The strong off-season continues as the Flight not only adds talented players to the roster but a talented offensive coordinator as well. Recently it’s been announced that Anthony Payton will be part of the Flight’s cockpit helping to guide the offense on their way to a championship. Fortunately, coach Payton and I had the chance to chat and do an interview.
Q: First and foremost welcome aboard the Jersey Flight franchise! Now I see you actually have two seasons of head coaching experience underneath your belt. Your first experience being quite the task, taking a new Massachusetts Pirates team that only had 7 players on the roster with experience. However, you were able to take that in stride and turn a 1-4 start into an 8-6 finish after going on a six-game winning streak. Not to mention that this new and looked over team finished as the third-best scoring offense as the quarterbacks finished with a 104.9 passers rating, leading the league, and the ball carriers finished with a league beat 3.3 yards per carry. Even wideout Mardy Gilyad set two NAL records with 33 touchdowns and 198 total points. From all of this, I just have to ask what was it like stepping into that role and what was it like seeing your efforts pay off in the end?
A: First off thank you so much for welcoming me. Arena football is my NFL first and foremost. After not making rosters for the Cowboys, Bill, and Bengals the Arena Football League became my NFL. The Massachusetts Pirates had a full roster of 26. With that being stated 19 of the 26 players were rookies. Not only were they rookies that had never played the indoor game at any level. We started the season with players playing out of position. I was forced to put bandaids on issues that needed surgery. Missing great players in very important positions coupled with playing the 2018 champions back to back followed by a contest against the 2019 champions was a tough ask. This was great for the team because it gave a realistic look at where we needed to be. Starting off 1-4 had everyone on the outside looking in panicking. I knew we were going to get traction. From experience, I knew it would take 6 to 8 weeks for these great athletes to start understanding the game. Once they started to embrace the dynamic of Arena Football it started to run like clockwork.
Sean Brackett and Marshawn Gilyard had a great showing in 2018 and 2019. Everyone on the team contributed to their success. The success of Sean and Marshawn is a testament to what happens when you buy into the system. This season the Flight should have similar results. Coach Foster has given me an opportunity to REALLY do what I do. When Coach Foster stated, “I want you to treat this opportunity as if you are the Head Coach of this team”, add to the fact that every coach on this roster speaks the AFL language has me feeling this is the season we all take Flight.
The respect that coach Foster has given me in the few months we have been talking is refreshing. Foster, Menas and I have been around the game for a long time. Coach Foster and I played against one another and coach Menas was coaching when we both were playing. Therefore these men understand the dynamic of this great game.
Even though we have three head coaches on one roster. Coach Foster will be the only voice but he is giving empowering us to do our jobs. You can’t ask for anything better from a leader.
I’m sorry though, I don’t believe I answered your question so if I could add on, that in 2018, stepping into the role of Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator during my first tenure with the Massachusetts Pirates was a great opportunity and I was very appreciative of Mr. Yatim for selecting me. In the first season, the team consisted of a majority of veteran indoor football players, therefore my vision and concept was to get them to buy into my offensive philosophy. In 2019, as the Head Coach of the Pirates, my role increased enormously which included many facets of responsibility. 2019 I was faced with more rookies, which became a tremendous challenge where I had to teach them how to play the game as well as my philosophy. Although 2018 and 2019 seasons brought us close to the championship, the experience kept me humble as well as grateful, knowing that the future keeps me believing that the road to a championship is still extremely obtainable. I believe wholeheartedly that my efforts paid off, regardless of the outcome.
Q: While we’re speaking about your time coaching the Pirates I can’t ignore what you were able to do with Sean Brackett. The talented QB led the league in plays, pass attempts, completions, and even rushing touchdowns. At the same time, he ranked second in offensive yards, passings yards, touchdown passes, and more. Now in Jersey, you have another high-level passer in Warren Smith How excited are you to work with the quarterback? And is there any noticeable comparisons or differences than when you coached Brackett in Massachusetts?
A: As a coach, your job is to find out what your players do well and not so well. In my opinion, this has to be done with an organic eye. You can't add to the process who you want the player to be, you can't take away from who the player believes he is. Your job is to put the player in the best possible position to succeed in your system. Sean Brackett executed with precision and followed the game plan accordingly, which certainly resulted in positive outcomes for him individually and for the team for both the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Warren Smith who has played in my system but for another team and Danny Southwick who played for me in the past are both top of the line professionals. I am very excited to embark on this journey with Warren Smith and Danny leading our team. They are both more than capable of getting the job done. I have high expectations and they are going to bring a lot to the team. I start off every game with goals, if we hit those goals we win games. I believe our quarterbacks will be instrumental in helping us reach those goals week in and week out. As far as comparisons, they all are different players with different intangibles. What all of my quarterbacks share is: they are capable, they are competitors, they have a will to win, they are humble, coachable, great leaders and they do what I ask them to do. A coach can't ask for a better situation than that.
Q: Very well put and may I say I’m very excited to see what you can bring out of Smith and Southwick. Now, not only do you help produce the best results from your players on game day you’ve been able to help these players reach higher levels of the game and get more attention/press than they may have before, with five players on that Pirates team going on to sign with the XFL. That has to leave some sense of pride in you, how does it feel seeing players you coach grow and develop and move on to bigger things?
A: My main goal as a coach is to put players in position to be great. My main goal as a coach is to put coaches and interns in a position to be great. Every player at this level is here for a reason. Some guys come to this level to continue playing and finish out their careers. The majority of players are at this level for a reason; work ethic, intangibles, etc had an NFL, CFL and now XFL coach staff say no. From the players perspective, it is: the coach didn’t like me, the coach had his favorites, I hear it all. Perception is reality and I can respect how the player feels but what I see is: your not fast enough, you drop too many balls, your route running needs to be polished, you don’t wrap up when you tackle, you don’t pass the eye test, and the list goes on and on. I believe I am great at working with a player and quickly finding out what he lacks. He may not have the mindset to be honest with himself and he blames it on other sources.
The players I have helped move up are players that can take coaching and they understand they need to work on their game. They trust that I can help them get better at what they are lacking and that is the first step. I have a burning desire to help players realize their goals. I lead by empowering athletes, coaches, training staff, interns and people in the community. I love them and treat them like they are important because they are. You will hear me say more than once during the season. “You are here for a reason. I know you want to be outdoors. Listen and work your butts off. I won’t guarantee that you will get signed but if you get the opportunity the only reason the coaching staff will say no is because of the roster size. It won’t be because of your character, your work ethic, responsibility or accountability.”
The key is finding out what the player may be coming up short on and working with him on that. At the same time working to win games. Everyone is different. The leagues are different but the same qualities you win with at this level translate to any sport. Be on time, do your job, be a team player, stay out of trouble master your craft and let the chips fall where they may. Yes, I am proud of every player that gets signed to higher levels where they can continue to play and provide for their loved ones.
Q: I appreciate your passion for unlocking players true potential to give them that opportunity for their next step. Where we’re at in this point of the pre-season plenty of players have been announced, I’m certain you’ve been keeping up with seeing who you’ll be working with and with that said does anything stand out to you about this team?
A: Coach Foster has done a phenomenal job of bringing in great players. What stands out to me is; we have a leader that lets his staff do their jobs. Coach Foster isn't concerned about the spotlight. He wants to win. Therefore he is going to put people around him that make him better. We have a great leader. That's what stands out to me the most. As for the players, I can't comment on that until I see them run around. Game film gets you in the door. Can you pick up the concepts? Can you forget everything you've learned from other teams and open up to learning new philosophies? Can you be a team player? Can you do right by the fans and the community? Can you do right by the New Jersey Flight? Can we trust you? Game film and highlight film doesn't show that. The one thing I do know is; all of those previously mentioned statements will be enforced and expected. I have confidence it will be a part of our culture because we have great leadership in Coach Foster. Therefore, I believe we will respect and play this wonderful game the right way, but we also win the right way.
Q: I can’t wait to see how the influence mends this team together from the top to the bottom of the organization to put everyone in the position to win. Of course as one piece to the ultimate puzzle and one piece of the coaching staff you’re ultimately trying to win the championship at the end of the season. But other than that what are your goals moving forward?
A: My goals moving forward is to help bring a great product to the area, give the fans and community something to be proud of, and creating the desire to come out and support the flight through this season and seasons to come.
Q: I’m certain there’s going to be some talented high-level production for fans to come and see this year and moving forward. Lastly, I have a question that fits both players and coaches to ask you, throughout the years I’m sure you’ve taken inspiration from different sources, so what motivates you the most on and off the field?
A: On the field, it is being the best at what I do and being prepared. Off the field, it is my son and my family.
Two very logical answers. Well, may I say it’s been a pleasure working with you and on behalf of the fans and myself, I must say I can’t wait to see how you help guide this offense throughout the upcoming season.
Yes Sir, Thank you so much.
Anthony Payton has already managed to prove that he can guide a team to the top of the charts offensively having multiple statistical leaders as well as a rookie of the year and MVP on his team in 2018 after adopting a shaken up team filled with inexperience and leading them to the playoffs with offensive force. Imagine what he can do with Warren Smith and the slue of talented wideouts here in Jersey. Essentially the point is that fans should be ecstatic about what this Flight offense can look like with coach Payton helping to guide them.