As reported last week, the XFL made it official in a Monday morning press conference in the VIP area of TDECU Stadium — June Jones will be returning to Houston as the head coach and general manager of this city's XFL team. Former Houston Dynamo president and current commissioner and CEO of the XFL, Oliver Luck, made the introduction in front of a throng of local media and several thousand streaming on the internet:
"We're extremely proud to add Coach Jones, a man with four decades in football, as an XFL head coach," said XFL Commissioner & CEO, Oliver Luck. "June has coached the game in three different pro leagues, including the NFL, as well as major college and high school football. The experience he’s gained at every stop along the way will no doubt serve him well as he helps us reimagine the game and build our Houston team into something special."
For his part, Jones expressed excitement to return to a city where his professional coaching career began back in 1984 with the USFL's Houston Gamblers:
"I’ve spent a few years coaching in Houston, and having a chance to return to be a head coach in the XFL is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up," said Jones. "I had a really great time coaching in the CFL, but this new fresh opportunity to build a team from the ground up is extremely rare in this game, and I’m looking forward to working with Brian Cooper and our coaches to give football fans in Houston a team that’s truly exciting to watch and worthy of their support."
The XFL will begin its inaugural schedule in February 2020, armed with impressive television partnerships with FOX, ESPN, and ABC, and with all eight of their head coaches now in place.
Having attended Monday's press conference, here are a few of my thoughts on the league:
Offense is clearly part of the sales strategy
The one thing June Jones is known for is his run and shoot offense, and in a market where there will be stiff competition for the entertainment dollar, points will be a big part of the sales strategy. Clearly, some level of offensive sizzle is baked into most of the head coaching hires, or at least as part fo their staffs (Hal Mumme calling plays in Dallas, for example). Jones mentioned multiple times, both during the press conference and in media breakout sessions that exciting, up tempo offense will be a staple of his team, and that "offense sells tickets."
Johnny Manziel was a big topic on Monday
Jones has a history with the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, who was last seen trash talking his way through a few games in the now defunct Alliance of American Football. Jones tried to recruit Manziel to SMU out of Kerrville, and coached him for six games in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last year, before Manziel was traded to Montreal. For what it's worth, Jones had good things to say about Manziel, but was noncommittal about reuniting with him, deferring to the league office. For his part, Luck made multiple mentions of vetting character when asked about Manziel, who has a domestic violence conviction on his record. XFL owner Vince McMahon has made it clear that the league will take criminal backgrounds on players very, very seriously, so we will see what this means for Manziel. Certainly, if he were to come to Houston, there would be impact in ticket sales.
TDECU Stadium will be an interesting venue
Speaking of ticket sales, it will be very interesting to see to what degree the Houston franchise can fill up the 40,000 seat TDECU Stadium. From purely a size and a surrounding area standpoint, my first choice would have been the Dynamo's BBVA Compass Stadium, with its cozier 22,000 seat capacity and ample surrounding nightlife. I'm sure a big part of venue selection, though, is the degree to which the flagship tenant is willing to cooperate and collaborate, and the fact of the matter is that TDECU Stadium has no scheduling conflicts in the February through April timeframe that the XFL will be playing. Also, the UH staff was very visible on Monday in assisting with the execution of the press conference.
XFL 2.0 is completely different than XFL 1.0
If you don't recall how big a mess the first iteration of the XFL was back in 2001, go find the "30 for 30" released a couple years ago. Vince McMahon not only rushed the product to market way before anybody was ready, but he blurred the lines between the XFL and his main business, WWE, to where the league had backstage storylines and players cutting wrestling-style promos. There were plenty of reasons why it was out of business within a year. This time around, it feels completely different. For one thing, McMahon is allowing Luck a couple years to lay the groundwork and build the foundation, which among other things, has allowed them to watch the AAF go out of business. Good to learn from their mistakes! Also, the player procurement is far more organized, with combine-style showcase events in each of the eight XFL cities, where NFL free agents and college kids can work out for the league. The college kids will not lose any eligibility by working out.