Well it was only a matter of time before Antonio and Eddie Brown put their fingerprints on the Albany Empire. I’m not sure anyone thought their fingerprints, would include removing back-to-back NAL Champion Head Coach Tom Menas, a man many would argue is one of the greatest coaches in the Arena game today. Coach Menas to his credit had been loyal to the Albany Empire regardless of the changes of ownership, even saying when asked about the Browns buying a portion of the franchise, “It’s awesome”. Unfortunately this arena football great will be looking for a new team to coach going forward. Which means the next question is who will be the long-term replacement at head coach?
Damon Ware Named Interim Head Coach
Offensive Coordinator, and Assistant Head Coach Damon Ware was very much Tom Menas’s right hand man during his tenure in Albany. For now, he is the man tasked with replacing Menas and continuing the success this franchise has had over the past four seasons bringing home three championships in three tries. (2020 season was cancelled due to covid-19) Damon Ware has the experience necessary to come in and keep this team on track right away. Not only has he been in Albany for a little over two years now joining the team in March of 2021.
As we now know, the Empire went on to win back-to-back championships thanks in part to the job that Coach Ware did on offense, allowing Coach Menas to focus on his defense. A true partnership that is not as common as many would lead us to believe, it’s too bad to see the two men part ways like this. Under Ware’s guidance Sam Castranova the quarterback was second in most major passing categories last season, while also leading the league in rushing yards and touchdowns.
Of course Darius Prince ran roughshod over the league by catching 101 passes for 1,308 yards and 39 touchdowns all of which led the league. Something tells me the Browns see shades of themselves in Prince who is typically the most dominant wide receiver in any game he plays in. Coach Ware hasn’t been a head coach in a while, but he is not without prior experience.
2004-2005 Black Hills Red Dogs
2010 Oulu Northern Lights
2011 Calanda Broncos
2012-2013 Cheyenne Warriors
He also has ten seasons of experience serving as an assistant head coach which is bound to also help him with the transition. However with the way Antonio is talking…this stint as head coach could be short-lived. It appears he is targeting two former NFL players.
“Deion” Lewis…err I mean Dion Lewis..
Dion Lewis is a former NFL running back drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 5th round back in 2011. He never panned out in Philadelphia, and was a late bloomer in terms of his NFL peak. Playing in 24 games for the Eagles, most of his damage came in the return game, not on offense, although he flashed when given touches on offense, to the tune of 36 carries for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns, 3 receptions for 21 yards. In the return game, he had 32 attempts for 702 yards. just over 21 yards per return.
He would spend the next two seasons on practice squads in Cleveland and Indianapolis. He is best known for his time with the New England Patriots. In their churn and burn style of roster building at running back, Dion Lewis found his way into the rotation for the first time in 2015, mostly due to his dual threat ability in the passing game. Lewis went on to collect a career high in touches, yards, and touchdowns with 85, 622 and 4. This would lead to more opportunities. His best season coming in 2017. He would play in all 16 games for the first time in his career, and collect 180 carries, nearly triple his previous career high of 64. He would average 5 yards per carry producing 896 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns. He also added 31 receptions for 214 yards and 3 more touchdowns. He didn’t stop there however also returning 23 kicks for 570 yards and 1 touchdown.
The following season he would head to Tennessee where he was signed to play under another former Patriots player, Mike Vrabel in his first season as head coach. Lewis would go on to play under Vrabel for the next three seasons, before finishing his career with one season under Pat Shurmur in 2020 with the Giants. While Shurmur is nothing to brag about, telling people you learned from Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, and Mike Vrabel right now as a coach, may as well be as good as gold. Reid and Belichick have combined for 13 Super Bowl Appearances over the past 22 seasons.
Dion Lewis also happens to be a native of Albany, New York, and attended high school in New Jersey. He was recently hired by the University of Albany as an assistant coach. He wound up in Pittsburgh for college, and played in several cities near Albany during his NFL career. Could this actually help build even more hype around the Albany Empire given his ties to the area, and obvious recency bias from fans?
Joey Porter is a name everyone should know from his career as a Pittsburgh Steeler. He is also another CSU alum, who could potentially seek a similar setup to the Tom Menas/Damon Ware partnership with fellow CSU alum Damon Ware. Porter is currently serving as the linebackers coach with the San Antonio Brahmas of the XFL. As of right now the Brahmas have 3 weeks remaining during their regular season, but they’re still in the playoff hunt in a weak South Division sporting just one team .500 or better.
Should they miss the playoffs, Porter would in theory be available to join the Albany Empire after the Brahmas game on Saturday April 22nd at 3:00 pm ET. Right as their final regular season game ends, Albany would be kicking off their week 3 match up against the San Antonio Gunslingers at 7 pm ET. Their next game isn’t until Sunday April 30th at 3:00 pm ET, giving Porter plenty of time to join the team just in time for the week 4 game in Greensboro North Carolina. Porter has never been a head coach, but he is also much more experienced than Lewis as a coach, and a player.
Porter was drafted in the 3rd round in 1999 coming out of Colorado State University by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He would spend the first seven seasons of his career in Pittsburgh. During that time he managed to win a Super Bowl, earn 3 pro-bowl nods, make First Team All-Pro once, and Second Team All-Pro twice. He would play another five seasons with Arizona, and Miami, before retiring after the 2011 season.
In 2013 he was hired as a defensive assistant at his alma mater CSU. However he served in that role for just one season before being hired in the same role with the Pittsburgh Steelers, mirroring his transition from CSU to Pittsburgh when he was drafted. In 2015 Porter was promoted to outside linebackers coach, where he stuck for the next four seasons before being fired in January of 2019. Then from what we can tell, he got to focus on his son’s playing career for three seasons before Hines Ward and the XFL came calling.
Could Porter go from working under one former Steelers receiver to another while making the transition to coaching arena football? One thing is for certain, I would expect Antonio Brown and the Albany Ownership would be willing to pay a handsome amount to either of these coaches to turn their back on their current jobs and take a promotion to head coach. Porter could view this as an opportunity to run his own team for the first time, and jump on it, or see it as something he is too good for given his background as an NFL and XFL coach.
Making Waves in Albany
We knew the Empire would be turning heads no matter what this season due to the addition of the Brown family to the ownership group. We knew that Eddie was going to be involved in day-to-day operations, but what we didn’t know…is that they would have the power to hire or fire the coaches unabated. Before the move to add the Browns, and even after it felt like a far off nightmare that Tom Menas would not get a chance to three-peat as NAL champion, yet here we are ladies and gentlemen.