The media blitz was on for the XFL last week. During many of his appearances touting the league’s rules, Oliver Luck revealed that one of the league’s coaches told him that if their defense scores a touchdown. They are going to go for three every time automatically.
The idea is to go for the jugular immediately. XFL CEO Oliver Luck didn’t name the coach that told him this. Just a guess, but it sounds like something that LA Wildcats Head Coach/GM Winston Moss might say and do. Defensive minded coaches like Bob Stoops and Winston Moss might have a different mentality when it comes to decision making on game day.
The response to the XFL’s point after touchdown concept has been mostly positive. It doesn’t stray much from traditional football rules. The extra-point kick is gone. The only real difference is the opportunity to go for three rather than just two. The 3-point attempt will be high stakes and add drama, but it will be a low percentage play. The fun will be the strategy element used by coaches, and the second-guessing that is sure to follow.
OLD SCHOOL PRACTICES
One of the benefits to the XFL not having a CBA is the ability to practice and prepare without mandated restrictions. In a new league, that has eight brand new teams working on getting ready for the season. Any limits on how much players can practice would hinder the quality of the league’s play. The players and coaches are working very hard to get on the same page before the XFL’s first chapter is written on Saturday, February 8th.
The XFL is a pro sports league with the future in mind. It’s evident in their rules and their advanced technology methods like the enhanced audio communication for players, and the Hawk-Eye technology for its sky judge official. The overall vision is for 2020 and beyond. However, the way XFL teams are practicing is reminiscent of the 1990s.
The old school way of two-a-days and Oklahoma drills have made their way into XFL Training Camps. One of the head coaches leading this charge is Winston Moss. A great player in his own right back in the ’90s for the Raiders. Winston played in a different era than today’s football athlete.
Back in those days, coaches pushed players to the brink mentally and physically. Today’s methods protect players and rightfully so. Still, the lack of team activities has hindered overall cohesiveness and play on the pro level.
Winston Moss is running a tight ship with Los Angeles. The Wildcat Way is the teams’ mantra, but the ‘Winston Way’ would be a more fitting mission statement for the team.
Back in April of 2019, before XFL Los Angeles had announced who their Head Coach/GM would be. A respected longtime NFL assistant coach suggested to me, the name of Winston Moss as a possibility for the job. This coach told me that “Winston is a great leader and that he will get the players right.” “Winston doesn’t suffer fools,” was the way a player described his coaching style to me.
The ‘Winston Way’ has been in full effect with Moss running the show. High profile players like Shawn Oakman and Jerimiah Spicer didn’t make it to training camp. Both for different reasons. There was quite a bit of fanfare attached to both of those players after LA drafted them.
Two other projected starters on the Wildcats roster were also recently traded in WR Rashad Ross and CB Jalen Collins. Two talented players that just didn’t fit in with what Winston Moss and his staff are putting together. The trades for WR Tre McBride and CB Aarion Springs may have been scheme driven, but it puts players on alert.
Fear of being cut or traded was always a huge 90’s method of leading a team. Wildcats Defensive Coordinator Pepper Johnson can attest to that, after being coached by a master motivator in Bill Parcells. The personality of an organization usually reflects the leader, and the Wildcat players are going to do things the ‘Winston Way’ or the highway.
XFL FANTASY FOOTBALL
Draft Kings let the cat out of the bag, sort of in their projected involvement with the XFL. This past week, Draft Kings confirmed that they would have XFL contests starting on 2/8. Something that XFL followers have predicted and speculated on for quite some time.
It’s the first of many steps for the XFL in this area. ESPN and the league’s partners will surely have a hand in this area as well. The ESPN app has already gotten a jump on listing XFL games on their scoreboard. Perhaps a precursor of stat tracking with tie-ins to ESPN’s vast amount of fantasy football options. It figures not to stop there.
The XFL’s other broadcast partner, Fox, has gotten a jump on their promotional push for the league. Starting a social media account dedicated to the league, and airing the first of what should be many XFL commercials during the NFL playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.
A new era begins.
Welcome to the XFL on FOX pic.twitter.com/vbUyfTZflC
— XFL on FOX (@XFLonFOX) January 6, 2020
Not since the USFL, or perhaps the World League of American Football has a start-up league had this type of exposure right out the gate. The XFL will be airing all their games weekly on ABC, Fox, and ESPN starting on Saturday, February 8th. FS1 is also playing into the picture during the ten-week season.
The AAF had one network game on CBS in their entire 8-week run. The Alliance also paid to be on NFL Network and on TNT. The majority of the Alliance’s games weren’t readily available to most people. Not everyone gets NFL Network or CBS Sports Network on cable.
The level of media coverage for the XFL has been surprisingly positive thus far. The league office has an uphill battle in forging relationships with local and national outlets, because of the negative stigma and history attached to other pro leagues. So far, the XFL team has done a tremendous job in this area.
In an overcrowded sports landscape, getting attention and exposure is very difficult for a new league. People like Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Relations Stephanie Rudnick deserve a lot of credit for their hard work.
The day that the XFL became a reality on January 25th of 2018. The speculation by many was that this league would be on some streaming entity, or that maybe it would get some games aired on cable during their season. To many, the XFL appeared like a Twitch or WWE Network type property. Seeing major NFL and College broadcasters like ABC, Fox, and ESPN get on board is an extremely positive sign. One can only wonder what the league’s promotions will be like during Superbowl week, and the Superbowl itself. This year’s Superbowl airs on Fox, six days before the start of the XFL season.
XFL MVP CANDIDATES
It might be a bit early to make these predictions, but that hasn’t stopped the XFL from tipping their hand as to who they feel may end up being their best overall players this season. The Fox commercial chose three specific XFL players to hype. Cardale Jones, Connor Cook, and Aaron Murray. A lot of it may have to do with name recognition and their college resumes.
More plays. More scoring. Less downtime.
— XFL on FOX (@XFLonFOX) January 12, 2020
Murray is in the right spot at home in Tampa with Marc Trestman. Cook is in an offense under June Jones, that is tailor-made for putting up prolific numbers. With the recent injury of Landry Jones in Dallas. Cardale Jones seems like the odds on favorite to win the league’s MVP trophy. Cardale is in a great system run by Pep Hamilton. The Defenders added to their arsenal by adding home run threat Rashad Ross, to go along with Eli Rogers and the 4.3 blazer DeAndre Thompkins. Cardale might have the best receivers in the league to work with. So it’s hard to argue against him as the early favorite for league MVP.
Don’t discount a wide receiver in the MVP race. That may seem far fetched, but the XFL figures to be a pass-heavy league. Saints WR Michael Thomas made a strong argument for his case as MVP during this past NFL season.
XFL commissioner Oliver Luck has not delved deeply into the team’s rosters during his interviews with the press. Most of the notice has been on the league’s top quarterbacks. The one non-QB that has gotten some mention from Oliver Luck, in recent days, is Houston Roughnecks WR Sammie Coates.
Oliver remarked recently how impressed he was watching Coates in camp, and how shocked he is that Sammie is not in the NFL. All reports out of Houston indicate that June Jones run & shoot offense is fitting Coates like a glove. Coates has matured as a player, and his immense big-play skill level should be on full display come February 8th.
OCHOCINCO & PFT COMMENTER XFL TRYOUTS
Both Chad Johnson and “PFT Commenter” will be trying out for the XFL as kickers. Both of them are world-class attention getters. One as a former great NFL receiver and the other has made quite a career for himself on social media. They seem serious about this, and the XFL is going to allow them to give it a go. Neither individual is anywhere near the level of talent of the 8 current kickers on XFL rosters, nor are they on the level of accomplished free-agent kickers that are currently out on the market.
One of the things that I have loved about the XFL is that they have been operating as a football league first above everything. The XFL has stayed away from attention-seeking headlines or players. This is more of a case of sports personalities reaching out to the league and requesting an opportunity, rather than the XFL desperately seeking attention any way they can get it.
It’s similar to Darren Rovell running the 40-yard dash during the XFL Summer Showcase back in June. The XFL is media-friendly, so they will allow these types to come out to camp and try a few kicks. You can’t fault the league for that, and you can’t blame these two for using their fame to get a tryout. It’s really much to do about nothing. Chad Johnson does have some kicking experience, but even if he has a respectable showing as a novice kicker. I’d say there’s very little chance he ever makes an XFL roster.
DOUG MEACHAM NOT LONG FOR THE XFL
Doug Meacham is out at his post as the BattleHawks OC and is on his way back to TCU to coach the receiver position for Gary Patterson. Former San Diego State coach and current St. Louis QB Coach Chuck Long has been elevated to become the new BattleHawks Offensive Coordinator.
Back in June, It was revealed to me by a few agents that coaches’ contracts in the XFL were not as prohibitive as the player contracts are. The players, once signed, can’t leave for the NFL or any other league until after the XFL season is over.
Coaches can, however, leave for other opportunities. It’s been nearly a year since the XFL started hiring coaches for their teams. Bob Stoops was hired last February. One of the benefits to the XFL hiring coaches at that point was the fact that the coaching carousel in college and the NFL had finished spinning.
Jon Hayes was out of a job with the Bengals, and didn’t land on another staff. He was then hired to lead the XFL’s St. Louis franchise. Pep Hamilton was out at Michigan, he was then hired for DC. Winston Moss and his long run ended in Green Bay, he was then hired in LA.
The timing of a spring pro football league is such that, the coaching carousel is happening while XFL teams are only weeks away from kicking off their season in February. The AAF struggled with this last January.
They lost San Diego OC Jon Kitna to Dallas, Birmingham RB Coach Cadillac Williams to Auburn, Legends HC Brad Childress and OC Michael Vick bailed before the AAF season even started. There were others. The possibility was always there for this to happen to the XFL as well. Even recently, Dragons OC Mike Riley was trying to throw his name in the hat for the UTSA job.
You hope what happened to the Atlanta Legends in the AAF doesn’t derail the St. Louis BattleHawks season. It’s not easy losing a coordinator just weeks before the season starts.
Chuck Long has a ton of experience as a Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator, and that will help, but the odds are against STL getting off to a fast start offensively. Particularly with a group of very young quarterbacks in Jordan Ta’amu, Taylor Heinicke, and Brogan Roback. This is Jon Hayes first head coaching job and his biggest test in getting his team right come February 9th in Dallas.