prolonged with a victory, it does seem fitting that the veteran assistant coach saw his offense put up the most goals on a Notre Dame team since 2004 before succumbing in an 18-17 setback on May 3 in South Bend, Ind.

Seventeen goals in any game today is a feat not to be diminished. But what's more impressive are the other numbers Diange has helped Army achieve over what has been a brilliant career. Ten All-Americans. All nine of Army's Patriot League titles. Six NCAA Tournament berths. Countless U.S. Army officers.

"There have been so memorable games and even more tremendous players over the years, it's hard to put into words what my time at Army has meant to me and my family," Diange said, misty-eyed and in his unmistakable Long Island drawl. "It's indescribable really."

Anthony Diange grew up in Massapequa Park, N.Y., the son of Physical Education teachers and coaching parents - his dad, Joe, a football coach and mom, Marian, basketball coach. Anthony became "Mac" at a young age, a nod to his mother's maiden name, MacAdams, and has been widely known as Mac ever since.

Diange led Farmingdale High School to the 1971 state football championship, while starring on the lacrosse field and helping the now powerhouse Dalers to their first league title in 1972. He picked up his first stick, of the wooden variety, in the ninth grade and never looked back. Diange went on to become a standout midfielder at SUNY Cortland, which won the 1975 Division II national title during his time with the Red Dragons.

Diange got into coaching following graduation with his first stop being a high school gig on the Seneca Nation of Indians Reservation in tiny Salamanca, N.Y. He later moved up the ranks as a collegiate assistant and eventually landed his first head coaching stint at SUNY Geneseo, where he spent nine seasons.

"I knew I wanted to coach at the Division I level," Diange said after attending the 1984 NCAA Tournament Division I first round game between Army and Syracuse in the storied Carrier Dome. "When (then head coach) Jack Emmer called me about joining his staff in 1990, it was honestly a dream come true. I was honored that an institution with the respect and tradition that Army exudes would want me playing a role in shaping our nation's best and brightest."

Networking is everything when job-seeking, and, for Diange, it was a relationship with the legendary Army coach cultivated during several years of working summer camps that proved to be his ticket to Division I. When Emmer, who later retired as the winningest coach in NCAA lacrosse history and a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, had an opening at Army, his search led him to Diange and the rest is history.

"Mac always exhibited great enthusiasm for what he was doing," Emmer recalled. "He loved being around young people and brought such a positive energy with him. More than anything else, Mac was dedicated and the absolute model of consistency."

Emmer retired from coaching following the 2005 season, leaving the door open for a then up-and-comer Alberici to take the reins. Far from strangers, Alberici and Diange had both served as assistant coaches under Emmer for the 1995-96 season. During that time, Diange took a young Alberici under his wing and taught him so much more than coaching.

"As a young coach with a lot to learn about lacrosse and life in general, Mac took me under his wing during that year," Alberici said. "I will be forever indebted to him for guiding me and serving as a tremendous mentor. He and his wife, Janice, welcomed me into their family's home for dinners and celebrations with their kids. Mac was an incredible example of how to treat your family. I took so much away from those experiences and will be forever grateful for them."

Diange and his wife, Janice, were high school sweethearts, who went on their first date to the Farmingdale Junior Prom, and later married in 1978. The couple has three grown children - Kelly-Lynn, Allison and Joe - and two grandchildren - Tyler and Hanna. Typically with the entire family in tow, Janice rarely misses an Army lacrosse game, trekking all over the Northeast to support the Diange's second family - the Black Knights.

"Coaching has bonded my family together," Diange said. "They have always been very involved, traveling all over the place for games. Spending Saturdays with their Army lacrosse family has meant more to Janice, my mom, my children and grandkids than can be expressed. They'll be Army fans for life."

Diange recruited and mentored some of the greatest players to ever put on an Army lacrosse uniform, a group that includes eight of Army's top 11 all-time leading scorers, two first team All-American attackmen and Tewaaraton Award finalists in John Walker '06 and Jeremy Boltus '11, along with the program's points leader Tim Pearson '02. What makes Diange so special, however, is his innate ability to treat a 200-point scorer the exact same way as a 20-point scorer. It doesn't matter, because Diange is the epitome of the players' coach.

"Mac is the ultimate players' coach, always having his pulse on the team," reflected Walker, who spent many early mornings hunting and fishing with Diange and is now the top assistant coach at Princeton. "He was the guy who would put you at ease and made it a point to relate to his players. He guided so many guys, myself included, through the difficult transition from life in high school to the rigors of the Academy. He was, and I'm sure still is, helping guys get through the hard times. To me, that's the mark of a great coach."

Both Emmer and Alberici echo Walker's thoughts, appreciating Diange's perspective and positive approach that provided a healthy balance to two of the most intense and passionate coaches in the business - themselves.

"His approach was one that kept the kids loose and allowed them to enjoy themselves and the game that we all love," Emmer said. "He kept everything in perspective and the players and coaches responded."

"Mac is the believer, the calming influence in the room," Alberici shared. "In a coaching world that has become more and more intense over the years, he has not changed one bit. I applaud him for that. He believes in every single player he has coached and their ability to succeed, no matter what the circumstance."

Now Diange takes that same approach just up the road to USMAPS, where he'll mentor and feed the promising talent of Army lacrosse's future at the tipping point of their military and collegiate athletics careers. For many past and present, however, Diange's presence as a fixture on the Michie Stadium sidelines for 25 years will be greatly missed.

"He's the glue; the timeless figure of Army lacrosse," Walker said. "His impact transcends any time period and will continue to do so."

Alberici, entering his 10th season, added, "I cannot thank Mac enough for his friendship, guidance and all he has done for this program and for me personally. He will certainly be sorely missed, but will continue to make a great and lasting impact on our program moving forward."

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