player Chris Fox answers call,
saddles NLL hopes to take over
program after Kevin Tyska's untimely
Feb. 18, 2008
by Jac Coyne, Lacrosse Magazine
When Chris Fox picked up his cell
phone off the kitchen counter at his
home in Wallaceburg, Ontario, he was
amazed at the amount of new messages
he had. He scanned through the
various numbers, recognizing many of
them; friends from his days as a
Wheeling Jesuit University lacrosse
Scrolling down further, he noticed
others that looked vaguely familiar.
He wracked his brain trying to place
Then he got that queasy feeling
in his stomach that comes with the
"Finally, one person triggered it
in my head: okay, something happened
at campus," said Fox.
Fox would never have guessed what
happened. Not in a hundred years. It
just didn't seem possible. Kevin
Tyska, the fourth-year head coach at
the Division II school in West
Virginia, had gone home the
afternoon of Jan. 21 complaining of
not feeling well. Later that
evening, he was gone.
"The first thing that went
through my head was, 'How?' The guy
was in amazing shape," said Fox.
"It's just something you don't
expect. He was 43."
Tyska's passing was especially
tough for Fox. While Tyska had a
rapport with all his players, his
relationship with Fox grew over the
summer of 2005. Fox decided to stay
in Wheeling for the break and help
Tyska in the team office. Tyska
would even have Fox, who was
entering his senior year, over for
While the friendship between
coach and player blossomed during
that summer internship, Fox was
impressed with Tyska the minute he
saw him. Wheeling Jesuit had played
the fall of 2004 without a coach,
but the university finally brought
in a pair of candidates prior to the
start of the spring season. The
first candidate was solid, Fox said.
Tyska, as irrepressible as always,
took the interview chair second.
"As soon he left, it was
unanimous. Everybody wanted him,"
There was just something about
Tyska that the players on the
interview committee gravitated
towards. He definitely knew his Xs
and Os, but there was always
something bubbling just below the
surface. It was a sense of urgency
that struck a chord with a bunch of
gung-ho lacrosse guys.
"He was probably the most intense
individual about anything who you'll
meet in your life," said Fox. "The
man loved Dunkin' Donuts, and he'd
have an hour and half conversation
with you about Dunkin' Donuts. From
the beginning of the conversation to
the end, he was just as intense."
The thought of that fire being
extinguished was devastating.
"I let it all sink in and went
through all the emotions. Just
complete and total shock. Denial,"
said Fox. "I got upset when I
started thinking about his young
family. I was really close with
Coach. I'd go to barbecues at his
With those memories fresh in his
mind, Fox showed up in Wheeling, W.V.,
on Wednesday for the visitation and
subsequent funeral. That first
night, he met with fellow lacrosse
alumni and talked about what they
wanted for the program in the wake
of Tyska's untimely death.
Fox, along with some others, drafted
a letter to the athletic department
extending all of the help they could
provide, whether it was coaching
contacts or recommendations. They
owed it to Coach Tyska, he figured,
to keep the current Cardinals on a
The next day, Danny Sancomb, the
WJU athletic director, called Fox to
talk about his letter. A couple of
hours later, another call from
Sancomb came through.
By the way, Chris, this would be
a de facto job interview for the
men's lacrosse job.
Fox had no intention of throwing
his hat in the coaching ring for his
mentor's old job. Since he left the
Whittier College women's program,
where he was an assistant, Fox was
whipping himself into shape for a
run at spot in National Lacrosse
League. He attended the NLL combine
in Philadelphia and was preparing
for open tryouts with Boston and
Buffalo when the league's labor
problems arose last fall. The strike
forced Fox to put his dreams on hold
for a year, but he had received
sponsorship and a visa to play
professional lacrosse in Melbourne,
Now he was being asked to follow
in Tyska's footsteps.
"When they asked if I wanted to
interview for the job, that's when
the wheels really started turning.
How am I going to do this? I've
played with some of these guys,"
said Fox. "I was picking up my life
and moving again - since graduation
I haven't lived anywhere longer than
five months. It went through my
head, 'I'm doing this again.'"
"But once they officially offered
me the job, I just said, 'I have to
Fox considered it an an honor to
follow through on what Tyska had
built for this season, but he took
the job more to help the players who
were part of the program he still
"Speaking with the other alumni,
we wanted more than somebody coming
in and just getting by," said Fox.
"In the alum's eyes, we wanted
someone who knew what the program
was like, what the campus was like,
what the process was about."
"When I was here I went through
three head coaches, so I'm used to
the transition period these guys are
going through. I realized I had the
exact same loss that they had. Maybe
not immediate because he wasn't my
coach anymore, but he was still a
very good friend of mine."
After a trip home to Wallaceburg
to collect his things, Fox returned
to Wheeling Jesuit on his birthday,
Jan. 31, and met the team as they
were finishing practice at 10 p.m.
He could still see the hurt in the
player's eyes and a sense of
disarray. He knew he had a lot of
work to do to get these players back
"It's hard for me, because I
don't know whether it was something
in class, a girlfriend, or something
at home. Or whether it is Coach,"
said Fox. "I really have to ask
them, 'Hey what's going on?' The
main thing I tell them - and it's
something Coach would say - is don't
show it in your game.
"Coach told me this when I was
going through a tough time here:
lacrosse has to be your escape for
things like this. And that's going
to be hard for these guys, because
Coach was lacrosse for them. They
are going to have to separate that
They will have to
compartmentalize their feelings for
their old coach because other teams
aren't going give them any breaks
simply because of the turmoil of the
last month. Wheeling Jesuit lost its
opener to Wingate and a road game
against No. 4 Limestone looms this
weekend. No. 7 C.W. Post and No. 2
Mercyhurst are slated for later this
spring. Fox and the Cardinals would
love to improve on last season's 5-8
mark, but they know it will be
"Success is going to be measured
a lot differently this year,"
admitted Fox. "You always measure
success on championships and wins
and that's still our focus, but the
main thing is these young men make
the best out of the situation.
"We all, in our own way, remember
Coach every day. I think that's very
important. But we never want to
dwell on the fact that he's not here
anymore. We don't want it be a
negative thing. We almost have to
treat it as a positive and come
together and overcome something
that's tragic and never planned for.
This is one of the ultimate life
experiences that these young men are
going to have. Life will throw you a
"One of the main things that
Coach Tyska said was always be
prepared and always be proactive.
Always have something set and
something solid you can go back to
so it's not a big shock. Coach
always wanted players to be
self-accountable. If they are
self-accountable, they won't lose a
step. Yeah, coach isn't here
anymore, but they know in the back
of their heads what Coach would be
saying to them if they screwed up.
Or if they didn't do this right."
The Wheeling Jesuit players will
see daily reminders of Kevin Tyska.
The Cardinals will wear a helmet
sticker and have an embroidered
emblem on their uniform
memorializing their him. They end
every practice with a "1-2-3, KT,"
But the most realistic reminder
of their coach's passing will be on
the sidelines this season.
Tyska's son, Jake, 7, will be the
water boy for Wheeling Jesuit. Jake
has the same fiery, intense attitude
of his old man - Fox describes him
as "a little terror" - and will
provide a motivational catalyst for
the players and coaches when things
get tough. Tyska's wife, Cyd, and
two daughters, Ellie and Samantha,
will be in attendance for as many
games as they can, Fox said.
Cyd and the kids would rather see
their husband and father on the
sidelines, but having Fox act as
caretaker for Tyska's extended
family provides some solace.
"I'm here not to so much replace
him, but do the things that I see
that need to be done," said Fox.
"I'm here for the players more than
When all those numbers showed up
on his phone a month ago, Fox could
have never guessed they would mark
the death of a friend and a mentor.
Nor could he have imagined it would
lead him to the head coaching
position at his alma mater.
Fox still considers himself a
lacrosse player and might have been
better served to spend a season
playing professionally overseas to
achieve his goal of reaching the NLL.
He could have easily fulfilled his
obligation to his former coach and
friend with a donation to the school
or a recommendation for a new coach,
but Fox accepted an emotionally
taxing job that will likely result
in more losses than wins.
Chris Fox may have missed all the
different messages people were
trying to send him on Jan. 21, but
he definitely answered the call.
Note: This article is one in a
series of small college columns
authored by LMO editor Jac Coyne.
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