XFL head coaches show differing philosophies in filling out their staffs

XFL head coaches
XFL Head Coaches

The XFL sent out a press release on Tuesday with the finalized coaching staffs for each of the eight teams in the league. Perhaps the word “finalized” should be used loosely, as there seems to be room on some teams to add assistants. Las Vegas still hasn’t named its offensive coordinator (reported by Mike Mitchell to be Alabama A&M offensive coordinator Duane Taylor), while some teams feature ten assistants and others have as few as seven. Only half of the teams in the league have a special teams coordinator; for many, that duty is taken by an assistant at another position. It’s possible the remaining teams will split up the special teams duties among several coaches, or hire one later on.

Nevertheless, each head coach has now surrounded himself with a group that they believe will help lead their players to the XFL championship game in May. It’s clear that different philosophies were used by each in bringing assistants aboard. Experience versus youth, college versus pro, previous relationships, schematic styles, and other considerations were taken into account. Let’s dive in to each staff as it was announced, focusing particularly on the position coaches (my column ranking the previously-announced coordinator/head coach/director of player personnel combos can be found here), spotlighting one interesting hire from each team.

XFL Arlington

Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Director of Team Operations: Matt McMillen
Director of Player Personnel: Rick Mueller
Co-Offensive Coordinator: Jon Hayes
Co-Offensive Coordinator: Chuck Long
Running Backs: Reggie Davis
Offensive Line/Special Teams: Jon Himebauch
Tight Ends/Special Teams: Scott Spurrier
Co-Defensive Coordinator: Jay Hayes
Co-Defensive Coordinator: Tim Lewis
Linebackers: Bill Sheridan
Cornerbacks: Marvin Sanders
Quality Control: Michael George
Equipment Manager: Blake Kuenzi
Video Manager: Chris Crooks

Bob Stoops put together one of the most impressive staffs in the XFL in 2020, and he’s done it again for 2023. The Arlington team is heavy on experience from the previous XFL, with Bill Sheridan the only position coach/coordinator who was not a part of that league. The choice to go with co-coordinators on offense and defense will be fascinating to watch play out. Chuck Long was Jonathan Hayes’s OC in St. Louis in 2020 when the BattleHawks were second in the league in yards per game. Reggie Davis was the team’s running backs coach while Jonathan Himebauch coached the Tampa Bay Vipers’ offensive line. Scott Spurrier coached under Stoops in Dallas and comes back after a stop at the University of Arizona, where he was a special teams analyst. He adds that coordinator post to his job leading the tight ends, which he did in 2020. He helped develop Donald Parham into an NFL-caliber player.

Jay Hayes is joined by Tim Lewis as co-defensive coordinators. Hayes was BattleHawks DC while Lewis was the team’s defensive backs coach. Lewis is one of ten coaches to leave the USFL for a job with the XFL. Marvin Sanders returns to coach the same position as he did with the Renegades in 2020. There is no defensive line coach listed, though that’s a position Jay Hayes has coached in the past and could be in charge of again.

Spotlight on…Bill Sheridan: Sheridan is one of the more impressive “gets” in this round of coaching hires. He was set to coach inside linebackers at the University of Wisconsin for the 2022 season when he was forced to resign in the spring due to an investigation of potential recruiting violations while he was at Air Force. He’s a former defensive coordinator in the NFL with the New York Giants (2009) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012-2013) and a longtime linebackers coach in both college and the pros.

XFL Houston

Head Coach: Wade Phillips
Director of Team Operations: Danielle Lee
Director of Player Personnel: Marc Lillibridge
Offensive Coordinator: AJ Smith
Wide Receivers: Payton Pardee
Offensive Line: Andre Gurode
Running Backs: John Estes
Offensive Quality Control: Marvin Williams
Defensive Coordinator: Brian Stewart
Defensive Line: Bill Johnson
Linebackers: AJ Reisig
Defensive Backs: Morgan Ford
Special Teams: Greg McMahon
Athletic Trainer: Joe Resendez
Video Manager: Brian Martin
Equipment Manager: Jared Mostowsky

The most grizzled of the XFL 2023 head coaches, Wade Phillips, appears to have a mix of youth and experience among his assistants, several of whom have local ties. One of them is Payton Pardee, who coached tight ends at Texas A&M-Commerce after playing at the University of Houston from 2015-2018. Offensive line coach Andre Gurode is a 12-year NFL veteran and five-time Pro Bowler who played for Phillips with the Dallas Cowboys. Gurode’s coaching resume is thin in comparison to others, though he did have a stint working in the Cowboys’ scouting department. John Estes will coach the running backs; he returns to Houston where he coached the Roughnecks’ offensive line in 2020.

Defensively, Phillips will have some familiar faces in Brian Stewart (defensive coordinator under Phillips with the Cowboys in 2007 and 2008) and Bill Johnson (defensive line coach when Phillips was defensive coordinator of the LA Rams in 2017 and 2018). Johnson, like Stewart, brings a ton of experience to the table. He has coached defensive lines in the NFL for four teams, as well as at LSU at the top level of college football. AJ Reisig and Morgan Ford balance that out with youth: Reisig comes from the University of Maryland where he was a senior defensive analyst. Ford was CB coach at East Texas Baptist University, just a few hours’ drive from Houston.

Spotlight on…Greg McMahon: Another coach to come from the USFL, McMahon is one of the few coaches in the league who has only special teams on his plate. It will be interesting to see how (or if) that translates on the field. McMahon spent nine years as a special teams coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, winning a Super Bowl with the team in 2010. McMahon is one of the most experienced ST coordinators available for hire. As a long-time NFL coach, Phillips certainly knows the value of special teams; after all, the Music City Miracle occurred under his watch in Buffalo.

XFL Orlando

Head Coach: Terrell Buckley
Director of Team Operations: Patrick Austin
Director of Player Personnel: Larry Lee
Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs: Robert Ford
Assistant Head Coach: Lamar Thomas
Quarterbacks: Shane Matthews
Offensive Line: Keith Wagner
Defensive Coordinator/Cornerbacks: Tony Carter
Defensive Line: Ty Warren
Linebackers: Mark Snyder
Safeties: Ronnie Lee
Athletic Trainer: Rachel Sharpe
Equipment Manager: Bobby Monica
Video Manager: Ben Lawson

Unlike Stoops and Phillips, Orlando head coach Terrell Buckley didn’t have a long list of previous coaching relationships to draw assistants from. Robert Ford and Tony Carter seemed like out-of-left-field coordinator hires to some. Buckley’s assistants come mostly from the college ranks. He hired a dedicated assistant head coach in former NFL receiver Lamar Thomas, who played with Buckley in Miami for the Dolphins. Thomas has also spent more than ten years as a college receivers coach. What Thomas’s role will entail is unclear, but it’s not the worst idea for a first-time head coach like Buckley to have someone to assist him with gameday duties. Thomas could coach select special teams units, as Buckley currently hasn’t assigned that job. Keith Wagner is a longtime HBCU offensive line coach; the XFL has made a concerted effort to reach out to those schools not only to acquire players, but seemingly coaches as well.

Ty Warren and Mark Snyder coached their respective positions in the USFL in 2022. Warren hasn’t coached much beyond that. Snyder has been defensive coordinator at both Ohio State and Texas A&M in the past. He has some special teams coaching experience, so he could also be tasked with those commitments. Ronnie Lee has made various stops in the Big Ten Conference during his career – he was a co-defensive coordinator at Minnesota and also coached at Michigan and Wisconsin.

Spotlight on…Shane Matthews: Backup quarterbacks usually make better coaches than their starting counterparts, which is a point in the favor of Matthews. In 14 NFL seasons, Matthews started just 22 games, but soaked up knowledge from offensive minds like Steve Spurrier, Mike Mularkey, and Joe Pendry. Since his playing days, Matthews has stayed in the game with over a decade of high school coaching experience in the state of Florida. A connection to the head coach: Matthews attended the same high school in Mississippi as Buckley. They are just a year apart in age.

XFL Las Vegas

Head Coach: Rod Woodson
Director of Team Operations: Temeko Richardson
Director of Player Personnel: Joey Clinkscales
Wide Receivers: Ray Sherman
Tight Ends: Charlie Eger
Defensive Coordinator: Cris Dishman
Defensive Backs: Darren Perry
Linebackers: Dr. Jen Welter
Offensive Line: Bob Wylie
Quality Control: Franco Arellanos
Athletic Trainer: Justin Bland
Equipment Manager: Bob Wick
Video Manager: Brendan Taylor

Rod Woodson’s staff was absent an offensive and defensive coordinator when those positions were announced for the rest of the league in June. As expected, Cris Dishman was named his defensive coordinator in this release. Dishman overlapped with Woodson as players at Purdue University. After spending 2020 as the defensive backs coach with the XFL New York Guardians, Dishman served as the defensive coordinator of the USFL New Jersey Generals in 2022. Another former NFL defensive back is on staff in Darren Perry. Perry played with Woodson for the Steelers. Perry later coached in Pittsburgh as well. He was last with the Green Bay Packers as safeties coach from 2009-2017.

On offense, Woodson recruited 70 year-old Ray Sherman and 71 year-old Bob Wylie to serve on his staff. Together, they have almost 80 years of coaching experience to assist the first-time head coach. Sherman was offensive coordinator with the New York Jets in 1994, the Steelers in 1998, and the Minnesota Vikings in 1999. He has coached wide receivers, quarterbacks, and running backs over the years. Sherman was running backs coach at Purdue while Woodson was a player there. Wylie coached with Woodson for the Oakland Raiders in 2011. He last coached in the CFL in 2021. Charlie Eger rounds out the offensive assistants. He too has Steelers ties, as a guest coach during OTAs in 2016 and 2017. Eger came under fire at his last stop in the CFL for making insensitive comments toward French-Canadian players, leading to his dismissal.

Spotlight on…Dr. Jen Welter: Dany Garcia has preached diversity and inclusiveness when talking about what she wants this version of the XFL to be, and the hire of Welter as linebackers coach speaks to that. Thought to be the first female NFL coach when she joined the Arizona Cardinals as an assistant coaching intern in 2015, Welter now has a position group all to her own. She coached in the Alliance of American Football as a defensive specialist in 2019. Importantly, Welter has played between the lines: She was a pro and semi-pro women’s football player for over a decade.

XFL San Antonio

Head Coach: Hines Ward
Director of Team Operations: Jose Jefferson
Director of Player Personnel: Will Lewis
Offensive Coordinator: Jamie Elizondo
Quarterbacks: Josh Neiswander
Running Backs: Jimmie Johnson
Offensive Line: Pete Mangurian
Defensive Coordinator: Jim Herrmann
Defensive Line: Paul Spicer
Linebackers: Joey Porter
Defensive Backs: Corey Chamblin
Assistant Defensive Backs: Derrius Bell
Tight Ends/Special Teams: Scott Boone
Athletic Trainer: Robert Roche
Equipment Manager: Cortez Robinson
Video Manager: Chris Miller

San Antonio has a bit of Canadian flavor, likely thanks in part to offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo. His QB coach, Josh Neiswander, played the position in the CFL and his first coaching stop was in Tampa Bay with the Vipers in 2020, where Elizondo was offensive coordinator. Pete Mangurian also reunites with Elizondo and Neiswander from Tampa. He switches roles, however, from tight ends coach to offensive line coach. That’s where he has coached the most during his career. He was also offensive coordinator for a year with the Atlanta Falcons in 2003. Jimmie Johnson brings ten years as an NFL tight end and NFL tight end coach to the San Antonio squad. He’s coaching running backs here, which he led during his first coaching stops at South Carolina State and Shaw College.

The defensive coaches are relatively young compared to their defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann. Paul Spicer and Joey Porter are both longtime NFL players. Spicer comes off his first season as sole defensive line coach, in the USFL. Previous to that he spent several seasons as an assistant line coach in the NFL. Porter was a teammate of Ward’s with the Steelers for many years. He also coached with Pittsburgh as a defensive assistant and outside linebackers coach. Corey Chamblin had a nomadic NFL career as a player and brings five years of head coaching experience in the CFL (including a Grey Cup championship) to the defense. Derrius Bell coached with the Roughnecks in 2020.

Spotlight on…Scott Boone: Boone will coach tight ends and special teams in San Antonio, which in itself is a little odd. Most of Boone’s coaching career has been spent on the defensive side of the ball, though he has also coached special teams. It’s even odder when you consider that three coaches on staff have coached tight ends before. Boone comes from the college ranks where he was defensive analyst at North Carolina State since last August.

XFL Seattle

Head Coach: Jim Haslett
Director of Team Operations: Pat Mathews
Director of Player Personnel: Randy Mueller
Offensive Coordinator: June Jones
Quarterbacks: Dan Morrison
Offensive Line: Dennis McKnight
Running Backs: Wes Suan
Wide Receivers/Special Teams: Ty Knott
Defensive Coordinator: Ron Zook
Defensive Line/Front Seven: Chip Garber
Linebackers: Matt Fleischacker
Defensive Backs: Mike Gillhamer
Safeties/Quality Control: Aaron McGinty
Athletic Trainer: Scottie Patton
Equipment Manager: Trevor Pueblo
Video Manager: Drew Scharenbroch

It appears as if Jim Haslett has given the reigns of the offense almost completely to June Jones. And hey, why not? Three Jones lieutenants were hired as position coaches: Dan Morrison, Dennis McKnight, and Wes Suan. All are versed in Jones’s run-and-shoot offense. Morrison, McKnight, and Suan all coached under Jones with the Houston Roughnecks. Morrison and McKnight were together at Washington State in between their two XFL stints. Ty Knott was assistant head coach/tight ends coach of the LA Wildcats in ’20. Knott has coached offense, defense, and special teams in the NFL and college.

Chip Garber stays in Seattle, where he coached the Dragons’ defensive backs and special teams in 2020. His coaching CV includes stops in the CFL and NFL. Mike Gillhamer was with the DC Defenders in the last XFL go-round and has extensive experience as a secondary coach in the NFL, predominantly with the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers. Aaron McGinty has been an NFL coaching intern and has held jobs at smaller colleges.

Spotlight on…Matt Fleischacker: It was unexpected for a defensive coach like Haslett to go with such a young defensive coaching group. Fleischacker exemplifies that philosophy: He coached outside linebackers at Division III Hobart College (the school that produced Buccaneers OL Ali Marpet) in Geneva, New York before joining Seattle. That’s a big jump for any coach. A Penn State grad, Fleischacker did serve as a graduate assistant there as well.

XFL St. Louis

Head Coach: Anthony Becht
Director of Team Operations: Anastasia Ali
Director of Player Personnel: Dave Boller
Offensive Coordinator: Bruce Gradkowski
Running Backs: Art Valero
Wide Receivers: Ricky Proehl
Offensive Line: Pat Perles
Offensive Line Assistant: Mark Lee
Defensive Coordinator: Donnie Abraham
Defensive Line: La’Roi Glover
Linebackers: Dave Steckel
Athletic Trainer: Eric Avila
Equipment Manager: Todd Hewitt
Video Manager: Sean Hollister

First-time head coach Anthony Becht didn’t seem too concerned about the lack of coaching experience of his coordinators when I spoke to him in June. Perhaps that’s because he knew he’d buttress those hires with veteran position coaches. At 64 years old, running backs coach Art Valero was on staff with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Becht was a player there. Valero has a wealth of experience in college and the pros. So does Dave Steckel, Becht’s linebackers coach. Steckel has coached in college since 1982 and was Missouri State head coach from 2015-2019. He could be an important sounding board for Becht given the dearth of head coaching experience elsewhere on his staff.

Offensive line coach Pat Perles comes from the USFL, and has also coached lines in the CFL and NFL. He coached in Kansas City while Becht played there in 2011. Ricky Proehl was part of the St. Louis Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf teams as a player, giving him a connection to the city. He spent a few years as receivers coach for the Panthers. St. Louis doesn’t list a defensive backs coach, though defensive coordinator Donnie Abraham, a DB as a player, could inherit that role.

Spotlight on…La’Roi Glover: Glover too played for the Rams in St. Louis at the end of his 12-year NFL playing career. Becht and Glover played together on the 2008 Rams team. Glover made six Pro Bowls and led the NFL in sacks in 2000. As a coach, he assisted the defensive lines with the New York Jets and LA Chargers. In St. Louis, he’ll have the position all to himself. He’s a young coach who could be on the rise with a successful XFL season.

XFL Washington D.C.

Head Coach: Reggie Barlow
Director of Team Operations: Stacie Johnson
Director of Player Personnel: Von Hutchins
Offensive Coordinator: Fred Kaiss
Wide Receivers: Alvance Robinson
Tight Ends: Cody Crills
Quarterbacks: Shannon Harris
Offensive Line: Russ Ehrenfeld
Defensive Coordinator: Gregg Williams
Defensive Line: Jeremy Watkins
Defensive Backs: Vernon Dean
Special Teams/Linebackers: Jamie Sharper
Quality Control: Deion Harris
Athletic Trainer: Chris Lacsamana
Equipment Manager: VanDyke Jones
Video Manager: Caleb Studivant

Washington, D.C. head coach Reggie Barlow played collegiately and coached at HBCU schools, and he plucked many of his assistants from there. Several of them coached under Barlow at Virginia State. QBs coach Shannon Harris coached QBs and was offensive coordinator for Barlow after working with Fred Kaiss at Tennessee State; defensive line coach Jeremy Watkins coached the same at VSU in 2021 and played at Barlow’s alma mater, Alabama State;  Vernon Dean joins DC from VSU, coaching DBs at both stops; and quality control coach Deion Harris was a defensive line grad assistant for Barlow. Receivers coach Alvance Robinson also has a connection to Barlow, having played at Alabama State in 2005 when Barlow coached QBs. Robinson also played in the Arena Football League and coached at West Florida.

Russ Ehrenfield is another understudy of Kaiss, having been a longtime offensive line coach at Tennessee State. Cody Crill (no “s”) was offensive coordinator at Incarnate Word before being hired this past year to lead Northwestern State’s offense. He resigned in late August citing “personal reasons,” which was apparently code for being hired by the XFL. One would think Barlow might defer to veteran defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to select his defensive assistants, but the dots connect back to Barlow rather than Williams.

Spotlight on…Jamie Sharper: This name stands out among the other college coaches brought aboard by Barlow. Sharper played eight years in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. He doesn’t have an obvious relationship with Barlow or Williams, but coached at Georgetown University and is from Richmond, Virginia, giving him a link to the D.C. area.

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