By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports page Columnist
There were two people who virtually were part of the Buffalo Bandits’ organization since Day One in 1992. Now we’re down to one.
And that, by most definitions, is a shame.
The two people in question were John Tavares and Rich Kilgour. They were wearing Bandit uniforms during that first season, and they were co-coaches of the team when it reached the NLL finals last spring. So it was a little shocking on Tuesday that the team had announced that Tavares had been given the head coaching duties on his own, while Kilgour was let go.
I bring no extra knowledge into the decision to change the coaching lineup around. I thought at the time that having co-coaches was a little odd, if only because someone has to break the tie when they disagree on an issue. But they seemed to work things out relatively well last season, based on the team’s record.
General manager Steve Dietrich opted to go back to the usual model of having one head coach for the 2019-20 season, and it’s tough to criticize that idea. And it would be very, very difficult for anyone in the Buffalo organization to tell Tavares that he wasn’t wanted around the KeyBank Center any more. He’ll leave when he feels like it, and he’s earned that distinction. Kilgour is always going to finish second-best in that discussion, in spite of his own longevity.
It is a little strange to see Dietrich take on the duties as the assistant coach in charge of defense. I believe Rochester did something like this a while back. I wondered what it might be like for an assistant coach to make suggestions to the head coach, who might think, “That’s a great idea, Mr. Assistant Coach-Who-Also-Can-Fire-Me.” In other words, the conversations could be awkward if Tavares and Dietrich don’t have a good working relationship – but I can’t see that happening at the moment.
Kilgour, however, deserves a nice send-off. He played for the Bandits from 1992 to 2009, an 18-year run that saw him become the heart of the team. The Western New York native and his brother Darris showed that someone from this area could compete with the world’s best players at the highest level. Rich eventually was selected for the NLL Hall of Fame and had his uniform number #16 retired.
After a season off, Kilgour slid into an assistant coaching position in Buffalo in 2011. Darris Kilgour and Troy Cordingley supplied emotional leadership during that era, and Rich always came off as a calming influence. He always seemed to be in a good mood, spreading smiles to all he encountered. That must have gone over well in the locker room over the years.
When the decision was made to replace Cordingley in the summer of 2018, two good candidates were right down the hallway in Tavares and Kilgour. Tavares is the greatest – and maybe the smartest – player in the history of indoor lacrosse, and still the name most associated with the Bandits. Kilgour did have more coaching experience, as he served as a head coach in the Ontario summer league. (Footnote: Tavares was at times his assistant at Six Nations.) It must have been difficult to try to pick one of them to be head coach, and Dietrich named them last fall to be co-coaches – effectively kicking the can down the road.
And now we’ve reached the end of that road. I suppose in a perfect world, it would have been nice for Kilgour to have found out about this decision months ago. That way, he could have been a candidate for the head coaching position of the Rochester expansion team. (I’m working under the assumption that he’d rather not move or fly in to another city if possible.) Alas, often you don’t get to set your own timetable in the world of business. But he’ll be in the neighborhood if a team in Buffalo, Rochester or Toronto needs a good coach in a hurry, and inevitably every team does at some point.
In the meantime, we’ve lost one of the good guys of the game for the time being. All that’s left is to say thank you to Rich for his many contributions to indoor lacrosse in Western New York … so far.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)