The XFL regular season has arrived in spectacular fashion and is now in full swing, and there is so much ground to cover. Let’s get started.
THE WINSTON WAY
“Early in the week, I gave my coordinators three rules, three principles. I said, win the turnover battle, win the field position battle, and win the explosive play battle, and we didn’t do any of those tonight”.
– Los Angeles Wildcats Head Coach Winston Moss after his teams’ loss 37-17 loss to the Houston Roughneck in week one.
On Saturday Night, someone close to the LA Wildcats reached out to let me know that there could be impending changes to Winston Moss’s staff. This was a topic of discussion in the press box at MetLife Stadium Sunday afternoon before the Guardians-Vipers game. It wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of how many coaches would be let go by Winston.
Not only did Winston Moss relieve Pepper Johnson of his duties as defensive coordinator. LA’s defensive captain Anthony Johnson took his ball and went home. Speculation is that Anthony Johnson left the team because of Pepper’s dismissal. LA has replaced Anthony Johnson on the roster with DT Reggie Howard.
Winston might not be done shaking up his team. Special Teams Coordinator Martin Bayless and his unit were also put on blast by Winston after LA’s loss. Another poor performance could elicit more changes by Moss. The (0-1) Wildcats host the (0-1) Dallas Renegades in their home opener this Sunday at 3 pm ET, noon Pacific on ABC.
As General Manager/Head Coach, Winston Moss is the boss of the LA Wildcats football team. The league owns all the teams but for now, Winston gets to decide who he hires and fires on the football side. The ‘Winston Way’ has been on full display for months. Something that I have chronicled here in the lead-up to the season.
Two original LA Wildcat draft picks, Shawn Oakman and Jerimiah Spicer were cut before training camp even began in January. Oakman has since mended fences and returned to the team. LA’s top draft pick at receiver Rashad Ross was jettisoned off to DC in the middle of camp.
LA’s original assigned Quarterback Luis Perez was then traded to New York just weeks before the season. It’s only one week, but Perez and Ross are probably smiling after watching what has happened to LA. Ross has publicly taken shots at his former team on social media. Perez must have been smiling watching Chad Kanoff, and Jalan McClendon’s struggles last Sunday to replace an injured Josh Johnson.
There is some serious drama in LA. A few weeks back, Oliver Luck was asked in one of his many radio row interviews during SuperBowl week, if the league would have the power to fire head coaches, either during the season or after.
Oliver said that each team would be studied closely before determining whether to make a change, but that he and his football ops staff would be inclined to do so if a franchise was not showing signs of competitiveness or wasn’t headed in the right direction.
The LA Wildcats are Winston’s Moss ship, and he is the captain. So he has the right as the leader to navigate his vessel any way he chooses. However, making these types of moves must produce positive results, or Winston may go down with it.
ANDREW LUCK’S UNOFFICIAL XFL ROLE
The scene of the weekend in the XFL was in D.C. During the fourth quarter, As XFL CEO/Commissioner Oliver Luck made his way over to the DC Defenders side of the field, the entire section of fans in that area rose to their feet and gave Oliver a standing ovation. Fans were reaching out to high five the commissioner and take selfies with him.
There is another Luck who might be receiving an ovation from XFL loyalists, particularly in Houston, and it’s Oliver’s son Andrew. The former recently retired All-Pro Quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. Oliver Luck revealed during the lead up to week one, that his son Andrew has given him tips and suggestions in the last year, on which Quarterbacks, the XFL should target.
One of the players that Andrew Luck pointed the league in the direction of is his former Colts teammate Phillip Walker. Andrew Luck and PJ Walker spent two full seasons together in Indianapolis in 2017 and 2018. They were also teammates at the start of the 2019 Colts preseason before Andrew retired for health and mental reasons due to nagging injuries. PJ Walker ended up making the Colts practice squad before being released shortly after the season started.
The XFL and Oliver Luck immediately targeted Phillip Walker, once he became free. PJ Walker signed an exclusive contract with the XFL, agreeing to forego any NFL offers so that he could get an opportunity to play and start in the XFL. It wasn’t long after Walker signed with the league, that the Pittsburgh Steelers came calling.
The Steelers wanted to sign Walker to their roster in October, and use him as a practice player to prepare for Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson. Since both Walker and Jackson have similar skillsets. Since Walker was already under contract with the league, the Steelers couldn’t sign him.
The former Temple record-breaker under Matt Rhule, the 5’11 Walker, made a smashing debut this past weekend, shredding the LA Wildcats defense for 272 yards and four touchdowns in the Roughnecks 37-17 home victory.
With the XFL, Walker has a chance to overcome his practice squad status and prove his worth finally. In a league, where he can make up to 500k per season, based on the XFL’s quarterback pay structure. It’s looking like Walker made the right career decision, and that Andrew Luck made the right recommendation. On Thursday, the XFL will formally announce that their championship game will be played in Houston. It’s possible that Andrew Luck could be returning to the city, where he played high school ball to watch his former teammate PJ Walker playing in that game on Sunday, April 26th at TDECU Stadium.
THE XFL’S DEALS WITH GATORADE/ANHEUSER BUSCH
As reported last week in Sports Business Daily by Terry Lefton. The XFL has signed sponsorship deals with Gatorade (Pepsi Co.) and Anheuser Busch.
Gatorade Senior VP & GM Brett O’Brien said, “There is a bit of legitimization from us but these guys are out there working their tails off, so let’s be there on the sidelines with them and see where it goes.” It is not believed that Pepsi is paying much, if anything, beyond providing the product. Gatorade Global Head of Sports Marketing Jeff Kearney, who would not comment on the financials of the deal, said, “We’re a brand that was born on football sidelines, so it just makes sense.” He added that the sideline assets will be similar to Gatorade’s deal with the NFL, with sideline cups and coolers. “As far as the marketing engine behind it, that’s developing,” he said.
Anheuser-Busch is already a sponsor in many of the venues that the XFL teams are playing in. The brewer is treating the deal like a media buy. Rights include rotational sideline inventory and Bud Light Seltzer branding on the helmets of the Dallas Renegades.
The XFL’s partnerships may have the ear markings of an upstart league by not having substantial financial deals, but the alignment of companies like Pepsi, AB, Disney, Fox, Draft Kings, Fan Duel, and others have strengthened the visibility and credibility of the XFL brand. They are the early seeds planted for the long term financial growth of the league.
NO VINCE MCMAHON
Despite a tweet that celebrated the launch of the XFL this past Saturday. Conspicuous by his absence at any of the XFL’s opening games was the league’s chairman himself, Vince McMahon. It wasn’t a shock to many after seeing how McMahon has taken a hands-off role, when it comes to the football operations and the production side of the games. Make no mistake, however, Vince McMahon’s visionary blueprint is all over the product, and the reimagining is the XFL’s driving force.
— Vince McMahon (@VinceMcMahon) February 8, 2020
There was a McMahon who showed up to XFL games this weekend, and it was Vince’s son Shane. The appearances by Shane McMahon at the DC and NY opener raised some eyebrows and started up a whole wave of speculation amongst wrestling fans who follow the WWE closely.
Shane showed up to support his father’s new company, but that didn’t stop some from suggesting that Shane could eventually take over the reins from his father at Alpha Entertainment somewhere down the line.
THE XFL’S MISSING INGREDIENT
We are certainly a nation that falls victim to becoming prisoners of the moment. Off the heels, of the XFL’s opening weekend. It surely feels like the XFL is a legitimate and credible pro sports league. It’s still early in the game and there’s a long bumpy road ahead but the early returns on the XFL’s future looks very promising.
The presentation and innovation are top-notch. The quality of play exceeded expectations, and it stands to reason that the teams will only get better with more games played. The XFL is far from a fully polished and established product but the early base of the foundation looks strong.
The one aspect that does, however, feel missing from the league is a real season-long fantasy football component to the games. From a business standpoint, the XFL’s DFS relationships with Draft Kings and Fan Duel make all the sense in the world.
ESPN has taken a back seat to the XFL’s desire to build a monetized relationship with those two partners. It’s understandable from that aspect, but the league needs to have season-long fantasy football, in order to fully engage the fans in their players and league. Gambling is a huge component of getting fans to care about the outcomes of every single game but season-long fantasy is the long view investment by football fans. Here’s hoping that the XFL fills this gap in the future.