It wasn't long after Max Nikias became president at Southern Cal in the summer of 2010 that he asked USC athletic director Pat Haden to start a women's lacrosse program.
Haden's first response was to ask with a laugh, "On my budget or yours?"
The next thing Haden did was call Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller to see if she were interested in the job.
"She is the best, and we want to be the best," Haden said.
Amonte Hiller said no thanks, as she has done to several such inquiries while coaching the Wildcats to seven NCAA titles in the last eight years. And then Amonte Hiller told Haden he should look at former NU star and assistant coach Lindsey Munday, then in her first year as head coach at Mount St. Mary's in Maryland.
"My dream was always to be a head coach at a school where I felt we could win a national championship," said Munday, the top attacker on the Wildcats' first two NCAA champions in 2005 and 2006. "Getting the call from USC was definitely a shock."
Haden hired Munday, then 27, in January 2011 and gave her two seasons without official competition to put the program together. Saturday, USC will play its first official game — at the Los Angeles Coliseum against Northwestern and the coach whose recommendation and record were critical in having Munday get the job.
Friday, at USC's campus lacrosse venue, the Wildcats will play their season opener against Massachusetts coached by another of Amonte Hiller's former players, Angela McMahon.
Munday and McMahon are just two of the five former Northwestern players who have become Division I head coaches as branches of the Amonte Hiller coaching tree. It also includes 11 Division I assistants.
That tree has grown out of the Northwestern coach's ability to plant seeds of love for the sport and her desire to help spread it — as well as the stunning success Amonte Hiller's teams have had since she resurrected the Northwestern program from club status 12 years ago.
"The one thing we all have in common with Kelly is passion for the game — passion about making it bigger and more popular and being able to give back to kids what Kelly has given to us," said Shannon Smith, 2011 national player of the year at Northwestern and the rookie head coach at Hofstra.
"In hiring Lindsey, the Northwestern background and the fact Lindsey was there when the program was nothing and became an 800-pound gorilla meant everything to me," Haden said.
It also was a significant factor in Hofstra's decision last July to hire Smith. She had received her Northwestern degree in economics only a month earlier and had no coaching experience beyond the youth team level.
Hofstra had lost its entire women's coaching staff after last season. When Smith went to the university last summer to sign up for courses that would lead to a master's degree in education, she asked one of the Hofstra men's coaches about the possibility of becoming a graduate assistant for the women's team.
One conversation led to another, and it wasn't long before the 22-year-old Smith became the youngest women's head coach in Division I.
"I'm familiar with the Northwestern lacrosse program," said Hofstra athletic director Jeff Hathaway, who had hired McMahon as a head coach and her NU teammate, Sarah Albrecht, as an assistant when Hathaway was athletic director at Connecticut.
"I have watched from afar for a long time at what kind of coach Kelly is," Hathaway said. "When you hire coaches, you look at pedigrees. Shannon was strong in so many ways, and one of the major ways was being part of the Northwestern program and having played for Kelly."
Amonte Hiller got the Northwestern job at 26 after four years as an assistant at three colleges. She is part of the Maryland coaching tree planted by Cindy Timchal, whose teams won eight NCAA titles (two with Amonte Hiller as their superstar) in her 16 seasons as Terrapins' coach. Ten of Timchal's Maryland players are Division I head coaches, and two of those 10 also were Northwestern assistants.
"It is definitely a legacy I am proud of," Amonte Hiller said.
What Amonte Hiller has done for the sport by playing it forward — motivating other young women to become coaches — is of greater significance than the NCAA titles.