If Boise's newly awarded arenafootball2 franchise truly wants to compete with division rival Spokane on the field or match the Shock's success off it, the Boise ownership group should ask the Shock for Jim Foster's phone number.
It was Foster who concocted the arena game on the back of a Manila envelope in the mid-1980s. Twenty years later, it was Foster who gave Spokane owner Brady Nelson a major head start in his budding af2 operation.
"Jim Foster made me promise that we would hire a coach that had arena football experience," Nelson said.
It was much better than Nelson's original plan — to hire someone local to create some buzz.
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"We kind of thought, if you're a good football coach, you can pick it up. ... Someone who had done college stuff with Washington State or Idaho or Eastern Washington. That was our first idea."
Foster's conversation persuaded Nelson, in town for the league's official announcement Tuesday, to find an arena veteran. Nelson picked Chris Siegfried, who had been dismissed by the South Georgia Waves and is the winningest active coach in the league with 47 victories.
And now Spokane is 8-1, atop the af2 standings, going to the playoffs and attracting 10,000 fans a game.
"The coach is huge," Nelson said.
The coach in af2 is bigger than huge.
The coach, who in af2 also must attract talent to play for $200 per week, is everything. He's part general manager, using his contacts to recruit players. He's part college coach, juggling the lineup and molding the talent on hand. He's the public face of the franchise.
"The best players win. But the best coaches get the best players," Nelson said.
How important are coaches?
The af2 must approve each team's head coach. The league doesn't want local owners grabbing coaches who made their names in the outdoor game and have no experience in the arena version destroying its products around the country.
"There are fantastic coaches out there for the outdoor game and for the indoor game, but arena football is different than both of those," af2 commissioner Jerry Kurz said. "It's important for us, especially for a new team, that we have someone that is well-schooled in arena football."
That's how important the league considers head coaches.
To their credit, the owners of the Boise franchise — name to be determined — seem to realize this.
"We'll obviously go after the best guy that's available to start the program, because with that comes the players. If you want to talk about a key hire for the organization, it starts at the top, and that's with the coach," said Glenn Stanford, the president of Boise-based Block22, which owns one-third of the franchise.
Among the top candidates for the position is Utah Blaze assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Lee Leslie. The Blaze are in their first season with the AFL, the top league in arena ball, and Leslie was on hand for Tuesday's announcement.
He said he has not been offered the job, but clearly it's on his mind.
"It's a neat situation with Boise right now. It's going to be interesting to look at," said Leslie, who has coached just one season in the AFL, but played and coached in the National Indoor Football League.
Said Stanford, who had dinner with Leslie on Monday night: "What a tremendous guy that guy is. As I've said — and I'm sincere — if we can get someone of that caliber, we'd be well off to the races."
The Boise franchise — Stanford hopes to have a name soon — better hire someone of that caliber or higher. This ownership group does not appear dumb, and given its connections with the AFL's Austin Wranglers — the Wranglers' owners also have a one-third stake the Boise franchise — the Boise team should have access to quality coaches.
The franchise has placed hiring a head coach above just about everything but naming the team. That's as it should be. Curiosity and a few local players should attract initial interest. Gimmicks, atmosphere and giveaways will help. But for this franchise to flourish — as the Spokane team has and as the Boise team should — it must win games.
"The bottom line is you have to win and you have to hire a guy that can get you there," Stanford said. "You've got to be careful that you've got a guy that has the winning ways on the field, because that's the best marketing you can get. If this team is 8-0 at home, I bet it's pretty easy to sell tickets."
Now the franchise must turn those words into actions.
The first move should be to get Jim Foster's phone number. The second should be to heed his advice.