Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Pilat will have Roanoke College ready to play, as always

He leans forward in his office chair and lets his New Jersey accent run free.

"In the bee hive, you've got the queen bee, and then you've got the drone bees," he says. "They're the worker bees. They don't ask questions. They don't say, 'Why am I doing that? Why do I gotta get the honey?' They just do it. I say, all you guys, all my players, you're the drones. I tell you what to do, and you do it, and the hive runs nice and smooth, no problems."

Bill Pilat calls this a "difference." He has hundreds of them -- nuggets, tenets, parables that he shares at the midway point of every two-hour men's lacrosse practice at Roanoke College. Some are technical, others philosophical, but they are all written down.

They must be written down. Because the secret to one of the most successful lacrosse coaches in Division III history is found in the details.

For 23 years, including 22 as the Maroons' head man, Pilat has crafted a meticulous practice schedule every day. If he wants to know what he told his players three days before they lost in the Division III national title game in 1992, he has it. Every report -- beginning with the 3:15 p.m. practice on Jan. 31, 1989, and going through Tuesday, the eve of their 2010 NCAA tournament opener -- is preserved in binders in his Bast Center office.

"We don't allow cursing or saying, 'My bad,'" Pilat says, explaining the "My Bad Difference" found in the binders. "If somebody curses -- coaches included -- they've got to do 25 push-ups. And 'my bad.' I hate 'my bad.' Because if I throw you a pass, and it's a terrible pass, and it goes over your head, everybody knows it was a crappy pass. And everybody knows Pilat threw it. So if I say, 'Oh, my bad,' then everything's cool? No, it's not cool. I screwed up! That's not cool!"

Pilat is 46 years old, and he looks like he could still be playing. He works out nearly every day. He's never smoked, doesn't drink coffee and even gave up soda six years ago.

The game ball from his 200th career victory rests, unmarked, in a jar of pennies. Only 12 other men in Division III had reached that milestone before he did it last year, yet the ball just sits there, an afterthought.

You won't hear Pilat talk much about winning. But the preparation for winning? Yes. He'd be happy to discuss that. And his theories, like the No Squeaky Piece Difference that he uses to explain lineup changes? Even better.

"You have your car and it's running fine, and all of a sudden it's making noises -- dink, dink, dink -- what the hell's going on?" Pilat says. "So you go to the mechanic, he goes, no problem, it's one piece, we gotta get it out. He takes the one little piece out, puts the new one in -- hummin' right along."

A bulletin board hangs to the right of his computer desk, the same board that's been there for two decades. On it, each player's name is listed on a small card and tacked up on a depth chart. Class is color-coded -- red tacks are for seniors, yellow for juniors, white for sophomores, clear for freshmen.

There are 14 red tacks up there now. And that's why tonight, when the fifth-ranked Maroons host Wittenberg in the first round of the NCAAs, they feel good about their chances of making a run.

Pilat's teams have made runs before. In addition to the 1992 national runner-up squad, the Maroons made the final four in 2005 and 2006. When they lost 13-12 in overtime to Salisbury in the NCAA semifinals in '06 -- the most painful loss of his career -- Pilat ripped off all his clothes in the locker room, save for a cherished cap a former player had given him, and threw them in the trash can.

That's when the difference known simply as "Schleprock," named after the hapless Flintstones character, might have come in handy.

"Guys are going to make mistakes," Pilat says. "Guys are going to throw bad passes. Guys are going to miss a check, miss a slide, miss a ground ball. It's how you respond afterwards. No Schleprock. No putting your head down. No banging your stick on the ground. You need to pick your head up and go hard to get the ball back."

The walls of Pilat's office are lined with pictures of former All-Americans he's coached. When recruits come in, he not only tells them about the player, but also about the person ( "He's in the Air Force, he's a chef, he's a lawyer, he's a physician's assistant, he's a bonds trader in Europe...")

He's proud of the relationships he's formed, nurtured and maintained. And when those 14 red tacks come off the board, whether it happens tonight or after a victory the national title game, the bond will not break.

They are his drones, sure, but they are also his family.

"Maybe this is the year we could do it; I don't know," he says. "But even if we don't, we're going to be prepared. We're going to be ready."

Don't doubt that for a second.

Read Aaron McFarling's Daily Sports Briefing on the Press Box blog weekday mornings at

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