Andy Copelan steps down, what’s next for the Waterdogs

By Wyatt Miller | Mar 15, 2024

In a move that caught many fans by surprise, Andy Copelan resigned as the Philadelphia Waterdogs’ head coach after four seasons. The 2021 Dick Edell Coach of the Year led the Waterdogs to back-to-back Cash App Championships, including the club’s first-ever title in 2022. His team had just finished second at the 2024 Championship Series.

Copelan said in a statement: “The Championship Series final was disheartening to me, but the outcome of that game has zero to do with this decision.”

I caught up with Copelan after the news broke.

“It was kind of in the aftermath of the whole Champ Series thing,” Copelan told me. “The approach the Cannons took…has not sat well with me whatsoever.”

The approach to which he is referring to was the physicality, highlighting two big hits in the first quarter of the Championship Series final on Michael Sowers and Jack Traynor. Sowers was ruled out of the game after a hit from Josh Stout in the first quarter. The hit was reviewed by head referee Matt Palumb and it was ruled that there was no helmet-to-helmet contact or intent to injure. Later in the period, Pat Aslanian of the Boston Cannons received a two-minute, full-time served penalty for a late hit on Jack Traynor. Unlike Sowers, Traynor remained in the game.

As part of its weekly review of on-field violations, the Disciplinary and Conduct Committee, chaired by VP of Lacrosse Rachael DeCecco, met to determine whether further discipline was necessary. Members of the committee include DeCecco, PLL front office members, and external participants. "The Disciplinary and Conduct Committee determined that both plays from the first quarter required further discipline," said DeCecco. "Both Josh Stout and Pat Aslanian were issued fines following the Championship Series final."

“There’s a lot at play, but I felt like if I was in a position to play the Cannons again, then what?” Copelan said. “Am I going to get a couple goons to try and do the eye-for-an-eye thing? I don’t want my name attached to that at all.”

This isn’t to say the Waterdogs haven’t contributed to overt physicality in a Championship Game before. In the 2022 Final, Chris Sabia laid a big hit on Josh Byrne with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Similar to Stout’s hit on Sowers, it wasn’t ruled a penalty on the field, and Byrne had to come off the field. Chase Fraser was later penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for retaliating on the Sabia hit. 

Copelan said that the PLL continues to take active steps to improve player safety, involving the coaches and players in feedback surveys at the end of each season. On March 1st, the league announced rule updates for the 2024 season, including an expanded definition of a defenseless player.

By the new rulebook, a defenseless player is defined as: (1) any player immediately following the reception of a pass who has not had time to establish possession or (2) any player who has just released a shot. Forcibly hitting a player who meets that criteria in the head or neck area is prohibited. According to the rulebook, excessive force is defined as: (a) leaving both feet prior to contact, (b) using any part of the helmet or crosse to initiate forcible contact, or (c) taking more than three strides to accelerate through a body check for the purpose of punishing an opponent.

Copelan has transitioned into an interim general manager position while he helps the league identify the Waterdogs’ next head coach. He wants to help with the hiring process “because I obviously love (the players) all to death,” Copelan said.

Since moving into an interim general manager role, Copelan has signed All-Star free agent SSDM Jake Richard.

As a father of three, Copelan said he’ll enjoy spending summer weekends with his family for the first time in four years. “I’m pro PLL,” Copelan added. “I want this thing to succeed.”

Last week, Terry Foy of Inside Lacrosse reported that seven candidates have emerged for the role: Steven Brooks, Spencer Ford, Anthony Kelly, Brodie Merrill, Tony Resch, Joe Spallina, and Bill Tierney.

Brooks is currently an assistant coach for the New York Atlas. As a player, he won a pair of MLL Championships with the Chesapeake Bayhawks (‘12, ‘13) during his playing career. Brooks served as the Atlas LC interim head coach for the 2023 Championship Series.

Ford holds the single-season record for assists. After his playing career, he went on to serve as an executive and coach for the Atlanta Blaze and Philadelphia Barrage.

Kelly had a 12-year MLL career and ranks second all-time in career faceoff wins (1,820).

Merrill recently announced his retirement in September 2023 after a legendary playing career. The PLL’s Long-Stick Midfielder of the Year Award is named in his honor. Merrill served as an assistant coach for the Boston Cannons in the 2024 Championship Series, leading them to a title over the Waterdogs.

Resch is currently an assistant coach for the Utah Archers and widely regarded as one of the greatest defensive minds in lacrosse. As a head coach, he led the Philadelphia Barrage to a pair of MLL Championships in the 2005 and 2007.

Spallina led the New York Lizards to the 2015 MLL Championship title, and currently serves as the head coach of the Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team.

Tierney won an NCAA-record seven National Championships as a head coach at Princeton (‘92, ‘94, ‘96, ‘97, ‘98, ‘01) and Denver (‘15).

Foy reported that a decision on the next head coach would ideally be made “by the end of the month.”

PLL and Philadelphia Waterdogs fans will be on lookout for that announcement from the League’s VP of Lacrosse, Rachael DeCecco.