Digital Exclusive- Local coach helps bring interactive football to fans

Digital Exclusive

“Armchair Coordinator.” 

Or perhaps you’re more familiar with “Monday Morning Quarterback”? 

These are terms, used by football coaches and players, referring to fans who watch a game live and believe they can throw, catch, run or tackle better than the players on the field. Or, better yet, these fans believe the offensive coordinator is not calling the right plays, and they themselves could put their favorite team in a better position to win.

Well now, thanks to four co-founders with football and tech backgrounds and many high-profile team owners — including Super Bowl Champions Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch, WNBA Champion Renee Montgomery, Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, Minnesota Twins pitcher Trevor May, to name a few — the new Fan-Controlled Football will kick off on Feb. 13th, six days after the Super Bowl. What does “Fan-Controlled” mean? Fans control everything, from the jerseys to the rosters to the rules to the, ahem, play-calling.

Shawn Liotta

“We want [the fans] to have the best experience as possible,” said Shawn Liotta, the former head coach of the two-time indoor champion Erie Explosion who was hired as Director of Coaching. “The angle and the way you’re going to view the game is going to look similar to you playing a video game… They’re going to be able to get on there and actually call the plays in real time, literally becoming the offensive coordinator.”

This idea started in 2015, when the ownership group purchased an Indoor Football League team, the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles. They had fans vote on the team’s name, the jersey designs, the head coach, the roster, and even the beer on tap. Now, they are expanding that concept to an entire league, starting with four teams.

Liotta has been with the project for five years, working alongside former New York Jets and Chicago Bears defensive back Ray Austin, one of the co-founders and the inaugural commissioner of the FCF.

Ray Austin

“Who hasn’t sat on a couch and screamed at the TV, like man, I could’ve called a better play than that?” Austin said. “We want you to use your football intelligence and win some prizes, win some games and be champions like the rest of us.”

Austin believes the FCF partnership with the video game live streaming channel Twitch is the perfect fit.

“If you think about this new generation of kids, they are adapting to a different type of entertainment,” he said. “And we want to be able to give them that type of entertainment. Twitch is the home for that.”

Phone with four plays

How will the real time play-calling work? After fans register on the FCF site and choose a team, they can download the FCF mobile app or go through Twitch. Then, at game time, a fan chooses if he or she wants to run the ball or throw the ball. After they decide, they then select from four running plays or four passing plays. Whichever play gets the most votes will be tallied quickly and sent to the team’s offensive coordinator, who will relay the play verbally from his headset to a wireless receiver on the players’ helmets. Total estimated time of this communication? 10 seconds or less. While this transmission is taking place, the players will already be at the line-of-scrimmage.

John Jenkins

This means there will not be much huddling in this 7-on-7, 50-yard indoor game. Combine that philosophy with no kicking or special teams, and you get more offensive snaps, which equals more points scored.

And the offense will not be boring, by any means. Liotta hand-picked his mentor, John Jenkins, to be the architect of the FCF. A true blast from the past, Jenkins is best known as the former head coach of the Houston Cougars from 1987-1993, using a no-huddle, run-and-shoot offense to break numerous NCAA records and helping quarterback Andre Ware win the Heisman Trophy in 1989. 

This will be the ninth different professional league Jenkins has joined, and he knows fans will love this new take on the game.

“The normal person never has an opportunity to experience the emotional highs and emotional lows of a football coach,” Jenkins said. “Now they will… Seven-man football: This is an entirely new game that’s been created. Real live players with video game style.”

Fans have already voted on the inaugural team names and designs of the uniforms. Currently, for a limited time, fans can invest money to become a partial owner of their favorite team, and the polls are still open for fans to vote on various rules of the game. Once the Super Bowl ends, they can start voting on their favorite team’s rosters for Week 1. 

Who will the players be? Along with the face of the FCF, Johnny Manziel, these players are the best available that are not currently signed to NFL, Canadian Football League or any indoor football league teams, according to Austin. This is a new way for these free agents to gather game film to send to the aforementioned leagues if they desire.

“Some of our fans actually helped us find these players, we did national combines all around the country,” he said. “We literally have players uploading themselves on our website… And we all signed off on them and said, ‘Yes, those are the types of guys we want.'”

Liotta says the talent level is top-notch, including players with major college football and NFL experience, that will make this a fun experiment.

“We’re talking up-tempo offense. We’re talking high-scoring offense. We’re talking hard-hitting defense. Just pure excitement,” he said. “If you were a fan of the old Arena Football League or indoor football leagues, you’re going to love Fan-Controlled Football.”

The season will run for six weeks at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Georgia, beginning Feb. 13th.

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