Duke’s John Danowski never expected to be the NCAA’s all-time winningest Division I lacrosse coach.
He started at Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus in Brookville, N.Y., in 1983 as a part-time coach making $4,000. He was also a residence hall director, and he and his wife needed two meal passes so they could afford to eat during the semester.
But more than 30 years later, on a cold, wet Monday afternoon, Danowski accomplished a milestone as No. 13 Duke (6-2) beat Jacksonville (0-6) 13-6.
“I never dreamt that I could ever be at a place like Duke in the ACC,” Danowski said. “So when people say ‘blessed,’ I’ve really been blessed.”
His team presented him with a ball before the game to honor his accomplishment and gave him an ovation in the locker room after the record-breaking win.
“I’m just really happy to be on the team, to be a part of it,” senior midfielder Jack Bruckner said. “He does a lot for us so to be able to work hard and get some rewards for him, even though he doesn’t really care about it ..., it was just really good to be a part of it.”
Danowski has 376 wins as a Division I men’s head lacrosse coach, breaking the record of 375 wins set by Dom Starsia in 2016. Starsia coached at Virginia and Brown.
After serving as coach for LIU Post from 1983 to 1985, Danowski moved on to Hofstra in 1986. He coached there for 21 years and won 192 games before coming to Duke.
Danowski is third among active coaches in wins across all three NCAA divisions. During his time at Duke, he has won three NCAA Division I national championships, in 2010, 2013 and 2014. He has also won three Division I Coach of the Year awards, in 1993, 2010 and 2014.
Danowski was hired as Duke’s head coach in 2006 to help revive a program that had been damaged after three Duke lacrosse players were falsely accused of raping an exotic dancer at an off-campus party.
“Coming here, it was a chance to help,” said Danowski, whose son Matt Danowski was on the team at the time. “It was a chance to do something different. It wasn’t about winning and losing games. It was about just helping a group of young men navigate a very difficult time.”
Danowski said there was no game plan or blueprint for how to fix things, and lacrosse was “like a side bar to all the things that were going on.”
“But as you see, with a lot of things at Duke, you have the resources and the people here to do some really extraordinary things,” he said. “And this is an incredible place to be.”
Danowski found success with the Blue Devils early on. His team finished his first season, in 2007, 17-3, and one goal short of a national championship against Johns Hopkins.
Monday’s game was business as usual. The Blue Devils outscored Dolphins 4-1 in the first quarter, and stayed ahead. They outshot the Dolphins 30-12.
Sean Lowrie, a 6-3, 205-pound redshirt freshman midfielder and Joey Manown, a 5-7, 170-pound freshman attacker, both had three goals and one assist.
After 34 years as a head coach, Danowski, 63, said he could see himself working at Duke for many more years.
“As long as they’ll have me, I’d love to continue to work,” he said.