By Dylan Sinn
The Towson men's golf team entered the 2017 Colonial Athletic Association Tournament ranked eighth in the nine-team conference, after what head coach Brian Yaniger called "a tough year all around."
During the tournament at Salisbury Country Club in Midlothian, Va., however, the team rallied and was within striking distance of the lead before ultimately placing third.
"We were a team that had no expectations from anybody else of winning," Yaniger said. "They played with incredible pride, they played hard and with six holes to go, we were in it."
It was a fitting end to Yaniger's 20-year reign as the Tigers' coach. During that time, he took a program that did not even have uniforms and turned it into a consistently successful group with facilities and uniforms to match.
Yaniger's term began innocently enough. He was a part-time coach who was hired, he said, because Towson needed someone to drive the van to tournaments.
"It sounded like fun, so I took a shot at it," he said.
When he took the job, he wanted to have an impact on the program and make it better. One of the first improvements he made was self-funding. He convinced the university's administrators to let him give back his salary in exchange for allowing the team to buy new equipment: shirts, pants, bags, everything.
"Whether we belong here or not, you need to look like you belong," Yaniger said of his reasoning at the time. "Because if you don't look like it, no one wants you. And all of a sudden you see this look in everyone's eye -- we look like a real team now."
Yaniger's teams won the America East Conference Tournament three times in the early years of his career, but it was after Towson moved to the CAA that the team provided him his favorite memory from his time at the helm.
In 2004, Towson had what Yaniger believed was one of the elite teams in the country. In an effort to prove how good his team was, and catapult it to the NCAA Tournament, he convinced Penn State to let the Tigers enter the annual Rutherford Intercollegiate Invitational, which the Nittany Lions host and had won 12 consecutive times.
Undaunted, Towson built a big lead and held on during the tournament's final round to win by a single stroke. Thirteen years later, Yaniger can still recall his team's total score for the final round -- the Tigers were one over par.
"That was the moment Towson golf became real," Yaniger said. "I got home; I must have had 30 emails from different coaches because people didn't go to Penn State because Penn State always beat the crap out of them. But we wanted it. At that time, I used to smoke cigarettes, and I must have smoked a pack on the way home."
The 2004 Rutherford was one of 12 tournaments Towson won under Yaniger's guidance. The Tigers also won four conference titles and received four NCAA Tournament bids. Despite all of the on-the-course success Towson has had, the 67-year-old coach believes his greatest accomplishment came off the course.
In an effort to get his teams' practices out of the fickle early-spring weather in Baltimore, Yaniger helped raise money for an indoor golf facility for the university. The facility was completed in 2015 and features one room for players to practice full swings and another with a green that simulates the breaks of a real course's putting surface.
"That's something that lasts," Yaniger said of the facility. "That other stuff, winning is great, don't get me wrong, I love beating everyone -- that's like more fun than you can imagine -- but that stuff comes and goes. The indoor facility will be here, and it will help recruiting, and it will help get the program to new levels."
Yaniger has invested in the program so it will continue to have success after he retires. Tricia Turley-Brandenburg, Towson's deputy director of athletics overseeing the golf program, said that was one of Yaniger's goals.
"Brian has set us up very well for the future, and he takes great pride in that," said Turley-Brandenburg, who has worked with Yaniger for three seasons.
But while Yaniger focused on the big picture, he didn't take his eyes off each individual players and helping them improve.
Yaniger helped his players lower their scores by playing smarter on the course rather than trying to improve their swings.
"You don't have to hit over every body of water you see," he joked.
Juan Veloza, a senior who played four years under Yaniger, said the coach was also able to keep the team loose because he always made sure the players knew there were more important things than golf.
"He always tried to emphasize the bigger picture," said Veloza, who is set to graduate with a degree in political science. "And that is, you play golf for a university, you travel with the team, you're having a great time, it's going to be one of the best experiences you have as a student."
Even though he will be retiring from coaching, Yaniger plans to continue as an active member of the Towson community, teaching a class called Principles of Coaching. He'll also work at the pro shop of a local golf course so he can continue interacting with golfers, as well as spend more time with his three grandchildren.
Before he officially retired, Towson held an end-of-season event May 6, in which Yaniger had a chance to show his gratitude to everyone who helped make the team successful for 20 years.
"He's retiring after 20 years of, I say, service, because honestly what he did was a service," Veloza said. "It is a job, the formality of it, but he served for the team. All the stuff that he did, and I didn't even see most of it because I was only here for four years, it's just unbelievable."
Issue 233: May 2017