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Chesapeake Bayhawks players react to departure of Brendan Kelly and Dave Cottle

The Chesapeake Bayhawks are heading into their 20th Major League Lacrosse (MLL) season, but for the first time in 10 years, they will be without owner Brendan Kelly and head coach Dave Cottle.

Earlier this week, Brendan Kelly announced that he had relinquished control of the Chesapeake Bayhawks franchise to the MLL in an Annapolis Capital Gazette article. A few days later, it was announced that Dave Cottle declined to return as the team’s head coach and general manager and would be replaced by Bayhawks assistant Tom Mariano.

Brendan Kelly and Dave Cottle celebrate the franchise’s fourth title during their time with the Bayhawks. (Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bayhawks).

“When I think of [Brendan Kelly], I think of family. From the moment I was drafted, BK, Coach Cottle and everyone in the organization made me feel a part of the team. There was something special about the atmosphere they created in the locker room, on the field, off the field and in the community,” Bayhawks midfielder Nick Manis said.

“One of the best parts about the Bayhawks was BK and how he treated the players. He brought in the best guys with the likes of Coach Cottle and other members of the staff. He really made the Bayhawks part of Annapolis and part of the community,” Bayhawks defender and Annapolis resident Jesse Bernhardt said.

“What I admire most though is his ability to make the Bayhawks and Annapolis community synonymous. Assisting at local schools, clinics, and food drives are just a couple of things that come to mind. When you play for the Bayhawks you realize that you are not just playing for the guy to the left and right of you in the locker room. You are playing for the town of Annapolis,” Bayhawks defender CJ Costabile echoed.

“Brendan Kelly was the driving force behind the culture of the organization. He brought passion, commitment, and community to the Bayhawks—something that is not easily done in the pro rankings of lacrosse.”

“BK was very involved with the team and wanted the best for all of the players and coaching staff,” Bayhawks rookie attackman Andrew Kew added.

Brendan Kelly’s time as Bayhawks owner extends back to 2010 when he acquired the franchise from BT Lax Operating and moved operations to Annapolis, renaming the team the Chesapeake Bayhawks.

Brendan Kelly brought the Bayhawks to Annapolis in 2010 and the team captured the MLL championship in his first year.

“The people of Annapolis know who the Bayhawks are. Whether you go into a bagel shop or a bar, there’s Bayhawks posters and banners. We are involved with special olympics, local police and fire departments and Anne Arundel county schools,” Nick Manis said. 

“It’s amazing how he’s been able to unite the community with the team.”

“I’ve known BK for a long time through the lacrosse world, going farther back than being drafted by the organization in 2010. He has gone above and beyond to help my career and allow me to play in front of my hometown fans, friends and family,” Bayhawks goaltender Brian Phipps said.

“BK was an owner for the players and the community of Annapolis. He made sure the Bayhawks was a first class organization that took care of the players first. He cared about each player and went above and beyond to get to know us. This upcoming season is going to be different for sure. Even though he will not be the owner, I know BK will be cheering for each one of his former players and doing whatever he can to help them be successful.”

Dave Cottle served as a consultant to the team in 2010 and an assistant in 2011 before becoming head coach during the 2012 to 2015 seasons. Cottle returned to coaching in 2018 and led the team to it’s fourth MLL championship (2010, 2012, 2013, 2019) this past summer. He also served as general manager of the team at points during that time.

Phipps and Bernhardt, who both played under Cottle at the University of Maryland, discussed what it meant to have him as their professional lacrosse coach.

“I can’t thank Coach Cottle enough for all he has done for me and the players. He cared deeply about us and did everything he could to help us be successful.,” Phipps said.

“Not only am I grateful for my time with him at the Bayhawks, but going all the way back to my times at Maryland. I enjoyed my time with him and look forward to continuing our relationship going forward. He will always be ‘Coach’ to me.”

“It’s hard to put into words. I will be forever indebted to Coach Cotts. He gave Jake [Bernhardt] and myself an opportunity to live out a dream when he recruited us to Maryland. To have him be the coach to draft me into pro lacrosse was special,” Jesse Bernhardt added.

“He provided me with those opportunities that have led to many great memories, experiences and relationships. I revere all coaches I’ve had the fortune of playing for, but especially him. I try to tell him I love him whenever I have the opportunity, because he’s meant that much to me.”

Coach Dave Cottle with Bayhawks players who played at the University of Maryland. (Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bayhawks)

Kelly’s decision to relinquish ownership was made in response to the MLL undergoing significant organizational restructuring, including moving away from having franchises with separate owners. The article did not discuss the selling of assets or how the MLL reacquires its franchises, but control over the Denver Outlaws and Atlanta Blaze franchises were also obtained by the league. The league will operate as a single entity going forward with the Boston Cannons and New York Lizards ownership groups working with the league to operate all six remaining teams.

Jesse Bernhardt said he and the rest of his Chesapeake teammates were directly informed by Kelly of the decision shortly after it was made.

“BK invested a lot of time and finances into the league over the course of 10 years. We ended last season on a high note so maybe it was a good time to step away. Maybe it was one of those things where ‘hey it’s ran its course.'”

At the time of publication, the Chesapeake Bayhawks players that Pro Lacrosse Talk spoke with were not made aware of what the move to a single entity would mean for their MLL contracts and future with the team.

“As players, the structure of the league going forward is still a little unknown. We were not briefed by the league that any of this was happening… As players, we’re waiting to see what’s going to come about because we haven’t had much information passed along in terms of direction,” Bernhardt said.

The MLL publicly confirmed its move to a unified ownership group and plans for the relocation of certain teams for the 2020 season in a press release earlier this week. The MLL has not yet provided further clarification on how these moves affect players contracts and status with their teams.

What is known is that 2020 will feature the first MLL season in 10 years without the involvement of Brendan Kelly and Dave Cottle, and the league is sure to look a lot different because of it.

Hutton Jackson is a professional video editor, co-founder/host of Pro Lacrosse Talk and editor-in-chief of Lacrosse Playground. He is also an Emmy-winning associate producer with two major sports networks and oversees Lacrosse Playground's video content as the head coordinating producer. Hutton played four years of college lacrosse at DeSales University where his highest lacrosse accolade was being named to Inside Lacrosse's 2014 All-Name Team with current pros Challen Rogers, Deemer Class and Larken Kemp, an honor that didn't require stepping on the field. When he's not writing on lacrosse, he can usually be found diving around the crease in your local men's league and ranting about Baltimore and D.C. professional sports.

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