Former Syracuse head coach John Desko addressed the media for the first time since he announced his retirement on Monday. Desko spoke for about 30 minutes in what alternated between moments of humor and other moments of emotion. Here’s three takeaways from his goodbye.
Starting with the humor
Desko has been involved with the Syracuse lacrosse program starting from 1976 as a player, 1980 as an assistant coach, and from 1999 to 2021 as SU’s head coach. That’s a Syracuse career that’s spanned 46 years.
Needless to say, Desko has a bit of lacrosse swag sitting in his house. And he’s got a plan for it.
“I’m going to be having a yard sale at home,” Desko said, drawing laughs from those in attendance. “A bunch of throwback stuff, new and used. I’ll announce a date later.”
There may still be more swag to come. Though Desko will not continue with the Orange in a coaching capacity, he has been invited by new head coach Gary Gait to continue his relationship with the team.
“(Gait) has stressed he wants me around the team,” Desko said. “Obviously not in a coaching way, but he thinks it will be healthy for me to stay in contact with the guys.”
Though the role is undefined at the moment, Desko has an idea of what he’d like it to be.
“And I’d be happy to come to practice and point out what everyone is doing wrong,” Desko said, which drew more laughter.
All joking aside, Desko will spend the interim responding to wellwishers, go on vacation to the family lake house, and work on various projects around the home.
Well, maybe one more joke.
“You know, the coffee’s free for me here,” Desko said. “I’m outraged. I go to place now and all of a sudden it’s five dollars for a cup of coffee. So I think I’ll come by, maybe grab (a cup of coffee) and sit with (Wildhack).”
And then the emotion
Desko also fought back tears at various points, starting from when he arrived from his press conference. Though he described himself as “fine” as he arrived, once he did, he was immediately greeted by a swarm of supporters, from Syracuse athletics staff to players past and present.
He said that since the announcement, “literally thousands” of people have wished him well.
“To be part of so many people’s lives,” Desko said, “it started to kick in when I started hearing from everybody.”
He went on to thank his entire staff, and again started to fight back tears when he spoke about his friend and son of his predecessor, Roy Simmons III, who was also in the audience.
At one point, he invited Simmons III, currently the director of operations for the lacrosse team, up to the stage for a hug, drawing more wet eyes to those on hand.
“There isn’t anyone,” Desko said, “that loves Syracuse lacrosse more than him.”
Following Syracuse’s 18-8 loss to Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament, Desko was asked about his future with the team. At the time, he was definitive in his desire to return.
“As far as I’m concerned that decision’s already been made,” Desko said. “If it’s up to me, I’m coming back.”
A lot has changed in the past two weeks to change that sentiment, and has fueled some speculation. Was Desko retiring, or was he not asked to come back?
While Desko led Syracuse to five national championships in his head coaching tenure, he had not won one since 2009, and had not been to championship weekend since 2013. Syracuse has also not recorded an NCAA Tournament win since 2017.
While athletics director John Wildhack introduced Desko, Wildhack did not take questions. When Desko was asked if he could’ve come back next year, he responded, “I think so.”