BY MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY — Are you ready for some football?
After months of training, the Traverse City Wolves will open the 2010 season on the road today in Lansing against the Capital City Stealth.
This is the second season for the Wolves, who went 8-4 in their inaugural campaign last year in the North American Football League.
Plenty of changes have occurred for Traverse City since last season. The team will have a new home at Thirlby Field and will welcome a new coach in Brad Haney, who replaces team owner Daniel Skibbe on the sideline. Haney previously coached the Grand Rapids Thunder to a United States Football Alliance league title last year.
Record-Eagle sports reporter Mike Eckert recently caught up with Haney to discuss the new season.
R-E: How different is Traverse City and the NAFL to your former Grand Rapids team?
BH: They're completely different styles. Down there, it's speed and finesse. We're power and discipline. It's a different style, but it's refreshing.
R-E: Last year's team had a lot of success in their first season. How do you take that and build from it?
BH: I always accept a challenge, so it was good for me to come into an organization that was already winning. I'm excited that they had a good season and I'm expecting an even better season this year.
R-E: So how much have you changed?
BH: The offense is completely revamped and that's one thing I talked about when I sat down with (owner Daniel) Skibbe. He loved his defense, but (changing the offense) was our focus. Stick with the defense, but bring in a different style offense. That's what we have with a spread. Once these guys start running it more at game speed, our offense will really start moving in the right direction like we want it to.
R-E: You mentioned Skibbe, how much has it helped you to work for an owner that spent last season in your shoes?
BH: It's great. He wants to win just as bad as I do. He knows what he went through as far as being coach, so he goes above and beyond so I don't go through the struggles he went through. As a coach, whenever you have an owner that backs you up and really helps you out, it's always a blessing. That's what he's done for me so far.
R-E: Going into the season opener, what would you say is the strength of the team?
BH: Attitudes. I think they really understand what we have here. And their work ethic is phenomenal. So I think with their attitude and work ethic, we are going to be a phenomenal team. Because the talent is here. Whenever you have the attitude, talent and work ethic these guys have, it's only a matter of timing and repetitions that will make us the team we want to be.
R-E: You lost your preseason game to the Detroit Seminoles, 21-3. Obviously it didn't go as well as you wanted, but what did you learn from it?
BH: It helped us a lot. The win and loss, as a coach and for the organization, wasn't top on our priorities for the preseason game, because it did nothing for our season and nothing for our goal. We went in to find out what our strengths and weaknesses were, and as a coaching staff we walked out of there knowing what our strengths and weaknesses were.
It was a very successful as far as a team aspect. I talked to a couple of captains from last year and they said they didn't face a team like that this early, so when they got into the middle of the season and they faced a team like that, they weren't ready for them. That was one of the things we were excited to bring a good, quality team up here to say to them 'look, this is what it's going to take to get a championship.'
First time playing together, first time coaching together, I thought we did really well.
R-E: The Racine Raiders knocked the Wolves out of the playoffs last year. Besides wanting to beat them because they beat you, how much are they the measuring stick for where you want to be as an organization?
BH: That's one of the reasons that brought me to the NAFL were teams like Racine or the Indianapolis Tornados. They have the same goals as the Traverse City Wolves do. They've got a great organization and they run it like it should be ran. It's a breath of fresh air to go to organizations and have quality teams that have won championships and be able to compete with them.
When you do end up beating them, it will be even more of an achievement as an organization. Because 'hey, we just took on one of the best organizations, and we knocked them off.' We want the Indianapolis Tornados and we want the Racines. I think the (Detroit) Seminoles was the perfect team to help us prepare for them.
R-E: What would you say is your team's theme for this season?
BH: We had shirts made and we all understand it. It's 'one mission.' It's the championship. Anything less will be unsatisfied. We're working at it, we're preparing for it. It's 'one mission.' That's what everybody keeps saying. That's all that needs to be said. It's the two words we all say, we understand it and it's what we're working for.
R-E: How much excitement is there around the team to play at Thirlby this year?
BH: You don't ever want to look too far ahead, but understanding what it is here and understanding the tradition, it gives me goosebumps talking about it. I know the players mention it once in awhile, like 'I can't wait to open Thirlby,' or 'I can't wait to play in front of these fans.' Of course Thirlby is on our minds for the season home opener, but first we've got to beat these first two teams and really get prepared to put on a show for our fans on July 31.