BY MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY -- Brad Haney is looking to climb the coaching ladder.
The next rung is Traverse City.
Haney was introduced as the new coach of the Traverse City Wolves on Monday at a press conference at the Great Wolf Lodge.
"Brad is using this like any player is, to move up to the next level," team owner Daniel Skibbe said. "If he doesn't, we're more than (happy) to have him here as long as he needs to be. Brad is molded from me, to be honest. And that's what I'm looking for to take these guys to the next level."
Skibbe served as the team's owner, general manager and coach during its inaugural season last year, but said he's been looking from the start for someone to take the reins as head coach.
"It's now his show," Skibbe said. "I'm not a Jerry Jones type of owner. He'll get some input here and there, but it's his coaching staff, his players, his systems. He just has to win."
Haney, 29, is excited about the opportunity.
"I'm looking to embrace the city and learn everything there is to know about Traverse City," Haney said. "I'm very excited about the players and the talent they have up here coming off their first season."
A four-year starter at Grand Rapids Creston, Haney continued his playing career with the Grand Rapids Thunder from 2004-06. The free safety was a three-year all-star and defensive captain, as well as earning team defensive MVP twice.
An injury ended his playing days, but he quickly turned his attention to the coaching ranks. He took over the Thunder in the United States Football Alliance and led them to the league championship game last year.
"My high school coach always said I'd be a great coach," Haney said. "I have the ability to lead. When I got hurt, it was like God telling me it was time."
Haney's leadership ability wasn't the only selling point for Skibbe, who picked the coach over 10-12 applicants.
"The one thing that brought me to Brad Haney was he's young and motivational," Skibbe said. "He's played in this league so he knows. And he's a winner. Not only can he relate to the older players, but he can relate to the younger guys coming up."
The Wolves went 7-3 last year and won the North Division title.
"You come in and let the guys know that 8-4 is no longer acceptable," Haney said. "You want to at least be 9-3, or 10-2. My goal is to bring a championship to the Traverse City Wolves. From what I've seen and what I've heard and what the organization provides you, anything short of a championship will be nothing less than a disappointment in my eyes."
The Wolves have invited back 31 of the 52 players from last year and have confirmations from 24. That includes five of the six all-stars from last season.
Haney is bringing his younger brother, Bret Haney, with him as the team's offensive coordinator. As head coach, Haney will also watch over the defense, where he has specialized throughout his career.
"Our base is a 4-3," Haney said. "It's blitzes from different packages and gap control defense. I also like to switch to a 3-4 which is high flying, fast paced, in-your-face defense. It's a great compliment to the 4-3 I like to run."
Tryouts for this year's team will be held Feb. 7 for offensive players and Feb. 21 for the defense. Both sessions will be held at Just For Kicks.
"He had to be in place," Skibbe said of naming a coach before tryouts. "We definitely didn't want to go into try-outs picking up players that didn't fit with the coach's mentality and schemes. We feel very fortunate that we were able to get this done before the tryouts."
Skibbe will now be able to turn his attention to the rest of the needs of the organization.
"My wife will be happy because I'll be home at night," Skibbe said. "It allows me to look at the managerial part of this organization and run it the way I feel I need it to be run. I spent four to five days coaching, so I wasn't able to do things I needed to do."