Breaking Down the First Four USFL Head Coaches

Breaking Down the First Four USFL Head Coaches

The United States Football League’s first four head coaching hires were announced Thursday afternoon on FS1’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd. The USFL kicks off 100 days from now. With this announcement now official, I thought we could go over each coach. We’ll look at their history as a head coach, the levels they’ve coached at, and some of the more notable players they have coached in their careers. This can serve as a bit of an introduction, a bit of an insight for the fanbases who will pull for these teams. Let’s get started.

New Jersey Generals: Mike Riley

Riley has experience in a few different levels of football. He started his career in 1975 as a graduate assistant with the Cal Golden Bears. He’s held head coaching positions in college and in the NFL, CFL, the World League of American Football, and the Alliance of American Football. Most recently, Riley was the offensive coordinator for the Seattle Dragons of the XFL.

Riley’s first head coaching gig was with the Winnipeg Bluebombers in 1987. During his four seasons, Winnipeg won the Grey Cup twice. His next head coaching role came in 1997, when he took the mantle at Oregon State, the first of two stints with the Beavers. His first stint, while only lasting two years, is believed to have laid a foundation that led the school to snap a 28-year long streak of losing seasons. Following a tumultuous tenure with the San Diego Chargers, Riley returned to the school as head coach in 2003.

In 2003 and 2004, Riley’s Beavers won bowl games before a disappointing 2005. They bounced back in 2006, a season that saw them upset #3 USC and win the Sun Bowl over Missouri. Oregon State had another impressive season in 2007 and upset another top-three team in #2 Cal. They once again beat USC in 2008, who was the top team in the nation and had a chance to make the Rose Bowl before a devastating loss to Oregon in the Civil War. Riley stayed with Oregon State until he left for the Nebraska job in 2014.

Riley never found much success with the Cornhuskers, however. He won the Foster Farms Bowl in his first season despite having a losing record, but lost the Music City Bowl the next year despite finishing the season 8-4. Riley was fired following a 4-8 finish in 2017. He was named the head coach of the San Antonio Commanders of the AAF in 2019, and led them to a 5-3 record in the eight games the league played before folding. Riley’s Seattle Dragons offense was dreadful during the 2020 XFL season, trailing just the New York Guardians for the fewest points scored in the league, although Riley missed the first three games of the season. The
Dragons went 1-4.

Notable players Riley has coached include quarterbacks Ryan Leaf and Jim Harbaugh, safety Rodney Harrison, linebacker Junior Seau, and running back LaDanian Tomlinson.

Houston Gamblers: Kevin Sumlin

Sumlin has never coached at the professional level before taking this USFL job. He began his career in 1989 as a graduate assistant with Washington State University. He found his first head coaching gig with the University of Houston in 2008. In his first season, he led the school to a win in the Armed Forces Bowl. Sumlin led the program to two 10+ win seasons, including a 12-1 record in 2011, and two C-USA West Division titles. Following the 2011 season, Sumlin left Houston to take the job at Texas A&M after recording a 35-17 record with the Cougars.

Sumlin led the Aggies to three consecutive bowl victories in his first three seasons in charge. In his first season, he finished 11-2 and had victories over then-number one Alabama and #11 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. His Aggies team was the first SEC team to record over 7K yards in total offense, and Sumlin was the first Aggies coach to win over eight games in his first season at the helm. Sumlin failed to win his bowl games in 2015 and 2016 and was fired from the program before the school’s bowl game in 2017. He finished his Aggie tenure with a 51-26 record and a top-five finish in 2012. Sumlin coached Arizona but ultimately found little success, finishing 9-20 in his two and a half seasons with the Wildcats.

Sumlin was the Aggies head coach during the time of Manziel Mania. Johnny Manziel was Sumlin’s starter during that successful 2012 season, and under Sumlin’s guidance, he became the first freshman player to be awarded the Heisman Trophy. “Johnny Football” became just the second Aggie to win the award. Other notable players to have played under Sumlin: wide receiver Mike Evans, offensive tackle Germain Ifedi, offensive tackle Jake Matthews, wide receiver Christian Kirk, and quarterback Kyler Murray before Murray transferred to Oklahoma.

Tampa Bay Bandits: Todd Haley

Haley, like Riley, has NFL experience. He began his career in 1995 with the New York Jets and, except for a high school job he took in 2020, has coached in the NFL his entire career. Haley’s work has mostly been coordinator work. He has only held one head coaching job in his career.

In 2009, Haley accepted the head coaching role with the Kansas City Chiefs. He left his role as the offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals following a Super Bowl appearance. Haley’s first season with the Chiefs was not remarkable, as the team finished 4-12. However, they fared much better in 2010, finishing 10-6 and winning the AFC West. The team played the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Wild Card Game in a losing effort. A disappointing run in 2011 led to his firing after 13 games, finishing his Chiefs career with a 19-26 record.

Haley, a Pittsburgh native, is likely most known for his work as the offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which he began in 2012. Haley’s Steelers made the playoffs four consecutive times from 2014 to 2017. His offenses ranked top 10 in points for all four seasons, with a top-five ranking in 2015. The closest these teams got to the Super Bowl was an appearance in the 2017 AFC Championship Game, but they lost to the eventual champion, New England Patriots. Following the end of the 2017 season, Haley’s contract was allowed to expire. He joined the Cleveland Browns in 2018 but was fired after one season.

Players Haley has coached in his career include quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger, running backs Le’Veon Bell and Nick Chubb, and wide receivers Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown, and Anquan Boldin.

Philadelphia Stars: Bart Andrus

Andrus joins Riley in having experience at a variety of different levels. His career began in 1981 at St. Patrick’s High School in California and he has experience in college, the NFL, the CFL, and in Europe. He has been the head coach of Rocky Mountain, the Amsterdam Admirals, the Toronto Argonauts, the Omaha Nighthawks, Feather River College, and Team 9 in the XFL. He also coached two years in The Spring League.

However, most of these head coaching stints were only one year. The only one that lasted more than two was his tenure with the Amsterdam Admirals in the NFL Europe League. He took the job with the Dutch team in 2001 after winning a World Bowl with German outfit Rhein Fire. Andrus led the Admirals to their first non-losing season in 2004 with a 5-5 record and won his second World Bowl ring a year later when his Admirals defeated the Berlin Thunder. His offenses were routinely among the best in the league, and despite not winning another World Bowl, he remained the Admirals head coach until NFL Europe folded in 2007.

In 2020, Andrus was named the head coach of the XFL’s Team 9, which was a centralized practice squad for the eight teams in the league. After the XFL ceased operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrus moved to the Spring League. He was the quarterbacks coach for the Tennessee Titans in 1999, when they finished 13-3 and ultimately came one yard short in the Super Bowl. The most notable player Andrus has coached is Steve McNair.

What These Coaches Bring

These four coaches bring a variety of unique experiences and a wealth of knowledge. Two of these coaches have never coached professionally, one has never coached outside of the NFL for the most part, and only one has any experience coaching spring football. There is also a variety of coaching styles here. Haley is known as an aggressive coach and has been combative with players. Andrus is known for building high-powered offenses. Riley has experience in running pro-style offenses and had success with it at various levels. Sumlin has experience coaching on offense and special teams but played on defense when he was a player. Haley is one of few coaches to have never actually played football.

I think these differences in experience, background, and styles will make for entertaining football. Seeing two contrasting styles of football clash on the gridiron is fun to watch. And I am interested in seeing it play out. These aren’t splashy hires, fair enough, but they all have had success at their various levels. These coaches have seemed to get the best out of their players when they need to, and I think the USFL will benefit from having them in the league.

What do you think of the first round of USFL head coaches? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below or join the conversation on Discord.