Monday marked the end of an era for the Buffalo Bandits.
Darris Kilgour, an original Bandits player who served as the head coach of the team since 2003 and a National Lacrosse League Hall of Famer, was relieved of his duties.
The team will begin a search for a replacement immediately. Scott Loffler, director of lacrosse operations, said that ideally the team would like to have a new coach in place within the next two weeks.
Loffler said it was a difficult move to make.
“For sure. I’ve worked with Darris for five-plus years,” he said. “I know his family, know his kids. He’s been a huge part of the organization from before I got here. It’s tough to say good-bye to a friend. But we have to kickstart this team to go back to where it belongs.
“It was an incredibly tough decision, because when I think of the Buffalo Bandits I think of Darris Kilgour and John Tavares,” Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich said. “I had the pleasure of playing with, for, and against Darris and I love his utter belief in the Bandits organization. We believe we need a new voice and a new vision behind the bench to lead the new generation of Bandits as we continue to strive to bring the Champion’s Cup back where it belongs.”
Kilgour, who had his only losing seasons as coach in the last two years, said he was told about the decision Tuesday afternoon.
“I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth about the team since Dave Zygaj came into power,” Kilgour said about the team’s Governor and Vice President of Legal Affairs who has been with the team since 2005.
“I have no feelings toward the team right now. The last thing I said to them is to take my number out of the rafters. I don’t want anything to do with them.”
Kilgour was the team’s first-ever draft choice in 1992 and was part of three championships as a player. He eventually had his uniform number No. 43 retired.
Kilgour went 103-73 as coach of the Bandits over the last 11 seasons. Buffalo qualified for the playoffs in 10 of them, missing out in 2013. He led the team to the NLL Championship in 2008, and is the league’s all-time leader in coaching victories with 121.
Kilgour said there were signs that his job might be in jeopardy, which he said was to be expected after a disappointing 6-10 season.
He had lost his job as general manager last summer, with Dietrich taking over that spot.
While it might have been awkward to have a new general manager and the old coach working together, Kilgour said that wasn’t a problem.
“I want to clear that up – I’m the one who suggested that we bring in a GM,” Kilgour said. “I wasn’t seeing eye-to-eye with management, and I didn’t think they were listening to me.”
While the Bandits players are scattered for the summer, news traveled quickly about Kilgour’s departure.
Billy Dee Smith has been coached by Kilgour for all 11 years of his career. He said having someone else behind the Bandits’ bench will be a new experience.
“It’s definitely going to be strange,” the defender said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, and it probably won’t until I show up at training camp and see how different it is.
“It’s crazy. I don’t know what to think. As a player, I feel like I let the guy down. He’s losing his job because we didn’t live up to our expectations. I don’t think this was the best team we’ve had, but I don’t think we should have missed the playoffs.”
Kilgour had a well-earned reputation for his passion for lacrosse, which was evident whenever he took the field for a practice or game.
“You never want to see a guy like that go out of the organization. He put his heart and soul into the organization,” forward Luke Wiles said. “He’s the reason why I’m a Buffalo Bandit. He bled orange and black. … Coaches are hired to be fired, but it’s really sad to see them go. Hopefully he goes somewhere.”
Shawn Williams, who came to the Bandits before the 2013 season, added, “I’ve obviously only been around for a year, but I definitely loved playing for him. He was a great motivator.”
It’s been a tough six months for Buffalo’s professional coaches. During that timespan, the Bills fired Chan Gailey, the Sabres relieved Lindy Ruff of his duties, and now Kilgour is out of a job. Wiles saw similarities between Ruff and Kilgour’s departures.
“It’s weird. It was the same thing with Lindy Ruff. He was around so long, that when you talked about the Sabres, you talked about Lindy Ruff. He was the program,” Wiles said. “It’s the nature of sports. The team hasn’t been successful and has been going through a transition. That’s a decision that they made that’s in the best interest of moving the team forward.”
Loffler said the assistant coaches, including Rich Kilgour and Dan Teat, work on one-year contracts. They will be invited to apply for the head coaching job, and then a new coach would pick his assistants.
Darris Kilgour said the Bandits should consider brother Rich as a head coach.
“If they don’t hire him, they’ll really miss out. He’d make a terrific head coach,” he said.
It didn’t take long for speculation about the next Bandits’ coach to begin. The center of attention is sure to be Troy Cordingley, a former Bandits’ player and assistant coach who recently lost his job as head coach of the Toronto Rock. He had spent four years behind the Toronto bench and won a championship in 2011. Dietrich served as an assistant coach under Cordingley for two seasons before taking the GM job here. However, Cordingley has a similar personality to Darris Kilgour, and sometimes sports executives prefer a change of tone when switching coaches.
The name of John Tavares is sure to come up as well. Tavares, who will turn 45 later this year, just completed his 22nd season as a player with the Bandits. He had injury problems last season, and he said at the end of the season that he wasn’t sure if he could still take the field. His hiring would be a popular move with the team’s fans. It’s not known if he would be interested in coaching the team; he was unavailable for comment Monday.
Colorado Mammoth assistant coach Ed Comeau, former Boston Blazers coach Matt Sawyer, and ex-Calgary Roughnecks coach Dave Pym also have been mentioned.