The USFL’s draft is set for Tuesday, February 22nd, and kickoff is less than 2 months away. Now that all the coaches have been announced and the league is getting ready to roll, it’s a good time to do the first power rankings!
These rankings will likely change right after the draft, but let’s take a look at these coaches and see how they measure up against each other at first glance.
8. Houston Gamblers – Kevin Sumlin
Kevin Sumlin has had some success in the college coaching world, but signs point to that success being more a product of talented players (Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans, Ryan Swope, etc.) and talented supporting coaches, rather than his own coaching abilities.
His best season as a head coach came in 2012 at Texas A&M with a loaded roster and Kliff Kingsbury as his offensive coordinator. The team ended the season 11-2, and beat number 11 ranked Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Kingsbury left for the head coaching job at Texas Tech at the end of the season, and things have gotten progressively worse for Sumlin every year since.
In 2017, Kevin Sumlin was fired from Texas A&M after 6 seasons, ending his tenure with a 51-26 record. In 2018, Sumlin was hired as the head coach of the Arizona Wildcats, and lots of hype built up around U of A’s program, especially with a potential Heisman contender at quarterback in Khalil Tate. Unfortunately for Sumlin, the team lost to BYU and Houston in the first 2 weeks, and U of A’s hype died quickly. They finished the season 5-7, and besides an upset win over Oregon, the team was extremely disappointing.
Khalil Tate returned the following season, but 15 other guys transferred out of the program. Sumlin’s Wildcats would be a bust yet again, and the team ended the year 4-8.
Sumlin found himself in the hot seat in 2020, and with Khalil Tate now gone, he needed to find a new quarterback. The team started the season 0-5 and had one of the worst offenses and defenses in college football. After an embarrassing 70-7 loss to Arizona State University, Sumlin was fired.
Sumlin got pretty lucky with recruits at Texas A&M, which helped hide some of the team’s major problems. He blew a ton of leads, talented players didn’t develop, he led some very undisciplined teams, and quarterbacks were handled pretty poorly after Kingsbury left. In regards to his teams at Arizona, they only ever regressed.
If Sumlin brings in the right staff around him, who knows how his team will do in the USFL, but based on his more recent coaching experiences, unless the Gamblers have the best draft by a mile, hopes should not be very high for this team right now.
7. Tampa Bay Bandits – Todd Haley
This might seem low for 1 of only 3 head coaches in the USFL with NFL head coaching experience, but there’s a reason for it. While Haley does have 25 years of coaching experience in the NFL ranks, he has earned a reputation as an extremely “aggressive and combative” coach, even seeming to but heads with other coaches at times.
Haley has had success as a coach in the NFL, helping lead the 2008 Arizona Cardinals to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance and serving as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, but he seems to have made a few enemies along the way as well.
During the Cardinals NFC Championship Game against the Eagles in 2008, Haley had a sideline argument with quarterback Kurt Warner, followed by a short blowup in full view of tv cameras with wide receiver Anquan Boldin later in the game.
Anquan Boldin goes after Cards Off Coordinator Todd Haley – (The NFL’s videos cannot be embedded)
Before joining the Cardinals, Haley would also argue with Terrell Owens when he was the wide receivers coach in Dallas. When asked about his coaching style, Haley defended it, stating,
“It’s part of how I coach… It’s part of how I motivate, and I like to think I’ve had some success doing it.”
After his stint with the Cardinals, Haley served as the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2012-2017. He spent the 2018 season with the Cleveland Browns before being fired alongside head coach Hue Jackson. Since 2020, Haley has served as Riverview High School’s offensive coordinator before agreeing to sign on with the USFL as head coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits.
If players do buy into Haley’s “aggressive and combative” coaching style, his team could jump up in the rankings rather quickly. He could even establish the Bandits as one of the league’s most electrifying offenses.
Personally, I don’t see a bunch of guys in their early 20’s buying into this style of coaching, but who knows. Haley’s had success at the highest level, he most recently coached high schoolers, and I’ve definitely been wrong before.
6. New Orleans Breakers – Larry Fedora
Larry Fedora has had a good deal of success in the college coaching ranks and is considered by many to be the best coach in the history of Southern Miss football. He was seen as one of the brightest young minds in college football at one point, but the last few years of his career saw a pretty significant drop-off in success.
Fedora played wide receiver at Austin College from 1981 to 1984, where he discovered his love for coaching. In 1986, he’d join Austin Colleges coaching staff as a graduate assistant, then spent the following 3 seasons as an assistant at Garland High School in Texas.
In 1991, Fedora returned to the collegiate coaching ranks, joining the Baylor Bears as the team’s wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs coach. He remained with the Bears for 6 seasons, 4 of which ended with the team having 7 or more wins.
In 1997, he’d join Air Force as the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach, helping lead the team to a record of 10-3 that season and make an appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl. They ended the 1998 season with a record of 12-1 and earned a victory over the University of Washington in the Oahu Bowl.
After the 1998 season, Fedora left Air Force when he landed his first offensive coordinator position with the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. He’d remain with the team for 2 seasons. In 2002, Fedora joined the Florida Gators coaching staff as the run game coordinator, working his way to the offensive coordinator role by the 2004 season. In his 3 seasons with the Gators, the team ended with a record of 23- 15.
He’d join the Oklahoma State Cowboys in 2005 and stayed with the team through the 2007 season. Fedora was earning roughly $393,000 a year, making him one of the highest-paid offensive coordinators in the country at that time. In 3 seasons with the Cowboys, the team finished with a record of 18-19, also earning victories in the Independence Bowl over Alabama and the Insight Bowl over the Indiana Hoosiers.
Fedora landed his first head coaching job in 2008 with the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. He spent 4 seasons with the Golden Eagles, and the team posted a winning record in each of them. While at Southern Miss, Fedora posted an overall record of 34-19, beat Kevin Sumlin’s 6th ranked Houston Cougars in the C-USA Championship, and made Bowl appearances each year he was with the Golden Eagles. The team earned victories over Troy in the New Orleans Bowl in 2008 and over Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl in 2011. Under Fedora, Southern Miss had posted the most productive offense in the team’s 100-year football history, and his players were graduating at a higher rate than any other point in the school’s history.
In December of 2011, Fedora accepted an offer to take over as head coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels. However, he still planned to coach his Southern Miss team in the Hawaii Bowl before officially leaving.
After joining the Tar Heels, Fedora vowed his football team would be known for “playing smart, playing fast, and playing physical.” In his first season at UNC, the team finished with a record of 8-4, but due to NCAA probation for recruiting and academic violations, Fedora was not eligible to compete in the post-season that first year. The following 2 seasons would be a bit rough for the Tar Heels, ending 2013 with a record of 7-6 and 2014 with a record of 6-7, but they would beat the Cincinnati Bearcats in the 2013 Belk Bowl.
The Tar Heels turned things around in 2015 when the team posted a record of 11-3, getting 11 straight wins after a Week 1 loss and posting their best record as a team with Fedora leading the way. The team had some help from their talented roster, which included future NFL draft picks quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and wide receiver Ryan Switzer, as well as a few familiar names from the XFL (2020) in wide receiver Austin Proehl and tight end Bug Howard.
The 2016 season saw the Tar Heels go 8-5; then the team took a nosedive in terms of success over the following 2 seasons. In 2017 they ended the year 3-9, and 2018 finished with a record of 2-9. In the summer of 2018, opinions of Fedora began to change when he came out and criticized the proposed kickoff rule changes among other things.
The disconnect between Fedora, his players, and higher-ups at North Carolina continued to grow, and he was fired in November of 2018 after a 1-7 season in conference play for the 2nd year in a row.
In 2019, Fedora briefly joined Tom Herman’s staff as an analyst but decided to leave for a job as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of Baylor for the 2020 season. In 1 season with Baylor, the team’s offense finished 125th in the nation in yards per play and 99th in scoring offense. Fedora and Baylor parted ways after the 2020 season.
Fedora now finds himself at the helm of his first head coaching job outside the college ranks with the New Orleans Breakers.
While Larry Fedora has had a good deal of success in the college ranks, it seems there has been a growing disconnect between the recent organizations he’s worked for as well as some of the players he’s coached. If Fedora and his players can get on the same page, then this team could be pretty exciting to watch, but with little success in his more recent coaching ventures, I’ll need a bit more convincing before he moves up the rankings.
5. Philadelphia Stars – Bart Andrus
Bart Andrus has experience coaching in all ends of the football world and brings 41 years of coaching experience to the Stars, having held various positions in the NFL, CFL, NCAA, NFL Europe, XFL (2020), The Spring League, UFL, and U Sports.
After serving as an assistant to BYU’s coaching staff from 1984 through the 1985 season, Andrus landed his first coaching job as the offensive coordinator for the Humboldt State Lumberjacks. He’d stay with the Lumberjacks through the 1989 season, then left for the offensive coordinator position at Montana State when the season ended. Andrus stayed with Montana State for 2 seasons before joining the Southern Utah Thunderbirds, where he’d stay through the 1995 season.
Andrus landed his first head coaching job in 1996 with the Battlin’ Bears at Rocky Mountain College. The program had not won a single game in 4 seasons before Andrus’ arrival, and he’d lead them to a 6-4 record in his first season with the team. Their offense was ranked 1st in the nation, and Andrus would win the 1996 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Coach of the Year Award.
Following 1 season with the Battlin’ Bears, Andrus moved on to the NFL, where he’d spend 3 seasons on Jeff Fisher’s coaching staff with the Oilers/Titans. He spent 1997 and 1998 as an offensive assistant for the Oilers and was promoted to quarterbacks coach in 1999, where he’d be in the ear of quarterback Steve McNair. The same year Andrus assumed the role of quarterback coach, the team rebranded to the Tennessee Titans and made it to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, a hot Rams team led by Dick Vermil and Kurt Warner would beat the Titans 23-16 in the Super Bowl.
After the Super Bowl loss, Andrus headed across the pond to join the ranks of NFL Europe. For the 2000 season, he’d serve as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the Düsseldorf Rhein Fire in Germany, and the team went on to win the World Bowl.
He landed a head coaching job with the Amsterdam Admirals the following year, and in 2005 they’d go on to beat the 3-time champion Berlin Thunder in World Bowl XIII, earning his second World Bowl ring. Additionally, Andrus earned NFL Europe Coach of the Year honors that season.
In 2006, Andrus had his best regular season as a head coach, leading the Admirals to a 7-3 record, and the team had one of NFL Europes most potent offenses, averaging roughly 332 yards per game. However, they’d lose the World Bowl XIV to the Frankfurt Galaxy 22-7.
Andrus returned to the Titans as an offensive assistant for the 2008 NFL season but left the team in 2009 for the head coaching job of the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts. He’d go 3-15 in his 1 year with the Argos and was fired upon the season’s end.
He joined the UFL in 2011 as the Omaha Nighthawks offensive coordinator, then took over as the team’s head coach in 2012. Andrus reunited with Jeff Fisher In 2013 when he’d join the St. Louis Rams as an offensive assistant. He stayed with the Rams for only 1 season and left to join the Feather River College Golden Eagles as their temporary head coach for 1 season in 2014.
Andrus took a break from coaching after his time with the Golden Eagles but signed on with The Spring League in 2018 and 2019, coaching players for various showcases and scouting events. In 2020, he landed a position as head coach of the XFL’s reserve team, Team 9, until the league folded due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the back half of 2020, Andrus signed back on with The Spring League, but this time as head coach of the Generals for their fall season. Andrus, quarterback Bryan Scott, and the Generals would win The Spring Leagues Championship, beating the Aviators 37-14.
In 2021, Andrus served as the quarterback’s coach for the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and now finds himself as the head coach of the Philadelphia Stars in the USFL.
As someone who’s been a part of the NFL, CFL, XFL (2020), UFL, NFL Europe, The Spring League, and more, Bart Andrus should have a leg up on the other coaches when it comes to knowing how to navigate the waters of alternative football leagues. While other coaches in the USFL might’ve won more as a head coach, not many have more experience in alternative leagues than Andrus.
4. Birmingham Stallions – Skip Holtz
Skip Holtz is the son of legendary Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz and has had quite a successful career of his own in the college coaching ranks. As a head coach, Skip has a record of 152-121, also winning 8 of 12 Bowl appearances, and was awarded the C-USA Coach of the Year in 2008 and 2016.
After serving as an assistant to the Florida State coaching staff for the 1987 and 1988 seasons, Skip Holtz landed his first coaching job in 1989 as the wide receivers coach for the Colorado State Rams. After only 1 season with the Rams, Holtz would join his father’s staff at Notre Dame as the wide receivers coach. In 1992, he’d be promoted to offensive coordinator of the Irish, and in 1993 he’d leave Notre Dame for his first head coaching job with the UConn Huskies.
At the end of the 1998 season, Skip resigned as the head coach of the Huskies to join his father’s new staff at South Carolina with the Gamecocks as the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator.
Following the 2004 season, Lou Holtz resigned as head coach of the Gamecocks, and the next day, Steve Spurrier was announced as the team’s new head coach. Spurrier announced he’d retain only 3 members of Lou Holtz staff, and Skip resigned before the team could officially fire him.
Skip took over as head coach of East Carolina University in December of 2004 and began helping to flip a program that had only won 3 of their last 25 games. His first recruiting class with the Pirates brought in 23 athletes, including future NFL wide receiver Aundrae Allison, and the team won 5 games that season. The following 4 seasons with East Carolina all ended with winning records and bowl game appearances. Holtz would only earn 1 Bowl game victory with the team, beating the Boise State Broncos 41-38 in the 2007 Hawaii Bowl.
In 2010, Holtz took the head coaching job at the University of South Florida and led the team to an 8-5 record that year. The following 2 seasons did not go quite as well for him, with the team going 5-7 in 2011 and 3-9 in 2012. He was fired from USF at the end of the 2012 season.
In 2013, Holtz moved on to the head coaching job of the Louisianna Tech Bulldogs. His first season with the team would undercut expectations, finishing with a record of 4-8. The 2014 season saw a massive turnaround, with Holtz Bulldogs finishing first in the C-USA West with a record of 9-5 and a win over Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The team’s success continued in 2015, ending the year with a record of 9-4 and beating Arkansas State in the New Orleans Bowl.
The team’s success didn’t begin to fall off until after the 2019 season, which was Holtz’s best season as the team’s coach. The Bulldogs ended 2019 with a record of 10-3 and beat Miami in the Independence Bowl. The 2020 season saw a significant drop-off as the team finished the year 5-5. The decline continued in 2021 when the team finished 3-9, and Holtz was fired after the season.
Skip Holtz has a ton of experience as a head coach in the college ranks, and most of that experience has been with winning teams, some of which he personally flipped around. I’m sure having a dad who’s a legendary college coach helps pick up a few things along the way too. Ultimately, Holtz has an abundance of knowledge to share with his players, and I expect this team to be a solid one.
3. Pittsburg Maulers – Kirby Wilson
Kirby Wilson will be one of the most interesting coaches to watch in the USFL, as he’s the only head coach in the league without prior head coaching experience. However, Wilson does have 2 years of playing experience in the CFL and 37 years of experience as a position coach and coordinator in the NFL and NCAA.
Wilson has had a hand in the career of many successful running backs over the years, including a few of the NFL’s best. Along the way, he’s won 2 Super Bowls (XXXVII – Bucs, XLIII – Steelers) as a running backs coach and became an NCAA WAC Co-Champion as a defensive coordinator with Wyoming in 1993.
While Kirby Wilson served as the running backs coach at Iowa State in 1995 and 1996, Troy Davis ran for over 2,000 rushing yards in back-to-back seasons.
After joining the NFL ranks, Wilson spent time coaching running backs for various teams, including the New England Patriots, Washington Redskins (now Commanders), Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns, and most recently, the Las Vegas Raiders.
While in the NFL ranks, Wilson coached 3 Hall of Fame running backs in Emmit Smith, Curtis Martin, and Edrin James. He’s also had a hand in the career of future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson, as well as both of Josh Jacobs’ 1,000 yard rushing seasons.
Kirby Wilson w/ Josh Jacobs | Mic’d Up | Oakland Raiders – (The NFL’s videos cannot be embedded)
While Kirby Wilson may not have prior head coaching experience, he’s been around the NFL for 24 years for a reason. Wilson has more than enough experience, he’s had a hand in the careers of some of the NFL’s great running backs, and is the kind of coach players want to play for. I expect the Maulers to have one of the better rushing attacks in the USFL.
2. New Jersey Generals – Mike Riley
Mike Riley is another coach with experience at every level of football. He played defensive back at Alabama from 1971 to 1974, then joined the California Golden Bears as a graduate assistant in 1975. The following season he joined Whitworth University as a graduate assistant before landing his first real coaching job as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach for Linfield University, where he’d remain until 1982.
In 1983, Riley joined the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers as the defensive backs coach and stayed with them through the 1985 season. He joined the Northern Colorado Bears for a season in 1986 but returned to the Blue Bombers the following year, this time as their head coach. He remained the Bombers head coach through the 1990 CFL season, helping bring home 2 Grey Cups in his time with the team.
In 1991, Riley joined the San Antonio Riders of the defunct WLAF. Originally, Riley was intended to stay on as the Riders coach as they transitioned into the CFL as the San Antonio Texans for the 1993 CFL season, but the team folded after the league’s second year.
He returned to the ranks of college football in 1993 and joined USC as the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, later becoming the assistant head coach. Under Riley’s lead, USC quarterback Rob Johnson set several NCAA and Pac-10 records, later becoming a 4th round pick in the NFL. Johnson later commented on his offensive coordinator, stating,
“He’s a player’s coach, who gets the most out of you by treating you like normal”
He stayed with the Trojans through the 1996 season, helping the team to victories in the Freedom Bowl, Cotton Bowl, and Rose Bowl.
Riley was hired as head coach of the Oregon State Beavers in 1997. In his 2 seasons with the team, he led them to a record of 3-8 and 5-6. However, many consider Riley to have laid the foundation for Oregon States’ success with his recruiting in the years that followed his departure. The 1999 Oregon State team built up with Mike Rileys recruits and led by coach Dennis Erickson posted a 7–5 record and earned a trip to the Oahu Bowl, ending a streak of 28 straight losing seasons.
In January 1999, Riley left Oregon State for a head coaching job in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers. In 2001, the team posted a 5-11 record, and in his final game with the team, Doug Flutie passed for 377 yards, also driving down the field with 16 seconds left to set up a game-tieing field goal. Unfortunately for Riley, poor special team’s play led to a long kick return by the Seattle Seahawks, setting them up for a game-winning 54-yard field goal. Riley was fired after 3 seasons as the Chargers head coach and ended his stint in San Diego with an overall record of 14-34. He’d join the coaching staff of the New Orleans Saints in 2002 as an assistant before returning to the college ranks the following year.
After his time with the New Orleans Saints, Riley returned to Oregon State, leading the team to wins in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2003 and the Insight Bowl in 2004 before having a down year in 2005. In each of the next 3 seasons, the Beavers ended with 9-4 records, earning 2 Sun Bowl victories and a win in the Emerald Bowl. Riley stayed with the Beavers through the 2014 season, making 3 more bowl appearances in that time, winning a Hawaii Bowl, and earning Pac-10 Coach of the Year (2008) along the way.
In December of 2014, Riley was named the head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. He led the Cornhuskers to a 6-7 record and won the Foster Farms Bowl in his first season with the team. The following season, Riley led Nebraska to a record of 9-4, making an appearance in the Music City Bowl, but they’d lose to the Tennessee Volunteers. His final season as head coach of Oregon State ended with a record of 4-8, and Riley was fired at the season’s end.
For the 2018 season, Riley returned to Oregon State once again, but this time only as a consultant. However, that would not last long, as he’d be hired as head coach of the AAF’s San Antonio Commanders for their 2019 season before the league’s eventual collapse.
In June 2019, Riley signed on with the XFL, becoming the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the Seattle Dragons. Unfortunately, Riley missed the first 3 games due to personal reasons, then 2 weeks later, the league was shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Riley now finds himself in the driver’s seat of another alternative football team, this time the USFL’s New Jersey Generals.
Mike Riley has found some form of success at nearly every level of football. Not only does he seem to be a great football mind, but he is a fantastic human that players seemingly love to play for. I expect Riley’s Generals to be one of the better teams in the USFL.
1. Michigan Panthers – Jeff Fisher
Jeff Fisher is easily the most recognizable name out of these coaches, and for good reason. Fisher had success as both a player and a coach in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl with the 1985 Chicago Bears as a defensive back and gaining 37 years of experience throughout the NFL’s coaching ranks, also winning coach of the year in 2008 with the Tennessee Titans.
Fisher’s first head coaching opportunity came with the Houston Oilers in 1994 when he’d fill in as the interim head coach after Jack Pardee was fired. Fisher was retained as the team’s official head coach in 1995, and he held onto the position for 16 full seasons.
The team relocated to Tennessee in 1997 and was renamed the Titans 2 years later. The same year the team was renamed, they’d end the season with a record of 13-3 and make it to the Super Bowl (Super Bowl XXXIV) in part due to the ‘Music City Miracle.’ Sadly for Fisher and the Titans, they couldn’t pull off the win, falling short to the Dick Vermeil and Kurt Warner-led Rams with a final score of 23-16.
In 2010, relations became increasingly worse between Fisher and Titans quarterback Vince Young. Young injured his thumb in a home game against the Washington Redskins (now Commanders), and Fisher did not let him re-enter the game. In protest, Young removed his equipment on the sidelines and eventually threw his shoulder pads into the crowd, walking off the field as the game continued. Young never played another game for the Titans and was released at the end of the season.
A month after the 2010 season ended, it was formally announced that Jeff Fisher and the Titans had mutually agreed to part ways after a buyout of the final year on Fisher’s Contract.
He’d take a break from coaching for the 2011 season and signed on as head coach of the St. Louis Rams in January 2012. While the Rams did see some improvement in their first 2 seasons, unfortunately, the team seemed to plateau, consistently finishing 3rd or 4th in the NFC West.
The team relocated to LA in 2016, and after a 3-1 start to the season, the team collapsed, losing their next 7 games. The Rams fired Fisher following a 42-14 loss to the eventual NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons.
Fisher remained out of the coaching world until 2021 when he signed on as an advisor to Tennessee State. The advisor role must have re-sparked some desire to coach because Fisher now returns to coaching with the USFL’s Michigan Panthers.
Most Memorable Jeff Fisher Moments | NFL Network | GMFB – (The NFL’s videos cannot be embedded)
Jeff Fisher is easily the most experienced and most recognizable coach in the USFL. Although his final seasons with the Rams didn’t go how he would’ve liked, he’s still one of the NFL’s longest-tenured coaches and will be able to provide a wealth of knowledge to his players. I would be shocked if his team didn’t play well, especially since he has the first pick at a quarterback in Tuesday’s Draft.
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