Welcome to the Birmingham chapter of the Alternative Football Coaches Club, Skip Holtz. It’s been three years since the last meeting has been called to order.
The new United States Football League – which is unrelated to the 1983-85 USFL – has unveiled six of its coaches for 2022, and Holtz was named head coach of the Birmingham Stallions on Thursday. The circuit begins play in April at Protective Stadium and Legion Field.
“I’m thrilled to be coaching in the USFL and I can’t wait to get started,” Holtz said via a USFL press release. “The opportunity to build a new league from scratch, with the support we have, is unique. I’m also really excited about having the chance to build something in Birmingham, a city that I know will embrace the USFL and the Stallions.”
Other league coaches are Kevin Sumlin, Houston Gamblers; Mike Riley, New Jersey Generals; Todd Haley, Tampa Bay Bandits; Bart Andrus, Philadelphia Stars; and Kirby Wilson, Pittsburgh Maulers. The New Orleans Breakers and Michigan Panthers have yet to name their on-field bosses.
If you’re an alternative football history buff (and I’m one of the buffiest) you might know that Holtz will be the 12th head coach to lead a Birmingham-branded professional football team (I’m confining the list to the modern era and excluding the numerous outdoor/indoor semi-pro teams that have come and gone).
Jack Gotta started it all when he was tapped to guide the World Football League Birmingham Americans in 1974.
In 1975, Marvin Bass was in charge of the WFL Birmingham Vulcans.
Harry Lander owned and coached the American Football Association Alabama Vulcans in 1979.
Steve Patton coached the AFA Alabama Magic in 1982.
Rollie Dotsch was in charge of the original USFL’s Birmingham Stallions from 1983-85.
Next up was the World League of American Football’s Birmingham Fire, who spent 1991-92 under the tutelage of Chan Gailey.
Jack Pardee was the big fish for the Canadian Football League’s Birmingham Barracudas in 1995.
The Birmingham (later Alabama) Steeldogs of the Arena Football League feeder system, af2, were coached by Bobby Humphrey from 2000-2005 and Ron Selesky in 2006 and 2007.
Gerry DiNardo held the reins of the XFL Birmingham Bolts in 2001.
And before Holtz, Tim Lewis was the most recent Magic City pro coach, leading the Alliance of American Football’s Birmingham Iron in 2019.
So what does Holtz bring to the table?
The son of Hall of Famer Lou Holtz and Notre Dame graduate has spent his entire coaching career at the college level, logging a 152-121 overall record at UConn, East Carolina, South Florida and Louisiana Tech and going 8-4 in bowl games. He spent the past nine seasons heading up the Bulldogs of Conference USA, where he compiled a 64-50 record, won two league titles and was named CUSA Coach of the Year in 2016.
Following a 3-9 season in 2021 (including a 52-38 loss to UAB at Protective Stadium), he was fired at Louisiana Tech.
In terms of coaching success, how does he stack up against his predecessors?
Gotta was already an established coach in the CFL before jumping to the WFL, leading the Ottawa Rough Riders to the Grey Cup in 1973.
He followed that up with a World Bowl title with the Americans, marking the first – and so far, only – time a Birmingham team has won a professional football crown. The Ams were 17-5 that season and undefeated at Legion Field.
Bass was head coach of the Vulcans in 1975, and although the WFL folded midseason, his team had a league-best 9-3 record – including back-to-back victories over the Memphis Southmen (with Paul Warfield, Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick). He had previously skippered William & Mary and South Carolina in the college ranks and the Montreal Beavers of the Continental Football League.
Lander had already led San Antonio and Shreveport to AFA championships and hoped for a three-peat when he came to Birmingham, but the minor league version of the Vulcans wound up 13-6 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
The AFA returned to Alabama in 1982 with the Magic, and Patton got the job after spending two years as a graduate assistant at Furman. His first head coaching gig ended with a 6-4 record and no postseason.
Dotsch was a longtime NFL assistant before getting his shot with the Stallions. After a .500 season in 1983 Dotsch went on to tally a 36-18 record in the USFL and help mold Birmingham’s entry into one of the league’s best franchises, winning division titles his last two years.
Gailey not only had state college ties before coming to the Birmingham Fire, but a national crown on his resume. He spent two years at Troy (then Troy State University) in 1983-84, and in 1984 he coached the Trojans to a 12-1 workskeet and Division II National Championship. Gailey was 12-7-1 with two playoff appearances in two years with the WLAF franchise.
Barracudas boss Jack Pardee arrived in Birmingham with a head coaching job history that included stints in the NFL, WFL and USFL, but his one-and-done year in the CFL ended with a 10-9 record and loss in the first round of the playoffs.
Humphrey had no coaching experience when he took the Steeldogs job, but managed a 51-50 record over six years. Selesky, on the other hand, had several stops in both the AFL and af2 before coming to Birmingham and logging a 14-19 record over two years.
DiNardo’s hire made a big splash when he came to the XFL, especially considering he had a measure of success at Vanderbilt and was just two years removed from being head coach at LSU.
But the Bolts were far and away the league’s worst team, finishing 2-8.
Finally, there was Lewis of the Iron.
Another coach who had a long, solid career as a defensive coach in the NFL finally got his chance to run the show, and Lewis led Birmingham to a 5-3 record and clinched a playoff berth before the AAF pulled the plug with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
All told, Birmingham pro football has amassed a 175-132-1 record with only Dotsch (three years) and Gailey (two years) having multiple campaigns at the helm of an outdoor franchise.
Now Holtz has the opportunity to provide fans with more wins – and perhaps more seasons – as head coach of the Birmingham Stallions.
For a more comprehensive look at Birmingham’s pro football history, I invite you to read “The Home Team: My Bromance With Off-Brand Football.”