The new year will bring a new challenge for Bob Hamley.
The Guelph minor lacrosse product will turn 55 on New Year’s Eve and then officially join the Fort Worth-based Panther City Lacrosse NLL team as its vice-president of lacrosse operations and general manager on the first day of 2021.
“I've been fortunate to stay in the game of lacrosse, the game I love, so I'm really excited about this next opportunity,” Hamley said during a Zoom call.
Hamley was born in Owen Sound and started in lacrosse there, but switched to minor lacrosse in the Royal City when he was 11 when The Co-operators built a new headquarters downtown Guelph and Hamley’s father was transferred there.
Hamley played peewee, bantam and midget lacrosse in town before playing junior in Owen Sound and Kitchener. Then came a long stint with the now defunct Fergus Thistles senior squad.
His National Lacrosse League playing days included a pair of championship wins with the Buffalo Bandits in the early 1990s. He started coaching in the professional league as an assistant with the Albany Attack in 2001 and became that head coach and general manager of the Columbus Landsharks a year later. He stayed in that role when the franchise moved to Phoenix to become the Arizona Sting and was the league’s general manager and coach of the year with the Sting in 2005. He also served as an assistant coach with the Denver-based Colorado Mammoth, general manager and head coach of the Edmonton Rush, and head coach of Colorado.
Now Hamley has about a week left as the National Director of Box Lacrosse and Texas Director for 3D Lacrosse, a lacrosse services company that offers training for minor lacrosse players, boys and girls, tournaments for select travel teams, recruiting showcases and box lacrosse leagues for various skill levels.
Now he returns to the NLL.
“I think this is a really great role for me,” Hamley said. “The ownership's recognized that, and I think I have in a little way, that coaching is a young man's game so having a dual role doesn't make sense when you're building an expansion (team). I'm really excited because that's what I get to focus on. I get to focus on hiring a coach and some assistant coaches and building from the ground up.
“It's going to be hard. We'll be the 14th team and we're over 300 players in the league now where some years we only had 160 or 170, eight or nine teams. The talent pool, we're really going to have to do our work, but I'm excited about it.”
This will be the first time Hamley will have been involved with an expansion franchise.
“It's a clean slate, if you will,” he said. “Arizona was a little that way, too. We had some issues with ownership and we lost a lot of our players due to free agency because they weren't paid. So Arizona almost felt that way, but we had a core group that we managed to hang on to.”
Panther City will be the lone pro sports team in Fort Worth.
“We're playing in the new Dickies Arena. It's a brand new building in downtown Fort Worth. It's Fort Worth's only pro team so that's pretty exciting,” he said. “All the pro teams are over in Dallas and we're right in Fort Worth.”
The name comes from the city’s moniker as the Panther City, something that evolved from a newspaper article about 150 years ago that said that Fort Worth was so sleepy that it didn’t see a panther sleeping in its downtown area.
While Hamley hasn’t been directly associated with any team in the NLL for almost a decade, he didn’t ignore the league.
“The good news is that I've always stayed involved with the NLL as far as talking to some of my buddies that were GMs and coaches,” he said. “I watched a lot of games so I have a really good feel for what we need to do. We'll be prepared. That's the one thing I always prided myself on is putting the work in and being prepared and doing as much as we can to make sure that we have a good culture and a good squad that the city can be proud of.”
While Panther City won’t be competing in the 2021 season whenever it is able to start, Hamley will be scouting the games.
“I know on being on league calls now that they're working really hard on having a season in April,” he said. “It's going to push things back a little bit from the regular schedule, but we're really hopeful that they'll get going. We want to see them and we want to see them live. You can watch a lot of video, but it's not the same thing for a GM and coaches to watch video to get a feel for a player.
“In a regular pre-Covid (year), our expansion draft would be in June after the season finished and our entry draft would be in September. Free agency usually starts August 1st. Now if they go April to August, then the expansion draft would be pushed to September and the entry draft would probably be pushed to October. That's obviously all speculation as it's all up in the air right now. The good news is that we're starting to prepare lists and we're starting to talk about rosters. We're very fortunate from that end that we get a little bit of a runway to prepare.”
The game has evolved quite a bit from when Hamley was winning NLL titles with Buffalo. An offensive threat, he was also required to play defence.
“I used to have to play up and down. I used to have to try and check,” he said. “My coaches were always probably afraid to put me out on the defensive end because I was more concerned about the offensive end. It's more specialized now. It's offence/defence.
“You still try to create transition as a coach and players, but it's just like hockey with the trap and their defensive systems. Coaches have evolved in lacrosse as well and offences are smart. They're not going to take crazy shots to let somebody get transition. They're smart. If they don't have a shot in 25 seconds, they're going to roll it in the corner and get their D guys on. It's become really specialized and as we evolve, the athletes are getting stronger, faster and the equipment – I used to lug around a seven- or eight-pound wooden stick. Now they're talking about ounces in the sticks that they use so the speed that they get from their shots is that much more.
“It's a much faster game and it's the way it should be played. It was always called the fastest game on two feet and it's even faster now.”