While Skip Holtz and his Birmingham Stallions have one more step left to emerge as the top team in the United State Football League, according to Holtz, Birmingham is already a proven winner.
“What an example for the other cities in this league and what this can be when they all do have the opportunity to go home, whenever that is,” said Holtz, whose Stallions (10-1) play the Philadelphia Stars (7-4) in the USFL Title Game at Tom Benson Stadium at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Game time is 6:30 CT Sunday and will be televised on FOX.
This will be the second meeting between these teams this season. The Stallions beat the Stars 30-17 in Week Five of the regular season.
Holtz said fan response to the Stallions shows how the USFL's spring football could be received in other cities.
“I know that is one of the longer-term plans. You look at the communities and families and the way they came out and the way they supported it. I think Year 1, Birmingham was a great example of what this could be. If there is a question on whether or not spring football can be supported, I think the answer is a resounding yes. There are probably a lot of cities right now that are licking their chops for the opportunity to show their support of their home team.”
USFL Executive Vice President Daryl Johnston said he teased Holtz about being the lone USFL team with a season filled with regular-season home games, even though the Stallions were designated as the visitor in half of those contests. The Stallions used the home-field advantage - eight times at Protective Stadium and twice at Legion Field - to finish 9-1 in the regular season. They followed with a 31-17 semifinal win over the New Orleans Breakers to secure a date in the championship game.
“We saw the impact that the USFL had in the city of Birmingham, but especially for the Birmingham Stallions as a team,” Johnston said. “The energy inside Protective Stadium is very, very different when the Stallions are playing as opposed [to] when some other teams are playing. That’s to be expected. We would love to provide that opportunity for someone else because it was just so fun to watch that. We would love to be able to do that in more than one location next year.”
It's been a special season for Holtz, who was fresh off getting fired at Louisiana Tech after spending nine seasons at the helm of that program. Holtz, who spent 22 seasons as a college head coach, began contemplating his next step. Brian Woods, the USFL’s vice president of operations, invited Holtz to lunch to discuss a possible coaching spot. Holtz accepted the job during the lunch meeting.
“I called my wife after the interview and she said, ‘What did he say?’” Holtz said. “I said, ‘Well, I took it.’ She said, ‘You took what?’ I said I took the job. I was so impressed with the support in this league with Fox, with NBC, with his direction, with his history in spring leagues, what he envisioned this league to be and the role he played. I just got really excited about it.”
For Holtz, this could be just the start of a new chapter in his coaching journey.
“I’ve loved every bit of professional football,” Holtz said. “I was out eating dinner last night, one of our players came by, pushing a stroller, with four young kids and his wife. It’s a little different [type] of young man that I’ve been coaching the past 30 years in college football. Much more mature, they have reasons why they do what they do. The best analogy I can say, it’s like telling these young men they have to take a football class and they have to make an A if they want to continue. It’s more than just a hobby at this point.”
Birmingham is led by quarterback J'Mar Smith (1,763 yards passing, 11 touchdowns, six interceptions) and running back CJ Marable (421 yards rushing, five TDs). However, Marable's rushing numbers have taken a hit since the Stallions signed former Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough midseason. Scarbrough has rushed for 391 yards in seven games (six starts).
Case Cookus (1,467 yards passing, 12 touchdowns, six interceptions) is the quarterback for the Stars. Cookus compiled his passing numbers in only seven starts, after being Philadelphia backup behind Bryan Scott when the season opened. After Scott was injured, Cookus took over and has led the team to the championship game. Running back Matthew Colburn leads the team with 496 yards and eight TDs.
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email Steve.Irvine@1819news.com
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