By Budd Bailey
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
John Tavares thought about the question for a moment. Is there any way he’d come out of retirement to play for the Buffalo Bandits this season.
“I think if they were desperate enough ... but even then they’d ask someone else,” Tavares said. “No, my playing days are done with. I’m satisfied with my career. My new job is coaching, and I’ll try to help the team win in a different way.”
But what a career it was, one that deserves an exclamation point instead of a period at its conclusion.
Tavares played in the first 24 years of the Bandits’ history, scoring in the first game ever played by the team in 1992. He is the National Lacrosse League’s all-time leader in games played (306), goals (815), assists (934) and points (1,749). He was named to the league’s All-Pro team 19 times, and won the Most Valuable Player award three times (1994, 2000, 2001) to go with four championships (1992, 1993, 1996, 2008).
For good measure, when the NLL named its 30th anniversary team of the 30 greatest players in league history last week, Tavares was No. 1 on the list.
Now Tavares starts a different part of his lacrosse career, that of an assistant coach. He will oversee the Bandits’ offense while standing behind the bench. It won’t be as exciting as playing, naturally, but it’s the next-best place.
“I think when I played, I always considered myself one of the guys, part of the puzzle,” Tavares said. “I was never going to say, ‘Do this, do that.’ Now that I’m the guy in charge of the offense, I’ll have to say, ‘You do this, you do that.’ This is my role now, so I will do it. Before I would never do that.”
Tavares takes over the assistant’s job from Dan Teat, who resigned during the offseason. The longtime veteran knows everything doesn’t go according to plan once you become a coach.
“I have ideas, but it’s tough to put them into place,” Tavares said. “Dan Teat was a great player. It’s a matter of the guys following the plan. It wasn’t his fault when things didn’t go well. To give him credit, we were second in the league in scoring with the worst power play. Sometimes you can do a job and it won’t show up on the scoreboard. Sometimes you don’t do a job, but you have the talent out there to make it work. It’s hard to judge sometimes.”
Head coach Troy Cordingley added, “Johnny wasn’t the best player in the world for no reason. He’s awfully intelligent. He’ll add things to our offense that we’re excited about. He knows what it takes.”
If Tavares has one obvious edge entering this new job, it’s that he’s learned from some of the best coaches in the business.
“I think I’ll take from all of them, from Troy to Darris” Kilgour “to Les Bartley to Les Wakeling,” Tavares said. “You take what you think will work and create your own style with your own personality.”
And while he navigates through his first year of coaching, Tavares no doubt will accept many more tributes concerning his playing career. His Bandits uniform number, 11, will be retired on March 11 before a game with the Rochester Knighthawks. That will be followed at some point by the inevitable induction into the league’s Hall of Fame.
It all will come after a retirement announcement that left no doubt where he stood with the lacrosse community.
“It was really nice,” he said. “My Twitter feed ‘blew up,’ although I didn’t know that phrase at the time. I couldn’t keep up with it.
“It definitely was nice to see so many supporters, teammates, fans and opponents say something. It was well appreciated.”