By Peter Schwartz
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When the Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) launches next month, it will serve as an unofficial developmental league for the NFL. It will give players who have been released from NFL clubs an opportunity to play a six-game season which could potentially be a bridge to their return to the NFL.
But the FXFL isn’t just a league of opportunity for players. It’s also a chance for coaches to make a name for themselves. Locally, the Brooklyn Bolts have assembled a coaching staff that will feature a few familiar names to local football fans.
The Bolts have named former Jets offensive lineman John Bock as their head coach. Bock played six seasons in the NFL for the Jets and Dolphins after playing college football at Louisville and Indiana State.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am,” said Bock. “It’s a chance to go back and coach professionally, and at the same time I really went out and found some good coaches that really deserve a chance to be noticed. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”
After retiring as a player, Bock entered the world of coaching when he was hired by Howard Schnellenberger to be the offensive-line coach at Florida Atlantic University. After three seasons, Bock left coaching to raise his family.
Bock stayed active in football by coaching in nine college All-Star Games and winning seven of them. He also coached youth football for the last six or seven years, while also guiding a very successful Pop Warner team which lost just three games in two years.
“I kept my hand in the game, but at the same time I just wanted to raise my family,” said Bock.
At one point, Bock turned down a coaching opportunity with the Oakland Raiders so that he could spend more time with his family. Then, last year, he was coaching in a college bowl game when he was noticed by the FXFL.
“The people that are running the FXFL really liked what I did,” said Bock, who was officially named the Brooklyn Bolts’ head coach last week.
Bock has brought in two of his former Jets teammates as assistant coaches. Former Jets first-round pick Marvin Jones will serve as linebackers coach and former Jets starting right tackle James Brown will serve as offensive-line coach.
Jones has put off coaching for many years, but decided that it was time to return to the game that he loves.
“It’s in my blood, I guess,” said Jones, who was taken by the Jets with the fourth overall pick in 1993. “I just felt the need to go where my heart has been.”
Ironically, Jones was attending the Jets-Raiders game at MetLife Stadium last week when he got the call from Bock about the job.
It didn’t take him long to give Bock an answer.
“I guess after being at a Jets game and feeling the energy and how New Yorkers are great folks, I said yes,” said Jones, who played all 11 of his NFL seasons with the Jets.
Jones played in 142 regular-season games, racking up 1,021 tackles.
One of his prized pupils with the Bolts will be former Cal Poly linebacker Johnny Millard, the son of former NFL defensive tackle Keith Millard. The younger Millard was not taken in the NFL Draft, but signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent before getting released.
“He’s got such a football IQ it’s off the chart,” said Bock of Millard. “To have Marvin Jones be able to teach him, I couldn’t find anybody better to go to Brooklyn with.”
Millard is an example of what the FXFL is all about. A player gets cut by the NFL during or after training camp and needs a way to get noticed by one of the 32 teams. The FXFL gives that player a chance to play and stay in football shape, and maybe he gets signed by an NFL team.
Under the FXFL model, a player can get out of his contract and leave if an NFL team wants him. So let’s say it’s November and an NFL team has a couple of injuries that they are dealing with. Instead of signing somebody off the street who hasn’t been playing, teams can take a look at some players from the FXFL.
“This league gives the NFL a chance to keep the best 100 kids playing, and then at the same time, if they need one of them, then take him,” said Bock. “That’s what we want. This is an NFL bridge and the model works so well. It’s like Triple-A baseball. You need somebody, call me. I’ll tell you my best player and I hope he goes to the NFL.”
While the coaches would love to get that call from an NFL team, their first priority is putting their players in a position to succeed. For the Bolts’ linebackers, they have a coach in Jones that has been there, done that and gotten the T-shirt in terms of what it takes to make it to the NFL.
“It would be great for me to help a kid sign on with an NFL team,” said Jones, who has plenty of experiences to share with his players. “That the NFL is a privilege and not a right. Being a great person will take you further than any sport ever will. But just do your part and things can happen.”
There has always been a feeling from those in the football world that the NFL needs a developmental league for young players who need some additional experience. The FXFL would like to partner with the NFL down the road, but for the time being it is hoping that thee inaugural six-week season can lay the groundwork for the future.
The Bolts’ players will be coached by a staff that shares a common bond. They all played in the NFL and they are all familiar with the area.
“How about three former Jets trying to teach a bunch of young kids how to make it in the NFL?” said Bock.
These players and coaches are all looking for an opportunity. All they need to do is work hard and have patience.
Because things can change in a New York minute.
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