The Gamblers have lost their fifth assistant coach this off-season. After watching four of their assistants leave for the XFL, Houston was forced to watch as another assistant coach accepted an offer elsewhere. Coach J.D. Runnels Jr has accepted the head coaching position for the Oklahoma City Wranglers of the newly rebranded United Football League. With ties to the city, and the league Runnels was the best choice for the OKC position.
The Gamblers are now left with just three of eight assistant coaches left on their staff, while some other USFL coaching staffs have not been touched at all, retaining all of their coaches so far. Is this the ultimate compliment to the Houston Gamblers organization that their coaches were highly sought after, or does it point to a tough atmosphere to work in?
XFL Poaches Four Coaches
Looking at the defense’s performances and the amount of interest the players garnered from the NFL, I air on the side of this being the ultimate compliment from other leagues. With defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Tim Lewis very highly regarded in the coaching realm, it was no surprise he had other offers.
The same could be said for Ty Warren a member of the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriot rosters. Warren is technically another branch from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, although he is currently following his path focusing on spring football. Could he eventually be the next Mike Vrabel? A successful player turned head coach that played but didn’t coach for the Patriots? As of right now, he finds his next opportunity in the XFL.
Joined in Orlando by one of his Gamblers co-workers, Mark Snyder who makes a lateral move to coach linebackers for the XFL. Snyder has been coaching linebackers or defensive line since 1990. His knowledge of the game is nearly unrivaled at this level when it comes to the linebacker position. Again Snyder is very well respected in coaching circles, and it would seem he knew his future was in coaching at a very young age jumping into assisting the coaching staff in 1988 as a senior.
Greg McMahon is arguably one of the best special teams coordinators out there regardless of league. McMahon jumped from the USFL’s Houston Gamblers, which will play games in Memphis this season, for the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks which will play in Houston this season. You can see part of his motivation for making the move with that fact alone. In 2022 McMahon served as the special teams coordinator and oversaw tight ends. He coached former XFL tight ends Brandon Barnes, and Julian Allen, in 2022. Allen was 5th on the team in receptions and 4th in yards. Barnes was 7th in receptions and yards. The Gamblers could ultimately lose both of these players to the XFL given the coaches that are now there.
Hometown Hero Returns as Head Coach
Now up to this point, we discussed four coaches that made lateral moves to the XFL, whether motivated by the higher pay or playing in host cities. Now we are going to discuss the only coach so far, to get a head coaching opportunity following his job as a USFL assistant coach. Hired by the United Football League, which is another spring developmental league playing on the nostalgia of a league that shuttered in 2012. The United Football League is just a rebranded version of the Rivals Professional Football League.
James Runnels spent the 2022 season as the running backs coach for the Gamblers which featured one of the more successful running back depth charts in the league. Coach Runnels has ties to the city and the league. Born in Midwest City, Oklahoma, the 38-year-old head coach didn’t stray far from home for college. Attending Oklahoma. He would later be selected in the 6th round of the NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He would bounce around the NFL for the next four years before ultimately playing his final season for the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League in 2010.
The more you look at the move to bring in Runnels, the more this move makes sense from every aspect of it. You bring in a coach with ties to the area which will only help build a groundswell of fan support right away, he also has first-hand knowledge of what the league was like in 2010 when he played for them. He is also an up-and-coming coach who knows Spring Football after his time with the USFL. This also won’t be his first time as a head coach with two seasons as a head coach at the high school level. Runnels climbed the coaching later since 2016, from the high school level to college, and then to the USFL. Now he gets his chance to put his stamp on a team as the head coach. It will be interesting to see the staff he assembles.
Questions in Houston
All eyes now turn back to Houston waiting on any news of coaching hires, or potentially even more names to leave for other positions. With the timing of the USFL, we have to consider the possibility that more college programs and NFL teams come calling following the conclusions of their seasons which is quickly approaching. Could we see more coaches leave Houston this off-season?
Shout out to @NFLQBtalk on twitter who informed me Runnels was hired as a head coach! Make sure to follow him today!