In the Twenty-Third edition of Legends of the Game, we look at the career of Les Bartley
Les Bartley (1954 – May 15, 2005) was a renowned lacrosse coach. He led the Buffalo Bandits to 3 of their 4 championships in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (MILL), and won 4 more championships with the Toronto Rock in the renamed National Lacrosse League (NLL).
Bartley became the assistant coach of the Bandits in 1992. When the team started off the 1992 season 0-3, Bandits head coach Buff McCready was fired, and Bartley was given the job of head coach. He then led the team on a 22-game winning streak and MILL championships in 1992 and 1993. The streak included the entire 1993 season, during which the Bandits were 8-0, the only undefeated season in NLL/MILL history. The streak came to an end on February 19, 1994.
Bartley’s only losing season as a professional lacrosse coach came in the 1995 season after going 3-5. In 1996, he coached the Bandits to their third championship in the MILL. After the 1997 season, Les left the Bandits after leading them to a 36-13 record in six seasons.
When the MILL became the NLL in 1998, the league added its first Canadian franchise: the Ontario Raiders, who played in Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario. Bartley, a native of nearby St. Catharines, Ontario, helped get the new franchise off the ground. In 1999, the Ontario Raiders moved to Toronto and became the Toronto Rock. Les coached the Rock to four championships in five years.
In November 2003, Les gave up his role of Coach and General Manager of the Rock to fight colon cancer, though he maintained the title of Vice-President of the Rock. Prior to the 2005 season, Bartley, who worked as a General Motors union representative until retiring in 2004, lent his labour negotiation expertise to the league, helping to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the NLL players’ association. On May 9, 2005, Bartley was named by the NLL as its Executive of the Year.
Less than a week later, on May 15, 2005, Les Bartley died at his home in St. Catharines after his 18-month battle with cancer. Bartley was 51. He died 18 hours after the Toronto Rock won their 5th NLL Championship.
Bartley led the Rock to a 51-19 record in five seasons in the NLL, and 9-1 in the post-season. His overall record of 93-38 (.709) in the regular season is fifth all-time.
In recognition of Bartley’s contribution to the NLL and his success as a coach, the NLL renamed the annual Coach of the Year award as the Les Bartley Award. Fittingly, two of the first recipients of the renamed award were Derek Keenan of the Portland Lumberjax in 2006 and Ed Comeau of the Rochester Knighthawks in 2007, both former assistants of Bartley in Toronto.
In June 2005, the National Lacrosse League announced that Bartley would be a Charter member of the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the 2006 NLL All-Star Game in Toronto.
In March 2007, the Toronto Rock announced a new award in honour of Bartley. The Les Bartley Award (not to be confused with the Les Bartley Award given by the league) will be “given annually to the Rock player that best exemplifies Les’ emphasis on the importance of character and commitment to the team”.