Commentary

Big-name coaches raising UFL's profile

Originally Published: April 5, 2011
By Anna Katherine Clemmons | ESPN.com

The last time Marty Schottenheimer and Jerry Glanville faced each other on a football field was in 1991. On opening day of the NFL season, Glanville's Atlanta Falcons traveled to Kansas City to battle the Schottenheimer-led Chiefs. Kansas City won 14-3.

Now, two decades later, the veteran coaches are set for a rematch. But the setting has changed.

On March 21, Glanville became head coach and general manager of the Hartford Colonials, one of five teams in the United Football League (UFL). Two days later, Schottenheimer agreed to a two-year contract as head coach and GM of the Virginia Destroyers (formerly the Florida Tuskers), which is based in Virginia Beach.

Of the five UFL teams playing in 2011, the league's third season, four will be led by former NFL head coaches. Dennis Green will continue at the helm for the Sacramento Mountain Lions, and Jim Fassel will enter his third season coaching the two-time champion Las Vegas Locomotives. The four veteran coaches have combined for 431 NFL wins.

[+] EnlargeDennis Green
Douglas Jones/US PresswireLongtime NFL head coach Dennis Green has been with the UFL's California franchise since 2009.

UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue says that when hiring, he intentionally targeted "more experienced coaches" rather than young blood, even though the NFL has trended toward the latter in recent years. The average age of a UFL head coach is 64 years old; in the NFL, the average head coach's age is 50 (as of April 2).

"Now in the NFL, it's the younger coaches: younger is better, they relate to the players … not that that's always working, but it's what they're doing," Huyghue said. "We look for someone that's a teacher first. It's a combination of trying to find the right guy for the right market who can come back in and resonate."

Indeed, the 67-year-old Schottenheimer, who resides in Charlotte, N.C., said the team's new location was a key factor. "That it was Virginia Beach, that was part of the draw," Schottenheimer said. "My wife and I are very much a part of that mid-Atlantic coast region, so we thought this would be a perfect fit."

Schottenheimer hasn't coached since the 2006 season, when he was fired after leading the Chargers to a 14-2 record. He is sixth on the NFL's all-time coaching victories list. Since that time, he has worked a lot on his golf game, which, he laughed, "may be one reason I decided to come out of retirement."

When Huyghue called Schottenheimer to discuss the opportunity, the coach was uncertain. But after meeting with the commissioner several times, Schottenheimer was impressed with the business plan for the UFL and its affordable offering of quality football within a struggling economy. He talked it over with his wife Pat, and they decided to accept.

Inspired to coach again

Glanville, known as much for his colorful personality as for his coaching skills, said he agreed to the UFL's offer after remembering advice he was given by a friend.

"When [country music star] Waylon Jennings had diabetes and knew he wasn't going to make it, he looked at me and said, 'Coach Jerry Glanville, don't you dare die with the music inside you,'" remembered Glanville, who last coached in the NFL in 1993. "I thought, 'Wow.' He was telling me to give your knowledge, to teach what you do."

Glanville talked to Huyghue after Jim Haslett, who coached the Florida Tuskers in 2009, told Glanville he'd be a great fit. After their conversation, Glanville flew to Jacksonville, Fla., and met with UFL executives.

"I got on the plane home and I said to myself, 'Self, I wish I would've had those guys when I was in the NFL. They're better than the guys I was with,'" Glanville said.

While he had never attended a UFL game (though he'd seen several on Versus), Glanville then met with Hartford Colonials owner Bill Mayer and signed on.

Glanville's inspiration also came after a trip to Iraq, where many U.S. soldiers told him they'd love to see him coach again. Glanville, whose post-NFL résumé has included collegiate coaching stints, working as an owner and driver in NASCAR's Truck Series, and TV broadcasting with several major networks, said he always thought of himself coaching.

"When I went to Fox, someone said, 'Rather than teaching 40 guys on a team, today you can teach 20 million.' That got me over the hump because I'm really a coach. I coached everyone on the couch."

Now he'll be back on the field. He is already working 17-hour days, he said, to improve upon the Colonials' 3-5 record in 2010. The 69-year-old is even embracing social media, tweeting colorful messages each day (www.Twitter.com/jerryglanville).

[+] EnlargeFassel
AP Photo/Dave Weaver The UFL's first coaching hire, Jim Fassel says he's "as energized as I've ever been in my life."

The team is also promoting Glanville. Public relations director David Heuschkel said that at the team's home opener in August, each fan will be given a cut-out image of Glanville's face on a stick to wave around.

Fassel was the first UFL head coach hired when the league began in 2009. "I'm a coach. That's what my love is," Fassel said. "I was doing the Sunday night NFL package on national radio and I enjoyed it, but it wasn't fulfilling like coaching."

The 61-year-old said that when Huyghue called, he was skeptical. The two met several times until Fassel agreed on the condition that the league employ high-quality coaches and players.

"If we couldn't get guys that are really talented to play the game, who knew the work ethic … I wouldn't do it," Fassel said. "I'm more of a pioneer than a historian. I like to blaze new trails and take challenges."

Over the first two UFL seasons, 25 of Fassel's players signed with NFL teams, a trend that he expects to continue this year if the lockout is settled. The level of play also has improved each season. In addition to head coach, GM and president, Fassel is also the Locos' offensive coordinator. This past offseason, he moved to Las Vegas full time.

"You've got to have passion to get up at 5, 6 a.m. and do what I do," Fassel said. "I'd be bored to death if I played golf every day. I'm as energized as I've ever been in my life. People ask me when I'll retire and I say, 'I honestly don't know. At some point, I'll have had enough, but I'm not to that point.'"

Green, 62, first began talking with UFL founder (and Locos owner) Bill Hambrecht about the league's potential in 2007. When the UFL became a reality, Green -- who had been out of the NFL for three years, working in TV and radio -- agreed to head the California club, then located in San Francisco.

"I jumped in with both feet because I believed in it," Green said. "We had [former Vikings defensive lineman] John Randle in Minnesota, who wasn't drafted, really a UFL-type guy. There have always been those stories and this gives those guys an opportunity to play."

Green said his rosters have been filled with newcomers as well as NFL veterans looking for another chance. The Sacramento stadium holds 20,000; for most home games, at least 18,000 fans filled the stands last year.

"Most people can't name 15 NFL coaches right now, they're so young," Green said. "But if you ask those same people any one of the four UFL coaches [who coached in the NFL], they probably could. We're characters. You don't come to see the coaches, but a coach reassures you that this will be fun."

The odd ball

The only UFL head coach without NFL experience has done just about everything else. The Omaha Nighthawks' new coach and president, Joe Moglia, came to the UFL after a two-year internship as a life skills consultant with the University of Nebraska football team. Prior to that, the Wall Street executive spent almost seven years as CEO of TD Ameritrade, guiding the corporation to a profit six consecutive years -- even during the economic downturn -- and raising its market cap by over $9 billion. Prior to that, Moglia coached football for 16 years at the high school and collegiate levels. He is the only author to have written published works on both investing and football.

[+] EnlargeJoe Moglia
AP Photo/Nati HarnikJoe Moglia doesn't have an NFL pedigree, but he expects to thrive in his new gig.

Moglia, 62, learned of the Nighthawks' coaching vacancy when Hambrecht reached out to him as a potential investor. Moglia declined the opportunity, saying that he was planning to re-enter the coaching world and "didn't want to look like I bought a job," Moglia said.

When Hambrecht learned Moglia wanted to coach, he called Huyghue, who then called Moglia. Eventually, Moglia accepted the job after weighing the offer in his businessman's pragmatic approach.

"I did my own due diligence, filling about 10 legal pads with notes over the course of four months," Moglia said. "The UFL's mission statement is to provide pro football in non-NFL venues at an affordable price. In the NFL, the Packers are a great example. They only have 102,000 people in Green Bay. Omaha might be like a Green Bay."

Omaha was the only team to sell out every home game last season.

When reminded that he's the only UFL coach without an NFL résumé, Moglia quipped that "this is the first time they'll compete against a CEO. I recognize that they have won many more games than I have, but they've also lost more games."

"At the end of the day, I have tremendous respect for each of those four guys," Moglia said. "I've never been a nutso football fan -- I don't know who plays for what team or who'll be in a playoff. But I've always been stimulated by the strategy, the structure of football as an art form. I understand it well and I think I'm pretty good at it."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average U.S. retirement age is 62. Yet the UFL's five head coaches, all in their 60s, may have their best days ahead.

"We speak these players' language," Green said. "Whether you're 35 or 65, it's still the language of football."

Anna Katherine Clemmons is a reporter for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com.

Anna Katherine Clemmons is a contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine.

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