By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 2/6/12
Haldy Gifford’s varied and lengthy coaching career has come full circle.
The former assistant at Penn Charter, Downingtown East and Upper Dublin has been named head boys’ lacrosse coach at Wissahickon after a flip-flop of coaching duties.
Anthony Gabriele, the Trojans head coach from 2000-2001 and 2007-11, had voluntarily moved to an assistant’s role. Gabriele (see story) guided the Trojans to a a share of the Suburban One American Conference title in 2010.
For Gifford, the job is ideal since he lives within walking distance of Wissahickon and was a fixture for youth lacrosse in the area. He helped found WissLax in the 1990s and also helped found nearby Crooked Crosse a few years earlier.
Gifford, known for his knowledge and skills as an offensive coordinator, has coached at many levels. He was a highly-successful coach of the Philadelphia U15 team that dominated at the national level in the early-to-mid-2000s. He also was an assistant at Penn Charter for seven years at the same time.
Gifford was brought out of “retirement” by Tom Slate when the program at Downingtown East was launched following the split of Downingtown schools. Gifford served as the offensive coordinator on the Cougars’ team that won a state title in 2007.
Three years ago Gifford was again brought out of retirement and served as an assistant at Upper Dublin. He helped the Cards win the Suburban One American Conference title and then the following year he moved to Wissahickon.
“We won a share of the league title my first year and last year we were decimated by graduation and then injuries,” said Gifford. “But we definitely installed the basics as far as where we wanted to be on fundamentals.”
Gifford answered these questions:
What is your coaching philosophy?
Gifford: “Basically it can be summed up in two words: ‘Joe Ehrman.’ It has always been that way for me. He codified it pretty succinctly in ‘A Season for Life’ and then added on in ‘Coaching from the Inside Out.’ If you are a coach, parent or player you should read the books.
“Every year I do two things before the season starts, one ridiculous, that I stole from Buff Weigand a very successful 4-foot-something basketball coach at Penn Charter. I read the children’s nursery story ‘The little Red Hen.’ It takes some courage to read that to some 18-year-olds. The second is a blanket statement to the boys and their parents: ‘My job this year is to earn your respect…your boys’ job is to earn mine.’
What are your expectations for the season?
Gifford: “I’m not trying to be smart here; my expectations are that the statement above will come true. It’s that simple.”
What are your team’s strengths and weaknesses?
Gifford: “We will be long on stick skills, fundamentals, and intelligence. We will be short on physicality. The team is very young. Culturally, we are behind the curve of most of the successful programs. Incrementally, we will shorten that gap, but things like that don’t happen overnight.
“Our kids have a very sophisticated set of offensive looks. And we try to migrate from one look to another to trigger different defensive responses and then work off the opportunities that are presented. We couple that with a simplistic defense that minimizes decisions. We definitely are a ball possession team. Up and down is not where we want to be. Fast break opportunities are more inclined to come from turnovers generated by our rides rather than end to end.”
Anything else you want to add?
Gifford: “I love lacrosse. No seriously I LOVE it. I came through the ranks as a football guy, played in college and the D-back coach was the Head Lacrosse Coach. Chet McFee (Trinity College, CT). He convinced me to try it. I absolutely stunk, but having called defensive signals for four years and hours of film work, I loved the freedom of lacrosse. The individual and then group creativity intrigued me.
“Today’s game is much more sophisticated, but the fundamentals are the same. I like the idea that there is room for the little guy who can offset his lack of athletic skills or size with slick stickwork. Also, pure athletes can pick up a stick and can start contributing in various roles almost immediately.
“You can’t teach blinding speed or big quickness. Discipline and intelligence can be taught. Courage is rewarded and being in top physical shape can offset being physically overmatched if a coach can manage his matchups and time on the field well. I like all the subsets like face-offs, rides, clears, goalie play, each having its own nuance. Ask any lacrosse coach the same question either as an assistant with a specialty or a coordinator with a philosophy and they will say the same thing. They Love it. My wife, Patty has a little paddle that she holds up at the dinner table when things get out of control lacrosse wise. It is hand painted and it says, ‘No Lax Chat.’”