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McMillen Deserves Season Honor

Jeff Sims
Wednesday July 31, 2013


Yes, Arizona Rattlers head coach Kevin Guy is coaching the defending ArenaBowl champions, has the best record in Arena Football this season, and is coaching probably one of the better teams that this game has seen in a long time. They should probably be playing in Honolulu in November.

Yes, Spokane Shock head coach Andy Olson has led his team to the best statistical performance in Shock team history. The Spokane organization is almost always moving players up to the next level of football and Olson has a knack for finding untapped football talent.

Yes, Philadelphia Soul head coach Clint Dolezel and Jacksonville Sharks head coach Les Moss have done tremendous jobs with their respective teams this season. They have the top two records in the American Conference, have quality teams, and each have a legitimate shot at reaching this year’s ArenaBowl.

But none of these head coaches has had the season that Chicago Rush head coach Bob McMillen has had.

From the ups and downs before the season even started to the limitations and restrictions that have been placed on the organization throughout the season, no other coach has had to jump over as many hurdles and avoid as many head on collisions as McMillen has. To his credit, McMillen has worked through it all and has now led his team to the Central Division title and a return to the playoffs for the Rush in 2013.

Are you kidding me? This is amazing!

“Obviously there have been a lot of coaches across the league that have done a great job, and every team has obstacles during the season with injuries and whatever, but what Bob has gone through and what we have gone through it is just a real testament to the type of guy that Bob is,” said Rush assistant coach and director of player personnel Scott Bailey. “He is a hard worker, he’s positive, he’s kept these guys up, and he’s a great guy. If he wasn’t a good guy, then there would have been staff that left and there would have been more players that had left.  He is a straight up, honest guy, and those are the type of guys that you want to work hard for.”

Back in November before the season even started, it wasn’t even certain that the organization would field a team in 2013. A new owner (without sports ownership experience) stepped up and then McMillen and his staff moved forward with putting together their roster, roughly about a month after other teams were already assembling their teams for the season.

Move ahead three months just prior to the start of the season and the league wass once again looking for another owner as it terminated the relationship with the ownership that had purchased the team only months earlier. With the ownership uncertainty, McMillen and his staff were limited in being able to fully develop their roster just one month before the start of the season.

With another new owner in place set up by the league (once again, without sports ownership experience), a rebranded team, and a quality roster, it appeared on the outside the Rush were on their way to stability for years to come.

But looks aren’t everything!

Having ownership without experience can certainly put its pressures on a head coach. According to a source who worked with the team, there were multiple altercations between McMillen and the owner that spilled out of closed door meetings.

“Often times it was a conflict over how the players should be handled and what the priorities were,” the source confirmed to ArenaFan. “I often heard coach complaining about the owner’s approach to running the team.”

So not only concerned with getting his team ready to play each week, McMillen has to be worried about the ownership doing the right thing by his players. That is just a headache within itself if your ownership is not stepping up to do its part.

Prior to the start of training camp, the anticipated starting quarterback for the team, Gino Guidugli, leaves the team to take a coaching position at Central Michigan. The team is then forced to use Carson Coffman, who backed up Tommy Grady in Utah in 2012, as its starting quarterback. Keep in mind that the team also has a new offensive coordinator in Siaha Burley.

After a positive 4-2 start, the bombshell drops after week seven! The team’s owner is found to have been a three time convicted felon. Payments were not made to the Allstate Arena and front office personnel and cheerleaders made accusations of not having been paid for weeks. Then as was the case in the 2012 season, the Arena Football League took over ownership of the team.

“Early on with the business side of things, it was disappointing more than anything else,” McMillen said. “First (one owner) fails, and then (another owner) fails, and then we are back to where we were last year, which wasn’t a bad thing because the league took good care of us. The owners went above and beyond to keep this team around.”

Amenities for home games became limited such as no use of video service, limited internet service, and no referee microphones.

After the startling sequence of events, the team appeared to be in a downward spiral losing its next three straight games.

Then don’t forget about the whole moving the team to Rockford debacle!

It was surprising that McMillen still had a team to coach after that! (As a note: four players left the team after the league resumed ownership of the organization).

But yet, he was able to motivate his team week in and week out.

“It was matter of sitting down with the players and coaching staff and saying that things were not going to change,” he said. “The living arrangements won’t change, you won’t have to move your families or worry about your jobs, and we are going to do everything to make it as comfortable as possible with going out to Rockford (for games). We were able to stay in our practice facility, so a lot of the familiarity made it easier on some of the guys to stay here.”

To make matters even more difficult, the league would not allow the team to add another player that was not already on the roster unless they went under the 20 active player game day limit due to injuries.

This is the league, the ownership of the franchise, limiting one of its teams to what it can do day in and day out!

Basically, McMillen was going to be stuck with the team that he had come hell or high water! Amazing!

Since the three game losing streak back in May, McMillen and company are 6-3 playing a road schedule (sorry, I still refuse to consider the Rockford games as home games).

They have posted seven wins on the road this season (based on actual road games), which is a new franchise record.

“He has done a marvelous job,” said Rush wide receiver and team leader Reggie Gray. “Looking at the whole situation, one thing that I tried to get my teammates to understand is that all that is going on is not Bob’s fault. He really had his hands tied on a lot of things and he has no say so in a lot of things that the league controls. Once our guys understood that, they started to believe what he was saying and we just came together as a team and it was almost like Bob was our father in the situation. We are doing the best we can to support him because he has been through a lot as well.”

McMillen knows he would not have been able to do it alone and acknowledges the help he has had along the way.

“We have so many leaders on this team that have been able to keep it together in the locker room,” he said. “The coaching staff with Hous (assistant coach Walt Housman), Siaha (Burley), Scott (Bailey), Jon Redmond (Director of Football Operations), and guys in our office has been great. I have certainly had to do my share of work, but I have had good people to help me out and it has made it a lot easier.”

In their two games before the season finale against San Jose (a loss), the Rush outscored their opponents 131-74, one of them being the defending ArenaBowl champion Rattlers. In that two game span, the defense was downright tough forcing 12 turnovers.

His team is now more cohesive than ever!

“It all starts from the top,” Bailey said emphatically. “If your head guy is not a leader and he folds, the rest of the crew is going to fold too. He has been strong up top and is an easy guy to follow.”

Now they have won their division and will be moving on to the playoffs. They do not get a home playoff game due to the ownership situation, just another hurdle for this Rush team to overcome.

With all of that now in mind, tell me that Bob McMillen should not be the Arena Football League Coach of the Year!

Photo Credit: Andy Lopusnak, ArenaFan.com


 
Jeff has been writing for ArenaFan.com since 2004. Originally from New York, Jeff has been living in the Chicago area for the past ten years and is an avid football fanatic. He holds a BA in communications from Hofstra University in New York and a sports management certificate from Loyola University in Chicago.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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