Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1966, one league has unquestionably dominated the pro football world. The NFL is the world’s premier American football league, and while the CFL and (briefly) the USFL have competed for and produced HoF talent over the years, the NFL’s dominance has led many to question if the emergence of another league is even possible.
Minor and feeder leagues have risen and fallen, from the Arena Leagues to NFL Europe, the UFL and most recently, the AAF. Each of these produced some quality talent and drew fan interest, but something was lacking, and large scale success was hard to come by for them.
Against such a landscape, what does the XFL offer that none of the others have? What separates it from the pack of other short-lived football franchises?
Shortly: innovation, coaches, and talent. By now most of you will know about the changes being made to the game in the XFL. We’ll still see classic gridiron football out there, but Oliver Luck and his brain trust are making tweaks and adjustments to streamline play. I won’t get into that here, but we’ve covered it in-depth here at XFL News Hub.
I believe the coaching will make an astronomical difference in the quality of play we see on the field. As the star-studded and mediocre 2019 Browns have shown us, all the talent in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have a bonafide staff to handle their end and organize the men.
The XFL will have no such problems. Their coaches have won success at all levels of the game, and have worked with some of football’s most recognized stars.
In the Western Division, Bob Stoops of the Dallas Renegades had a dominant 16 year run at Oklahoma, leading his program to 10 division titles and a National Championship.
June Jones is a veteran coach who’s led teams in 4 leagues (NFL, NCAA, CFL, USFL), and that experience will be invaluable to the Houston Roughnecks.
Los Angeles Wildcats coach Winston Moss had staying power in the Packers dynasty, where he served for 13 straight years as Mike McCarthy’s assistant HC/ LB coach. He won Super Bowl XFV with Green Bay legends like Clay Matthews & A.J. Hawk.
Seattle hero Jim Zorn will be leading the Dragons, and the former Seahawks QB has four decades of experience as a coach and QB guru.
In the East, the Tampa Bay Vipers’ Marc Trestman is one of the CFL’s best coaches with 3 Grey Cup Championships, the most recent of which was in 2017.
St. Louis BattleHawks coach Jonathan Hayes comes from a long line of great Iowa Tight Ends, played 12 years in the NFL and has been coaching ever since he retired. He led his players to multiple pro bowls and he flexed staying power and leadership in a 16-year stint as the Bengals TE coach.
Kevin Gilbride’s NY legacy is already set, as he led Eli Manning’s offense to two Super Bowl victories against the Patriots dynasty. He’s got the experience under his belt to coach his city’s Guardians to victory.
Pep Hamilton is one of football’s bright young offensive minds and implemented an offense that led to Andrew Luck’s finest season (4761 yards, 40 TD’s) as Indy’s offensive coordinator and play-caller.
It’s safe to say that the XFL players are in good hands. This group has coached rosters to 3 Super Bowls, 3 Grey Cups, a National Championship and countless Pro Bowl selections. But another question remains in the public dialogue: are there enough talented football players to sustain another league?
Oliver Luck has stated that the best 560 players in the NFL are now in the XFL. In the NFL, when rosters are at their largest in camp, there are ~2880 players in that league. When cut day comes around, that number shrinks to 1,696, and that space in between is where the XFL will thrive. Guys looking to catch on in football, make a comeback and forge a name for themselves will have all spring to make their impact.
There are a plethora of reasons why players might not make a final roster in the NFL, but very few of those mean they lack talent. Every year, we see fan favorites, high-upside rookies, established vets, and big-moment heroes get cut, and the XFL has proved a fantastic landing spot for these. When the upstart AFL competed with the NFL in the 1960’s they stocked their rosters with the same sorts of talent.
Super Bowl record holder Kony Ealy is set to tear it up as the Houston Roughnecks premier pass rusher. Former Ohio State Buckeye Cardale Jones smashed Oregon in the 2015 National Championship and has fought for years to get a starting gig like he has with the Defenders. After playing in an NFL that treats running backs like they’re expendable, Christine Michael, Cameron Artis-Payne, Matt Jones and Andre Williams are proving that their value can’t be defined by the market. Younger college players like Kenny Robinson are even joining up to pump their draft stock, and we’ll likely see more and more of these in coming seasons.
As we’ve seen time and time again, this game’s heroes can come from all corners of the world, from any background, on any path. Sure, some guys get drafted in the 1st round and have Hall of Fame careers, but even more struggle and fight for every second of playing time, and leave us all wowed with the results of their labor.
The NFL also presents very limited opportunities, with only 704 starting spots open to some 73,000 NCAA hopefuls, and even more small school prospects. To doubters who say the roster fringe players and undrafted guys who work every day to hone their craft just aren’t good enough, I’ll say this.
Should Kurt Warner have stuck to bagging groceries? Should Warren Moon have given up on playing Quarterback because people didn’t believe a Black man could do it? Would the football world be better off if Doug Flutie listened to doubters who said he wasn’t tall enough to play? Should the legions of undrafted free agents who’ve found football glory have all quit on their aspirations because of a few bumps in the road?
My answer firmly is no. There is so much untapped talent all around: guys that are hungry to play, make a name for themselves, get on that highlight reel and make their families, their communities proud. With experienced and successful coaching staffs leading them, these players are primed to prove themselves to the world, and that’s what the XFL is all about. Bringing dreams to reality.