ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca College’s longtime men’s lacrosse coach just finished his 36th and final season with the team.

Jeff Long started at Ithaca College in 1988 as the head men’s lacrosse and assistant women’s soccer coach. Under his leadership, the men’s lacrosse team grew to become one of the most successful in the nation at its level. In 2016, it proceeded to the third round of the NCAA Division III Championship and was ranked No. 1 in the USILA poll. 

To Long, the decision to leave was a difficult choice but said it presents new opportunities for the team.

“I really feel like now the time is right and I actually think change is good,” said Long. “I’m a quote guy, Eddie Vetter says, ‘I changed by not changing’ and that’s kind of how I’ve gone through my career and I think maybe it is time for someone to come in with some change.”

Outside of the college, Long is a highly recognized and decorated coach, having been inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2009 and awarded Empire 8 Coach of the Year on six different occasions, in 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2014 and most recently in 2016. Currently, he is ranked 9th for all-time victories across all NAIA and three NCAA divisions. And now after a successful career, Long is headed for retirement. 

Sports have been a near constant in Long’s life, having played on the United States national lacrosse teams for two seasons in ‘78 and ‘86. Prior to arriving at Ithaca College he served as assistant coach for the University of Virginia’s lacrosse team.

Long’s legacy as a coach is played out through his students, with several earning awards while at Ithaca College and continuing to succeed beyond graduation. That includes alum and current professional lacrosse player Eli Gobrecht, who was named Division III defender of the year in 2016 while playing  at Ithaca College. 

Gobrecht said Long took a holistic approach to being a coach and focused on preparing players beyond the lacrosse field. 

“I think the biggest thing I learned from him is just how to deal with adversity, how to be mentally tough, how to get through challenges in life when things don’t go your way,” Gobrecht said.

Those who worked with Long said his character is what they’ll miss most about him. 

Justin Lutes, associate director of athletics communications for Ithaca college, said nearly every interaction he had with Long has been positive. 

“He’s always willing to offer help and advice,” Lutes said. “It was a pleasure to come across him because you knew he was always going to stop and say ‘hi’.”

His kindness off the field extended to the lacrosse team. Gobretcht said, during his time at Ithaca College, Long clearly established a positive team culture.

“There were guys that would do anything for you without question and we formed kind of that special bond,” Gobretcht said. “We’ve gone through some difficult times as teammates, classmates with our coaches and Coach Long was always in our corner whether we knew it or not.”

Going into retirement, Long said all he hopes for is success for the team.

“I think we’ve dropped off a little bit the last couple years and part of that was my decision making process… I’d like to see the next guy come in and take it to the next step,” Long said. “All I want is success. I want there to be the opportunity for those coming in and those returning to have something different.”

Gobrecht said the lessons learned by Long off the field are what make him unique.

“I’ll still go back to the motto that we developed which is ‘stacking 24s,’ which means to focus on being the best version of yourself for the day you are currently in,” Gobrecht said. “And when you do that consistently, you’re creating a mindset that you’re not focused on the way off, but the now.”