He’s 37 years old now but still looks trim, fit, fast. Maybe Michael Vick isn’t the burner he was in the days when he turned the NFL upside down and inside out, when he changed the way so many viewed the quarterback position and commanded our attention with video-game-like athletic ability. But he was still the obvious centerpiece on stage Wednesday.
It’s just the stage that seemed out of place.
Here’s the new alternate universe: “The Michael Vick Alliance of American Football Experience.”
It’s gets stranger: “Coach Vick.”
“Sounds weird,” Vick said Wednesday.
“But I’m getting used to being called coach in my (youth) camps. I had to get used to being called Mike Vick, Fox Sports analyst, as well. New things. New chapters. Moving on.”
In the world of re-inventing oneself, Vick continues to set a standard. The former Falcons quarterback lost his NFL career, his fortune and his freedom for funding a dogfighting operation back home in Virginia. He emerged from prison a changed man with a new perspective on life and a new appreciation for the game that he once owned and then fumbled. After two years out of the NFL, he made a comeback with Philadelphia and was named to the Pro Bowl in his first season as a starter.
He played seven more seasons in the mother of all second chances.
Now, he is … a coach.
The Alliance of American Football, an eight-team spring league that intends to begin play the weekend after the Super Bowl in February 2019, officially announced Wednesday that Atlanta will have a franchise. Home games will be played at Georgia State Stadium, the former Turner Field, where Wednesday’s news conference was held.
Atlanta’s head coach will be Brad Childress, a former long-time NFL head coach. His offensive coordinator will be Vick.
The irony of coaching is not lost on Vick. In his younger, I’m-faster-than-everybody-so-nothing-else-matters days, he was the last-in/first-out player at the Falcons’ practice facility. He didn’t study enough, watch film enough, read the playbook enough or devote as much time to his craft as he should have.
Now, he’ll be in charge of helping develop players. Teaching them right from wrong. Showing them how to prepare. In Atlanta.
“I’ve had the coaching bug since last year,” Vick said. “I was really diving into the playbook in Kansas City. I still get a chance to talk about the game and coach the game. You can’t ask for much more than that. This is God’s blessing.”
For the past two years, Vick has run football camps for youths ages 11 to 17. Last season, he did a coaching internship during training camp with his former Eagles coach, Andy Reid, in Kansas City. He loved it. It’s something he thought he might want to try as, you know, a job.
Childress noticed how Kansas City players gravitated toward Vick during his internship, particularly quarterbacks Alex Smith and Tyler Bray. So he approached Vick him last month about this spring league, and Vick jumped at it.
Vick, reflecting on his career when athletic ability more than made up for his other habits, said, “And I was still pretty good. You think about the what-ifs. There were times I wish I had a top-five defense in the league. But it didn’t happen. It wasn’t meant to be that way. But I can still chase championships doing this.”
Vick won’t call plays, but he’ll tutor players and make suggestions to Childress.
“I’ll follow his lead. Then I’ll try to graduate to the next level like everybody else.”
This new beginning came on an unintended anniversary. It was 11 years ago Wednesday when authorities descended on Vick’s property in Smithfield, Virginia, seizing dogs, cages and other paraphernalia associated with his, “Bad Newz Kennels” operation.
Four months later, Vick pleaded guilty and went to Leavenworth. The Falcons spiraled on and off the field.
Most have moved on, some haven’t. But Vick and Falcons owner Arthur Blank made amends, privately and publicly.
History tells us the odds are against this spring league working. Many have tried and failed. The plan is for eight teams to play a 10-game schedule, beginning Feb. 9, the Saturday following the Super Bowl. The season will culminate with a four-team playoff and a championship game April 26. The 50-man rosters will be comprised of players who obviously can’t make it in the NFL, for whatever reason, but organizers believe there’s enough talent there for a viable product.
“We don’t care if they come to us as a second-chance guy or a guy who was overlooked,” Childress said.
Players will be paid a mininum base salary of $50,000, with potential bonuses for wins and “fan-engagement,” not yet defined, said co-founder Charlie Ebersol.
Vick’s involvement is an obvious publicity boon for the Atlanta franchise (which is not yet named). Will fans start showing up just to watch an assistant coach in headphones. Will they wear old Vick jerseys?
“Actually, we were talking about that,” Vick said, smiling. “Without giving too much away, it would make sense to bring the Vick jersey back.”
He lives in Fort Lauderdale now, but returning to Atlanta, a city he once owned, seems right to him.
“It’s special,” he said. “Having an opportunity to come here and coach as a former player in a city that embraced me makes it sweeter.”
He’ll be on the field. But on the sideline.
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