By J.P. Fox
(PALM SPRINGS) – The SoCal Coyotes have captured something special.
When NFL executive Troy Vincent, the league’s new director of football operations, declared that the league must place greater focus on developmental football, we went searching for America’s best program. We scoured the country, and it didn’t take us long: Meet the SoCal Coyotes, the nation’s only non-profit sports leadership organization to field a developmental professional football team.
It starts with LEADERSHIP
Now entering its fifth season, this year-round developmental football academy – and everything it stands for — has set a standard for excellence, and undoubtedly will find itself on the NFL radar very soon. Led by savvy GM Sam Maggio and president and head coach J. David Miller, among others, the Coyotes’ mission on and off the field is astounding.
After quietly tracking them online, and researching their corporate officers, coaches and programs, I finally reached out to GM Sam Maggio, who suggested an ‘interview’ with Coach Miller. What I thought was going to be a simple Q&A turned into a full-blown, transparent breakdown on the inner-workings of the Coyote ‘machine,’ everything from their intense Run ‘n’ Shoot offensive schemes, to Coyote leadership curriculum, to intake protocol, to how the players eat – even the importance of their tucked-in uniform jerseys on game day.
“Faith, Family, and Football”
One of the first things that surprised me when I spoke to Coach Miller was how amazing it was hearing him talk so less about the football side of his team, and more about what they’re trying to accomplish with every player, as a person, who calls himself a Coyote.
‘Faith, Family and Football’ is the real mission of the Coyotes off the field – and not surprisingly, something that dates back to the great Vince Lombardi in 1959. More than game tape. More than a weight room. More than a 40 time. The Coyote mission reaches so far from the actual gridiron that developing well-rounded young men is just as, if not more, important to the entire organization.
The Coyote players off the field are helping more than just themselves by being part of this extraordinary organization. They volunteer as speakers and coaches in Southern California schools. The team has shared their personal stories by speaking to more than 14,000 kids — just in the last school year alone.
Getting it done on the field
On the field, the dominance that the team has shown is apparent in the games that they have played across several leagues. They were 2012 Pac West League Champions, followed in 2013 as United Football Alliance League Champions. Assisting with the Coyotes offense is the “Godfather of the Run ‘n’ Shoot,” Darrel “Mouse” Davis himself. Davis is a personal mentor of Coach Miller.
The offense that the Coyotes run is led by record-setting 6-6, 235-pound quarterback Nate Lewis, who is now threatening a half-dozen national records that include names like Colt Brennan, Jim Kelly and Warren Moon.
Coach Miller spoke glowingly of Lewis, from his demeanor, his commitment to the organization and everything that it represents, as well as his on-the-field dominance. On defense, the Coyotes have NFL-caliber players all over the field. Evidence came in two league games this spring, where the Coyotes held their opponent to 81 yards on 77 carries. No misprint there. In game one, Los Angeles had minus-51 yards rushing, which helped the Coyotes become the only undefeated team in the Professional Spring American Football League, winning both games by a combined score of 61-31.
Some coaches look for accolades, and others, their own glory. But Coach Miller is far from one of those coaches. “Keep the focus on all of our great players for what’s happening here,” he asked. “These great young men are the real story. I’m just blessed to steer the ship.”
Representing a Community
The City of Palm Springs has embraced the team as its own, and is now one of the teams’ corporate partners. They’ve also been personally endorsed by the Mayor of Palm Springs, Steve Pougnet. Other Coyote corporate partners include one of Palm Springs’ largest hospitals, Desert Regional Medical Center, as well as Chevrolet Cadillac of La Quinta. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, one of the largest in California, also supports the team, and the Coyotes wear the tribe’s logo on their game uniforms.
The GAME of football is taking notice
All of this isn’t going unnoticed. Attention is being turned to the model that the Coyotes now possess. Twelve players have moved on to NFL, CFL, and AFL teams or workouts. In fact, in just the past 90 days, the Coyotes are the only developmental team in the country to have players go to the NFL and be offered a D-1 scholarship.
In June, running Back Nigel Simmons received a full Division-1 scholarship to New Mexico Highlands University, while in April, linebacker Robert Caldwell spent rookie camp with the Cleveland Browns. To place players at the highest levels of pro and college football demonstrates the power of the model the Coyotes have delivered – and it’s catching the attention of top-tier scouts at every level around the country.
Dreams, Goals, and Aspirations
When speaking with Coach Miller, he repeatedly offered a perfect and simple saying for what he, and the entire Coyotes organization, is trying to accomplish: “The windshield is always bigger than the rear-view mirror.” That should be a rally cry, he says, for every program claiming to mentor and develop young men. And if the windshield isn’t bigger, then perhaps the program needs examination.
Not so the Coyotes, who, in addition to a year-round outdoor program, also have their sights set on the Arena Football League. On July 21st, Coyote brass will be personal guests of AFL Commissioner Jerry Kurz at a Monday night television game for the Spokane Shock. There have been formal exploratory discussions with the AFL to become a member of the league.
Without a professional franchise of any kind within 150 miles of Palm Springs, the Coyotes can give the AFL a huge SoCal footprint. With combined business and pro football experience of more than 100 years, the veteran Coyotes administration no doubt can deliver in a bigger spotlight.
Furthermore, the Coyotes reached out to Mr. Vincent and the National Football League with an open letter that was supported by many.
While the NFL debates its exact model for developmental professional football, it should take a hard look at the SoCal Coyotes blueprint. If Vincent is serious about taking the leap into a full-time developmental football league, the SoCal Coyotes already have given the football world something to howl about.
The SoCal Coyotes open up a 10 game season in the National Developmental Professional Football League on August 23rd.
(This article was compiled via research and interviews that included three separate conversations with Head Coach J. David Miller. GM Sam Maggio contributed to the final editing. We also suggest you review the SoCal Coyotes corporate website, http://thesocalcoyotes.com, or visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thesocalcoyotes.)