SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — For as synonymous as Gary Gait has become with Syracuse lacrosse, it is hard to believe at one time he had never heard of the Salt City.
Though, growing up in British Columbia, Canada, there was not much of a reason for Gary, nor his twin brother Paul, to ever dream of suiting up for the Orange. In fact, if it was not for one fateful tryout more than 35 years ago, Gary Gait’s imprint on the program is never made.
“I got lucky. When I was in high school, I was afforded the opportunity to tryout for the Canadian National Men’s Lacrosse Team. I, unfortunately, didn’t make it, but the coach of the national team was friends with Coach (Roy) Simmons, Jr,” Gait said in a sit-down interview with NewsChannel 9. “He made a call down here and said ‘I have just seen (myself and my brother) two kids tryout that are still in high school, I think you should take a look at them. So, they reached out, and that was the first time I had ever heard of Syracuse.”
And the rest is history…
If only it were so easy to yada-yada through the four-time all-American’s hall-of-fame career that captured three national championships as a player, four more as a coach, his numerous awards as a professional, and his 209 wins as the leader of the Syracuse women’s program.
But as Gait becomes the first lacrosse player to have his jersey head into the rafters Sunday, he does so not just as the greatest player of all time, but now as the leader of the program he helped put on the map. Gait became just the fifth coach in program history. Five coaches in 107 years! The level of consistency is mind-boggling.
And consistency is what Gait brings. Not to mention flare. And confidence.
Gary will be the first to tell you, coaching was not his dream. Of course, he had the odd coaching job as a teen, helping other kids when he was in high school, but when that was done, it was out of his head. His focus was always on being a player.
And being a player is something Gary excelled at into his 40s. It was not until he was working for a lacrosse company in Baltimore that a co-worker first broached the topic of him patrolling the sidelines as a coach. His co-worker, who played for the Maryland women’s team, mentioned they were looking for an assistant, and Gary took them up on it.
“My daughter was just born, and I thought I’d like to know more about women’s lacrosse,” said Gait.
That is when he joined Cindy Timchal’s staff. The Terrapins had remarkable success, winning national championship after national championship. Gait then returned to his alma mater to lead the Orange women. 209 wins later and three appearances in the NCAA final, the retirement of John Desko opened the head coaching position for the men. It was another job interview that just came naturally for Gary. Just like everything else has in the sport of lacrosse.
“It wasn’t anything dramatic. John (Wildhack) invited me over to his house, (asked) if I had time to meet, and I said sure. We just spent a bunch of time together over the women’s championship weekend, he asked me to come over (to the men’s team), and I said sure. And that was it. It wasn’t overly complicated,” Gait said.
Gait’s final game as the women’s head coach came in a loss for the national championship. It is the only time in his career that a team or program he has been with failed to win the big prize during his tenure. And while the women became a perennial top-five program under Gait, the standards for men are not the same.
When the Gait Brothers were busy leading the program to three straight national titles, there were 20,000 fans inside the dome cheering them on. Crowds that big are rare for the Orange these days, and the program has not won a title since 2009, the longest drought in its history.
Syracuse was able to open the season with a 23-goal win over Holy Cross; the largest win in dome history, but there is no guarantee that this season ends like the last three of Gary Gait the player. The ACC is arguably the toughest conference in the sport, and SU’s schedule is maybe the most difficult in the country. Sunday, SU hosts the number one team in the country, the Maryland Terrapins. Which is just how Gary likes it.
“As fun as the opening game was, I would not want my team playing four-or-five of those games. I want competition. I want kids to be tested. If you are going to have opportunities to win national championships, you really have to play the best.”
The best is what Gary has been referred to his whole career. It was the Gaits that took the program to new heights, and one day Gary hopes his brother Paul’s jersey joins his in the rafters. And while he realizes they did not accomplish all the wins on their own, this moment is not lost on him.
Well, as long the number one team does not spoil the fun. Losing big games is not something No. 22 did much his first go around with the men’s team.
ALSO GETTING HONORED SUNDAY
Gait will be joined by Syracuse women’s lacrosse legend Katie Rowan, who is getting her jersey retired when the women host Stony Brook Sunday, and Roy Simmons, Jr., who is going into the Ring of Honor. Simmons won six national championships as the head coach of the men’s program, and Rowan is the women’s all-time leading scorer.
The men start the doubleheader at noon vs. Maryland, with the SU WLax game vs. Stony Brook to follow at 4 p.m.