August 22, 2010

Coaching Change Pays Off in MLL Championship

by Andy Krauss | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Chesapeake Bayhawks president Brendan Kelly's decision to supplant John Tucker with himself as head coach was risky. “I think we had to be MLL champions or I would have been the [George] Steinbrenner of the MLL,” he said.

© John Strohsacker/

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Sometimes change is needed. The Chesapeake Bayhawks will be the first to attest to that.

When the Bayhawks were floundering through their 2010 campaign with a 4-5 record and in the midst of a four-game losing streak, team president Brendan Kelly knew it was time to make change. He released head coach John Tucker and replaced him with, well, himself.

Six weeks later, Kelly helped his team Sunday hoist the 2010 Steinfeld Cup trophy as Major League Lacrosse champions after a 13-9 win over the Long Island Lizards.

It wasn’t an easy road. In fact, the Bayhawks lost his first game at the helm -- ironically at Long Island, a 14-11 defeat. With their backs against the wall, however, he led Chesapeake two wins against Chicago and Boston (in overtime) to qualify for the MLL semifinals.

How did he do it?  How did a former club coach and president of Smartlink Staffing, LLC, lead the Chesapeake Bayhawks to pro lacrosse’s highest heights?

Bayhawk coaching consultant and former Maryland head coach Dave Cottle is pretty sure that the answer lies in people skills.

“Brendan holds people responsible and accountable,” Cottle said. “He’s a special businessman, so he knows how to talk to people. He coaches with confidence and the kids know how important it is to him.”

Listen to players agree with Cottle, and it becomes apparent that Kelly is a true players’ coach.

"He brings more of an attitude and intensity than anything else,” said midfielder Peet Poillon, the MLL's most improved player who scored three goals in the championship game Sunday. “That’s what we needed, because we didn’t have it before he got here. To turn it around in two weeks was pretty impressive. He’s hard on you when he needs to be, but he’s also very encouraging.”

When Kelly (or “BK,” as he's commonly called) made the change, he had no doubts that he could transform mediocrity into superiority.

“I think we had to be MLL champions or I would have been the [George] Steinbrenner of the MLL,” Kelly said. “I made the decision to win the championship, not to stop the bleeding. Obviously it paid off.”

Kelly deflected to the success to his players.

“A lot of these guys played for me before at the club level,” Kelly said. “I had them rally around my theory and my philosophy of how we were going to do it.  We have a lot of great team players.  That’s what it’s about… the team.”

Cottle takes liking to pro lax

It was a tough summer for Cottle, who was released by Maryland after nine years as the head coach of the men’s lacrosse program. He took a consultant position with the Bayhawks when Kelly took over the helm.

“Brendan called and asked me if I could help out. I told him I would in any way I could," Cottle said. "I’m excited for the Kelly family and this team. It was really a fun experience.”

“The MLL features great players, shooting ability, a lot of individual responsibility defensively," he added. "It’s personnel-driven and holds players accountable without a whole lot of practices. You’ve got to be a motivated kid to be successful.

“I really enjoyed my time here and with Brendan. Coming back here next summer wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to happen.”

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