NY Sports Day
Peter Schwartz

Schwartz: This XFL Will Be Different From 2001

As the radio play by play voice of the XFL’s New York/New Jersey Hitmen back in 2001, I was really excited to be a part of something new and to have the opportunity to call play by play for a professional football team. I’ll never forget the night of February 3rd, 2001 in Las Vegas when the Hitmen took on the Outlaws in the first XFL game.

It’s memorable for good things and bad things.

The good was the chance to do something that I still love doing to this day and that’s calling football games. The bad started that night when I walked into the Hitmen locker room before the game and saw many players that looked to out of shape and should not have been getting ready for a game. During the game, it was clear that something was wrong. The football was not good and I just tried to make the best of it and try to be as positive as I could.

What was obvious was that WWE Chairman Vince McMahon rushed to launch the XFL with just a year of planning. In February of 2018, McMahon announced that he was going to bring the XFL back but that the new league would have a two year runway to get off the ground with a launch in February of 2020. New York/New Jersey will have a team in the new XFL but they won’t be called the Hitmen. The new league is doing a smart thing by distancing themselves from 2001.

The two year planning period was brilliant because it gave McMahon a chance to hire some good people like Commissioner and CEO Oliver Luck to get the new XFL off the ground and be successful…unlike the Alliance of American Football that didn’t make it through it’s first year. Having the extra year is vital to the new XFL’s business plan.

“That helps tremendously,” said Luck at a press conference on Tuesday to introduce former Giants assistant Kevin Gilbride as the General Manager and Head Coach for the XFL’s New York team. “Vince realized that it takes a considerable amount of time to plan. I don’t want to criticize any other league but I think you just can’t do this is six or eight months. That’s a critical part of why I think we have a pretty good shot at making this work.”

Another reason why the new XFL has a chance to make it, especially in New York, is with the hiring of quality coaches like Gilbride, an offensive minded coach that fits perfectly into the XFL’s plan of re-imagining the game of football. Gilbride will not only coach the players on the field, but to go back to a famous Bill Parcells quote…

“If you cook the food, you should have a say in how the groceries are picked,” the former Giants and Jets coach once said.

Gilbride will also be responsible for putting together the staff and picking the players. An opportunity like this was too good for Gilbride to pass up so he’s leaving the broadcast booth and heading back to the sidelines…and now a GM office.

“If it wasn’t the deciding factor, it was right up there,” said Gilbride. “It was certainly a significant factor. It’s a chance to do all the things that sometimes we as coaches complain about like I wish they would give us this or I wish they had done that. Now, I can do those things and now there’s no one to blame but myself if things don’t turn out the way they should.”

There are 53 players on an NFL roster for a total of 1,696 players that are considered the cream of the crop in professional football. But there are so many quality players who come out of college that just don’t get an opportunity to show what they can do. These players need a stage to perform on where they can get a a chance to shine.

Think about the final ten cuts of each NFL team. That equates to 320 players and if the XFL uses a 40 man roster, there are your players… some really good athletes that can benefit from a well run league.

“There are a lot of good players,” said Gilbride. “There’s really not much distinction really between when you get past the starters and what we’re going to have available to us. There is a difference..that’s why they were let go but there’s not much.”

Gilbride is a familiar face to New York football fans having been the Giants’ quarterbacks coach from 2004 to 2006 and then the offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2013. Gilbride was part of a pair of Super Bowl winning teams with Big Blue so he brings a championship pedigree and name recognition back to the Meadowlands.

Very similar to the Seattle XFL team hiring former Seahawks quarterback Jim Zore to be their GM and head coach.

“It’s one of the factors that played into him being attractive to me,” said Luck. “I’ve known Kevin since he was with the (Houston) Oilers way back when. I’ve been watching his career for decades.”

Tuesday was also an opportunity for the XFL to announce former Madison Square Garden executive Janet Duch as the President of the New York team. She’ll oversee the tams’ fan engagement and business operations including ticket sales, corporate partnerships, marketing, content, communications, community relations and the game day experience.

“It’s a great privilege to help lead the XFL’s New York team and help evolve the football experience, on and off the field,” said Duch who has been the Senior Vice-President of Marketing and Communications for premium hospitality company On Location Experiences since 2016.

It’s clear that the new XFL is going about their business the right way this time around. Starting a new football league isn’t just about football…there has to be a plan for everything within the league and all of the teams from top to bottom. So far, the plan has brought about terrific hires and some good responses from the football world, media and fans after the initial reaction by many of…

“The XFL again? That won’t work.”

But it’s very possible that a year from now, the new XFL will be getting rave reviews, going through it’s first post-season, and making plans for the 2021 season. The first go around didn’t go very well. This time, the extra year of planning is doing wonders.

“We try to take every day as a gift and figure out what we have to do today to make this league better, to plan, to get the right people on board,” said Luck. “We’re excited about it and we realize that our off-season isn’t really the fall because football fans are consumed with the NFL and with college. We’ve got to get our ducks in a row really by the summer as the NFL launches because we’re right on the heels of February of 2020.”

Let me say that I had a blast working in the original XFL. It gave me a chance to hone my skills as a football play by play announcer and it led to a chance to spend eight years in the Arena Football League. There were some really good football players in the original XFL and some of them got signed by NFL teams, but many of the players didn’t get a great opportunity to showcase their skills because the league wasn’t planned very well.

I think it’s going to be different this time around. Oliver Luck is as smart of a football executive as you can find and he’s being given the resources and the decision making opportunities that will give the new XFL a really good chance to have success. The New York team is in great hands with their latest hires which can only mean one thing…

MetLife Stadium is going to be a fun place to be come February of 2020.


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