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CHAMPIONSHIP WIN A RELIEF FOR COACH TAVARES

It’s impossible to discuss the history of the NLL without the name John Tavares being uttered early and often. The Buffalo Bandits icon is the all-time leader in games (306), goals (815) and assists (934), and won the NLL title four times during his illustrious 24-season playing career.

And now, after accomplishing absolutely everything a player can possibly accomplish on the field, the soon-to-be 55-year-old can add one more distinction to his list of achievements. The Toronto native now stands as one of the very few Hall of Fame players (in any sport) who has also led a team to a championship as a head coach.

Ironically, Tavares shares this feat with Colorado Mammoth head coach Pat Coyle, the man he battled for NLL supremacy in each of the last two seasons. Talk about two guys who know a little something about winning lacrosse games.

BUFFALO, NY – JUNE 3: Colorado Mammoth head coach Pat Coyle congratulates Buffalo Bandits head coach John Tavares after winning the NLL Championship at KeyBank Center on June 3, 2023 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images for NLL)

For Tavares, the differences between operating as a great coach and a great player are striking.

“It’s more a mental game as coach. It’s all the preparation. It’s all the video. It’s all the communication with the players and coaches and having the proper game plan intact,” explained the 19-time all-pro. “When you’re a coach, you feel more ecstatic for your players. When you’re a player, you’re happy for yourselves, your teammates and the fans. As a coach, you feel more responsible if you didn’t win.”

Tavares jokingly added, “when you make a game plan, you can put the game plan together, but the players have to go execute. And if it works, it works. And if it doesn’t, you’re a bad coach.”

The Bandit lifer further articulated the all-encompassing nature of coaching, which runs in stark contrast to the more individual thoughts that continually travel through a players’ mind.

“Thinking back to games that bothered me as a player, it was the plays that I did not capitalize on that could’ve been the difference in the game. As a coach, you’re not thinking about that one little thing. You sometimes start questioning yourself and your systems,” opined Tavares.

When it comes to winning a championship, it might be assumed that the feeling of jubilation is the same on each side of the boards. But in the case of Tavares, beating Colorado was less of a celebration and more the feeling that a great burden has been lifted.

“They’re both gratifying of course. As a player you have more control of what happens on the floor. You give 100 percent and you get to enjoy it with your teammates and fans. As a coach, it’s almost like a relief,” noted the man whose number 11 hangs from the rafters of KeyBank Center.

For all the stress and self-reflection that attaches itself to the soul of a head coach, in Tavares’ case, he has a group of players who are nothing but appreciative for the many hours of hard work and sacrifice.

“It was awesome. Coach Tavares deserves it as much as anyone else. He prepares like none other. I know he had a lot of weight on his shoulders. To be known as one of the best players ever, and now winning a championship as a coach, not many people have done that,” verbalized Bandits superstar Dhane Smith.

Smith then paid his coach the ultimate compliment.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play with him and be mentored by him. I can’t thank him enough for the success throughout my career.”

As for Tavares, the feeling he has for his players is absolutely mutual.

“My happiest moment was watching the players enjoy that championship for themselves and for the fans.”

Tavares’ next challenge as a coach will be to try to win his second championship this summer as his Six Nations Chiefs will face either the Langley Thunder or New Westminster Salmonbellies in the Mann Cup beginning September 8. Tavares won eight Mann Cups as a player, the most of any player in history.

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