In 1994, I was head coach of the Hamilton Wildcats semi-pro team. We were the only Canadian team that played in the United States. The Wildcats were a brand new team. We started from scratch. Only 22 players, three were kickers. I accepted the job one week before the regular season started. The team was in chaos. Their pre-season record was dismal – 0-3. The team turned it around and went 20-2 over 2 seasons
Starting a team from scratch has major challenges. We beat the odds. All of them. We went undefeated in our first season with 9-0 record. We were ranked #1 on the semi-pro Independent ranking and were awarded the Independent National Championship.
We had outstanding players. I called A.J.Smith, the current general manager of the San Diego Chargers who at that time was the Director of Pro Personnel with the Buffalo Bills during the Bills 4-year Super Bowl run/pass. I introduced myself and said I was “just” a semi-pro head coach but had several potential pro players. He corrected me and said, “not just.” He got his start as a semi-pro head coach with the Rhode Island Kings twenty years earlier. He said that semi-pro football made an impact on his life by getting him to the pros and it makes impacts on countless lives.
He made an impact on my mindset. I dropped the word “just” from my vocabulary. What he said changed my view of football for life. I realized the impact that semi-pro football can make.
Mr. Smith came to a game and personally scouted our players in person, standing on our sideline for an entire game. Then he evaluated players on film that I sent him. None of my players got signed by the Buffalo Bills but two of them – Sandy Annunziata and Dan Giancola – went on to long careers, both winning Grey Cup rings in the process.
The rest of the team broke records in the NFC, some of which still stand today and may never be broken. One record that may never be broken is Vince Valvano’s record of making first-team all-star on the defensive line and offensive line in the same season, as voted by league players. Connections were made for life. It has to be experienced to be understood.
That’s why I accepted the head coach position with Oakville Longhorns. Impacts. The impacts that can be made are infinite.
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