Tuesday morning in the Media Room in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke athletic director Joe Alleva and interim head men’s lacrosse coach Kevin Cassese met with members of the media.
Duke Athletics Director Joe Alleva
“As you are aware, yesterday we began a new era in Duke men’s lacrosse with the reinstatement of the program, and Kevin Cassese has been asked to serve as the interim head coach. Before I talk a little more about Kevin, I want to say a few words about coach Mike Pressler.
“I have had the pleasure to know Mike for 16 years. He has been my friend. He’s a great family man. He took over a lacrosse program here at Duke that wasn’t very good and made it into a national contender. He’s an excellent lacrosse coach and a man of fine character. At the time of his resignation, we all agreed that a change in the leadership of the program was in the best interest for everyone involved. I want to wish Mike the best as he goes on in his career. I wish his family well and thank him for the years of service that he gave to Duke University.
“Now, as we move forward with this program, as I stated yesterday, I believe that Kevin Cassese is the right face for Duke University lacrosse at this point in time to be our interim coach to take us into the future. He was an excellent student at Duke, a tremendous lacrosse player and a wonderful citizen. I look forward to working with him as we put together the schedule and work on recruiting and build this program back to where it should be among the elite in men’s lacrosse in the country.”
On Cassese being part of the old lacrosse program:
“At this point in time, Kevin is our interim head coach. I believe Kevin represents everything positive about Duke lacrosse. Even though he was part of the program, he’s also part of the solution. He represents everything that we want in a Duke lacrosse player. I couldn’t think of a better person to put in charge at this point in time.”
On risk involved in reinstating program:
“It might be a risk, but I don’t really think it is that big of a risk because these lacrosse kids have character and integrity and are willing to accept responsibility for their behaviors, and I think they’ve learned from what has transpired in the past. I think you’re going to see really good citizens from our lacrosse team.”
On enforcing new rule that student-athletes must report their own wrongdoing:
“We have established new and better communication paths with Duke Police and our student affairs department. I think the improved lines of communication will greatly help us having better knowledge of what the student-athletes are doing. Also, if they do not self-report within 24 hours, and we find out about it, they will face a much stiffer penalty than they would have been had they reported.”
On Cassese being candidate for head coaching job:
“I would say yes, he is, but we are going to do a national search. We are going to try to get the best person we can to lead this program.”
On challenges of getting the kind of caliber coach Duke wants:
“I really believe that this job is one of the top-five lacrosse jobs in the country, and I believe coaches in the lacrosse profession realize that and will be willing to accept the challenges at Duke University and what it faces in the future. I don’t really see tremendous problems in attracting top coaches to this job.”
Duke Lacrosse Interim Head Coach Kevin Cassese
“Ladies and gentlemen, Duke Lacrosse is back. My involvement with the Duke lacrosse program goes back eight years, starting as a prospective recruit out of Comeswogue Public High School in Port Jefferson Station, New York, then matriculating to Duke as a student-athlete and lacrosse player in the fall of 1999, then becoming an alumnus upon graduation in 2003 and most recently as a coach. As you might be able to sense, I am extremely passionate about Duke University, Duke Athletics and the Duke men’s lacrosse program. And it is no secret we have all been through some incredibly trying times. However, yesterday was a great day for our program. I want to commend President Richard Brodhead for making what I believe to be a very difficult and courageous decision but what I also believe to be the right decision. Duke Men’s Lacrosse has a wonderful tradition and a tremendous heritage. For nearly 70 years, many extraordinary people have helped to build this program. For those people, myself included, Duke Lacrosse holds a special place in their hearts. For those people, Duke Lacrosse is a way of life and it would have been a tragedy for all of us if our program was not allowed to continue.
"The reason I am in front of you today is to announce that I enthusiastically accept Mr. Alleva’s offer to become the interim head coach of Duke Men’s Lacrosse. I can assure you that I will work tirelessly in an effort to rebuild a bruised reputation of a program that has been instilled with pride and integrity for many years and afford our team with every opportunity to get back to the pinnacle of our sport. I want to make it clear that I do recognize that, as stated in the Coleman report, there have been behavioral issues involving team members in the past and these issues cannot continue. To that end, I want to commend the players for recognizing these issues as well and for using them as an opportunity to learn and improve, which is expressed proactively in their player-authored mission statement and set of team standards that will serve to hold each player accountable for his actions. To be clear, I am in full support of these documents, and as the current leader of the program, I intend to hold all team members accountable to the set of team standards they have presented. And to reiterate an important point presented in the team standards, a point that President Brodhead emphasized yesterday, the players assert that “the most productive changes they can make to their social culture are to root out the very actions that would precipitate a penalty.” I will help them, best I know how, to make this assertion become reality.
"I would like to offer only one comment in reference to the legal issue that is currently ongoing. This matter is now before the courts where I am certain that the truth will be established. All three players have maintained their innocence from the start. While I have coached all of them, I especially know David Evans well from having played alongside him during my senior year. Based on what I know of David’s character, I find it impossible to believe he could have done the things he is being accused of. While I never had the opportunity to play alongside Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, I will, as with David Evans, support them until there is evidence and a court decision that leads me to conclude otherwise. As President Brodhead has said, we need to let the judicial process play out. Beyond that, I do not have any further comments on the case.
"I would also like to offer a comment on my former coach Mike Pressler. Coach Pressler has been and always will be a man of character and a terrific lacrosse coach. Coach Pressler resigned on his own volition based on what he thought was the best decision for his family and those closest to him. His sixteen years spent building this program will not be lost on anyone who has had some measure of involvement with Duke Lacrosse. I would add that I share similar thoughts on assistant coach Jon Lantzy, who is a genuine man who gave his heart and soul to the program.
"Moving forward, I can assure you that I will emerge as the leader of this program with my head held high. I want to encourage the current players, their families and my fellow alums to hold their heads high and to continue to be proud of Duke Lacrosse. I want to encourage our recruits to continue to believe in us, just as we have believed in you from the start. Furthermore, I encourage all of the Duke Lacrosse fans out there to wear your Blue Devil colors every chance you get.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we here at Duke Lacrosse are a proud bunch and we are a resilient bunch and we will come out of this stronger and more united than ever. I appreciate all of you taking the time to be here today. I want you to know that I have a great deal of respect for all of you and your chosen career paths. I ask you to show reciprocal respect for me and my colleagues, as well as to the members of our team and their families as we enter a new era of Duke Lacrosse together. Thank you.”
On his involvement in drafting the Men’s Lacrosse Mission Statement:
“I was there to help guide the players through this. This was something that was left completely up to the players. I feel that they did an outstanding job in drafting the mission statement and team standards and I commend them on it.”
On being qualified as Interim Head Coach at age 25:
“The age thing is not an issue to me. The reason is what I said in my statement. I’m extremely enthusiastic about Duke Lacrosse, Duke University and Duke Athletics. I have several ties to Duke. My family bleeds Duke blue. When I graduated my parents would drive down here to watch a game even though I wasn’t even playing. My fiancée is a former Duke women’s tennis player. Her two younger sisters are going to be Duke students. Duke is in my veins. I’m happy to be here, and I have full confidence that I will be able to lead the program in the future.”
On looking ahead to the future:
“I’m here to look forward. As I said, I had an outstanding experience here at Duke and one that I often draw back to. On this day, I’m looking forward. The mission statement and team standards that the players have drawn up are something that will be a part of Duke Lacrosse in the future. As I said before, I commend them for coming up with that, I commend President Brodhead for accepting it and making this announcement.”
On whether or not the accusations will hurt recruiting:
“I certainly hope not. I think people choose to come to Duke for what Duke is. It’s an outstanding university and one of the top in the nation. I think we have an outstanding athletic program, I think we have an unbelievable lacrosse program, and I think our recruits will see that, and they have already. They have mentioned that to me. I received calls last night as soon as we had this announcement. People want to come to Duke just as I did.”
On Duke President Richard Brodhead reinstating the lacrosse program:
“I understand that it’s a risk for President Brodhead and that’s why I’m so strong in commending him for (reinstating the lacrosse program).As he said yesterday, this is an opportunity to learn, and he believes in the education process as do I. I think all of our players understand that. As I said, we will look at the mission statement and the team standards and that is the team’s commitment in going forward.”
On the challenge of rebuilding the program:
“I think it’s important for me to keep this in perspective and I’m going to have to take it day-by-day, starting today. As soon as I get out of here, I’m on a flight up north, and the recruiting process starts immediately. I’m going to be in a different state for the next five days and that’s perfectly okay with me. As I said earlier, this is going to be an incredible experience for me and I’m looking forward to attacking it head on.”
On whether or not he is nervous:
“Not at all. You can’t be nervous when you believe so dearly in something.”
On the culture of Duke Athletics:
“The Duke culture that I know and the one that I’m familiar with is student-athletes graduating at a high level, giving to the community, success on the field, off the field and in the classroom. That’s what I know and love about Duke, and that’s what I’m going to try and instill in the players.”
On the effect of the accusations:
“What I really want to do today is concentrate on looking forward. That’s my agenda. Like I said, this is a new era of the program. It’s been very trying times for everyone involved at Duke University and beyond. It has touched a lot of people. Like I said, we’re rallying together and we will persevere.”
“I’m going to dive into recruiting as soon as I leave this room. Like I said, I’m heading up north, and part of that plan is to hit certain events, watch younger players play the game and to visit with the families of those committed recruits to reaffirm their commitment and to reassure all of you that Duke Lacrosse is something that we’re looking forward to rebuilding and moving forward.”
On what he thinks is his biggest challenge:
“I would have to say that it’s going to be a one-man show for a little bit and that’s a challenge for me. It’s a challenge that I’m definitely ready to accept and take on. For however long it takes to do the search, it’s going to be me at the recruiting events. You can’t be everywhere so I’m going to rely on a lot of my friends in the coaching community to help me out with that. I’ve drawn on a lot of people so far and I will continue to do so.”
On the excitement of the lacrosse program being reinstated:
“Yesterday I sat down and tried to call every single player of our current guys and then move down to the committed recruits. With the announcement yesterday, as you could imagine, everybody was absolutely elated as we all are. I think everybody is looking forward to coming back and having a renewed commitment to everything that encompasses Duke Lacrosse. We are so united at this point that all we needed was that shot to get back out there, and now we have been afforded that shot and we look forward to it very much.”
On scheduling opponents for next season:
“That’s something I’ve already started working on. Last night was about recruiting, reaching out to the alums and scheduling. I think that we are in pretty good shape as far as scheduling goes. I’m reaching out to certain coaches to confirm certain dates and times and that’s something that is going to materialize in the next couple of weeks.”