Q&A with new men’s lacrosse head coach Sean Kirwan
Men’s lacrosse welcomes Sean Kirwan from the University of Virginia to coach them in their upcoming season.
On June 10, Dartmouth announced that Sean Kirwan would take over as the new men’s lacrosse head coach. A former lacrosse player at Tufts University, Kirwan contributed to the team’s first-ever national championship and broke a school record by scoring 150 goals over the course of his collegiate career. Most recently, Kirwan served as the offensive coordinator for the University of Virginia, helping the Cavaliers to 2019 and 2021 national championship wins. The Dartmouth sat down with Kirwan to discuss his goals for the Big Green lacrosse team.
Can you tell me about your collegiate lacrosse experience at Tufts University?
SK: I went to a small high school called Mountain Lakes in northern New Jersey. I always knew I wanted to play college lacrosse and was introduced to the NESCAC league through my older brother who swam at Williams College. I was always a pretty highly academic student-athlete, and my sight was set on the Ivy League, but I just wasn’t talented enough at lacrosse to make it to that level. I was given a wonderful opportunity by Mike Daly, who recruited me to go play at Tufts. It was the best four years of my life, so much so that I ended up staying there to coach. During my playing career, I was fortunate enough to win a national championship as a sophomore, and we made it back to the championship my junior year. During my senior year, I was voted captain and became a two time all-American. Tufts was so special to me, and I was blessed to get an opportunity to stay on and coach as a graduate assistant my two years right out of college, right back at my alma mater.
How did you work with your teammates to help Tufts win their first ever men’s lacrosse national championship?
SK: It was obviously a lot of hard work. Our team was the first team to win a national championship in any sport. We didn’t really have something to go off of. It was just a lot of camaraderie and a lot of hard work and as the season went along, just a lot of momentum. I just remember how much fun it was going through all of that. Some of those games we had some amazing comebacks and some amazing upsets. We just kept coming back to work every day knowing that we were a pretty talented team, and if we stuck together we could turn out a couple wins. And sure enough, we were the last team standing that year.
What initially drew you to Dartmouth?
SK: It’s one of the best schools in the world from an academic standpoint. The Ivy League in the lacrosse world is such a powerful league, and to have a chance to coach a team in that league was super intriguing to me. Once you get here, this place is really special. I continue to fall in love with the campus, the culture and how enthusiastic everybody is. Everyone here bleeds green.
Do you have any coaches that inspire you?
SK: It’s easy to point to the ones who coached me. My dad coached me all throughout middle school lacrosse. He played collegiately at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and just introduced me to the game. My high school coach, Tim Flynn… who is still coaching out there. I've leaned on him a lot throughout my coaching career for advice and mentorship. Mike Daly who coached me at Tufts, who’s now the head coach at Brown. Lars Tiffany. These are guys that I lean on a lot; they have mentored me to turn me into the coach that I am today.
Most recently, you were the offensive coordinator for the University of Virginia and helped lead the team to two national championships in 2019 and 2021. How will you translate that success to Dartmouth?
SK: I think that translating success is not really what I'm looking to do. It’s translating the standards and the culture and the camaraderie that we were able to foster at Virginia because I think success follows that. We want to set the standards for ourselves of hard work and elite execution. We want to build a culture that cares. We want guys in our locker room that care about their teammates, care about the program, care about their school and community. We really feel like by building that type of culture, success will follow. I always say we just want to give ourselves an opportunity to be successful. With our hard work and preparation, we know that we like our chances when we get those opportunities.
Last year, Dartmouth finished the 2023 season 1-5 in conference play. How do you plan to turn that around?
SK: With a lot of hard work and preparation. There’s no doubt that this is a work in progress a little bit here. At the same time, it’s an exciting one. We have a lot of young talent in the program. I’ve got some great young coaches around me and am just really excited to help these guys improve individually and collectively. Like I was saying earlier, we just want to give ourselves a chance to be competitive in each and every game. If we do that, we do it the right way. This turnaround is not that black and white, but we just want to be giving ourselves the best opportunity day in and day out to be successful.
You have an offensive background. What will you do to lead the Dartmouth defense?
SK: It’s making sure that our identity translates through all sides of the ball. We want to be aggressive, we want to be disruptive, we want to put pressure on our opponents, so that can’t just be an offensive philosophy or a defensive philosophy. That has got to be a whole team, full-field philosophy. That’s how we'll be able to bridge the gap. I think with the coaches I surround myself with as well, I’m just really excited to have a full team approach and not split it up too much between offense and defense.
What are you most excited about in your new role leading the Big Green?
SK: I mean, can I say everything? Everything’s been wonderful and such a unique opportunity for me to be a first time head coach. You only get this opportunity once, and so just taking it in every day; everything’s been exciting. Every day I wake up with a smile on my face knowing that there’s going to be something new that pops up. From recruiting to culture building to filling out staff, it’s all been just a wonderful ride so far. And I can’t wait to keep going.