10/29/2019 4:16:00 PM / Bandits.com
The Buffalo Bandits today announced the team’s coaching staff for the 2019-20 season with John Tavares returning behind the bench as the team’s head coach.
Tavares will lead a Bandits team looking to return to the NLL Finals, where they fell in two games to Calgary last May. They will compete in the newly formed North Division, joined by the first-year Halifax Thunderbirds, the new-look Rochester Knighthawks, and the Toronto Rock.
Joining him on the bench as an assistant coach will be general manager Steve “Chugger” Dietrich, who will be in charge of the defense. Rusty Kruger will return in his role as an assistant coach and will lead the offense, and Anthony Cosmo will return as the goaltending coach.
“When we made the decision regarding the coaching staff, we knew it was going to be tough to find someone to come in and take over the defensive side of the ball and be successful on such short notice,” Senior Director of Lacrosse Operations Scott Loffler said. “We wanted to avoid putting him and the team at a disadvantage, so when I asked Chugger what we wanted out of the person who was going to fill that role, his answers had my mind coming back to him.
“He knows our players probably better than anyone, and being a Hall of Fame goalie in this league who eats and breaths lacrosse, I can’t think of anyone who would be a better fit in that role given the circumstances.”
Dietrich spoke with Bandits.com to discuss the coaching changes, the decision to not renew head coach Rich Kilgour's contract, his new role as an assistant coach, and the upcoming season.
What prompted the decision to move forward with John Tavares as your sole head coach?
Rich did a tremendous job for the Bandits organization during his tenure as coach, and we cannot thank him enough for that. He’s truly one of the greats and exemplifies everything this organization stands for. His number hangs in the rafters for a reason. However, after looking back on the season and thinking of areas where we could improve upon, it was evident that this team needed to have one singular voice behind the bench.
What makes Tavares the right voice for this team?
JT is a legend. His accomplishments speak for themselves. But he’s also a very smart individual who sees the game like no other, isn’t afraid to try new things and is very forward thinking. His voice will carry a lot of weight in locker room and the players look up to him and respect what he says. Some of our veteran guys have even played alongside or against him early in their careers and know what he brought on the floor. They know they can count on him bringing that same attitude and passion to the bench.
How do you view your role as an assistant coach?
Being the Bandits GM for the past six years has given me a lot of opportunity to work with JT, Rusty and the rest of the coaching staff. However, over those years as GM, I have never been in charge of the game night lineup or in-game situations. That is the role of the head coach, and will not change in the current structure. On the bench, JT is in charge, and Rusty and I will follow his lead. The three of us generally think along the same lines, but we challenge each other as well. It will be a good mix that I think will be a positive experience. If not, I might have to let myself go next season!
Camp opens next weekend. What are your expectations for the season?
With at least four new faces this year due to the losses of Jordan Durston and Shawn Evans to expansion and Ethan O’Connor and Thomas Hoggarth to summer injuries, some guys will get a bigger chance to prove what they can do. We will test these guys early and often. Everyone will need to step up and assume larger or different roles. Some guys will have to step out of their comfort zone and do things they may not be accustomed to doing, while others will have to improve upon what they already do well. It’s going to be a tough division. On paper, every other team in the North got better, and Dan Carey did an excellent job of building the new Knighthawks. We lost a lot, as I mentioned. And every other team got better, especially New England, Saskatchewan and San Diego. It won’t be easy. It’s going to be much tougher this year.
How much of an emphasis has it been for you to bring back as many of your core players as possible?
Last season we had an extremely close group of guys who like being around and playing alongside each other. Keeping that core group together is vital to our success. And with such a short training camp, cohesion is of the utmost importance. The journey the guys went through last year, only to come up short, brings you even closer. They should be looking to each other to lean on when tough times arrive and know we can battle through together.
Do you sense the hunger is even greater after last year’s run to the Finals?
Without a doubt. Like every year, our goal is to win the championship and that didn’t happen last year. We can’t live on having a great regular season and first half of the playoffs. At the end of the day, we came in second, not first. So, there is definitely a bitter taste in our mouths on how last season ended. We will find out very quickly if that taste will be a driving force this year. Getting as far as we did and the expectations of a different outcome has made the team even hungrier to deliver a championship back to Banditland, which deserves one more than anywhere.