Photo by John Strohsacker

Meet Mike Pressler: Atlas’ new head coach and the guy who ‘just gets it’

By Lauren Merola

May 2, 2023

He was organized.

 That’s what stuck out to Atlas defenseman Tucker Durkin while interviewing Mike Pressler during the search for Atlas’ new head coach. As one of the winningest coaches in NCAA lacrosse history, Pressler’s record speaks for itself. But his preparedness is what jumped off the page.

 “In his pitch to us, he laid out his coaching style, the type of culture he wants to foster, his background and he talked about the schedule he’d have if he got the job, saying ‘I’m going to call X number of guys in the first two weeks and X amount the week after. We’ll then do a Zoom here and a call with the captains there,’” Durkin said. “He seemed very dialed in.”

 As an Atlas captain, Durkin was involved in the search for the club’s new leader alongside his co-captains, Trevor Baptiste, Eric Law and Jake Richard. In the Premier Lacrosse League, a team’s leadership group is updated on the hiring process of a coach every step of the way, Rachael DeCecco, the vice president of lacrosse, said. The captains started reviewing prospects when the candidate pool was narrowed down to a handful and they then met virtually with the final few contenders.

 “I could feel coach Pressler’s presence through the Zoom,” Baptiste said. “I’m like this guy, this guy’s got it. He just gets it. It’s not quantifiable or even understandable but he’s got presence. That’s what you need out of a coach.”

 Pressler was named the head coach and general manager of Atlas on March 2, nearly five months after former coach Ben Rubeor stepped down. Pressler spent 16 years as the head coach of Bryant, taking the Bulldogs to six NCAA tournaments and finishing with a 153-103 (.598) record before retiring from college lacrosse after the 2022 season. He also coached 16 seasons at Duke.

 In 37 seasons as an NCAA head coach, Pressler won 382 games, ranking eighth on the all-time wins list. He has two gold medals as the head coach of the 2010 U.S. men’s national team that won gold at the ILF World Championships and as an assistant on the U.S. team that won gold in 2002.

Pressler now resides full-time in Texas, where he’s the head coach of the varsity lacrosse team at Highland Park High School.

 “He’s a winner,” Durkin said. “He’s been successful at every single level. This is the last level that he hasn’t coached. The guy knows how to win. That is undeniable.”

 The drive to win comes from Pressler’s competitive spirit, which he finds unmatched. There aren’t many rules Pressler has a leader, but there are non-negotiables. He expects Atlas to be the most aggressive and physical team on the field every weekend because while he can stomach losing, Pressler said he “cannot handle being outfought,” which Baptiste admitted Atlas has been at times in the past.

 “That’s a staple here for Atlas moving forward starting Day 1 of training camp,” Pressler said.

 Pressler will use his transparent and no-frills coaching approach to try and eradicate Atlas’ postseason slump. After finishing 6-4 in 2022, the fourth-seeded Atlas lost to the fifth-seeded Waterdogs, 19-14, in the first round of the playoffs. Atlas has never made it past the second round of the PLL postseason. To do that, Pressler said the Bulls will accentuate the transition game, stretch the field all 100 yards and, unsurprisingly, get gritty.

 “You can feel his competitiveness and toughness he leads with,” Durkin said. “That’s an area he takes a great deal of pride in. He wants us to play tough and be tough to play against and have that be part of Atlas’ DNA.”

 Atlas’ lack of a championship isn’t for a lack of star power or cohesiveness. Attackman Jeff Teat tied for the third-most points in the league last season while he and fellow attackman Chris Gray each posted a team-high 16 assists. Teat, Gray and Law were also three of the top seven leaders in assisted goals last season.

 In 2023, Atlas will still maintain the mindset of “everybody eats.” But with Pressler at the helm, they’ll be the first to the buffet.

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