With the USFL season less than a month away from kicking off on Saturday, April 16th, in Birmingham. The New Jersey Generals, along with all eight of the USFL teams, officially unveiled their coaching staff for the upcoming season.
As reported here at USFLNewsHub, in the weeks leading up to last week’s supplemental draft. One of the more notable names now officially named to head coach Mike Riley’s staff is former NFL great Chris Dishman as the Generals’ defensive coordinator.
New Jersey Generals 2022 Coaching Staff
As is usually the case in alternate pro football leagues, USFL coaching staffs are smaller than your typical NFL or college team. Coaches in leagues like the USFL must multitask and carry a more significant load than their contemporaries in the NFL and college ranks. Most football teams and universities have anywhere from 15-to 20 assistants on their staff.
Including head coach Mike Riley, the New Jersey Generals have nine total coaches. With five of the members of his staff pulling double duty.
No Designated Special Teams Coordinator?
Interestingly enough, in Thursday’s initial press release, the New Jersey Generals do not have a special teams coordinator listed. New Jersey and Birmingham are the only two teams in the USFL that don’t have a special teams coordinator.
There have been reports that coach Jeff McInerney would be a part of Mike Riley’s staff assuming that responsibility. But as of press time, league representatives have not confirmed who the Generals STC will be in 2022.
Sources close to the team indicate that Bob Diaco, the team’s listed defensive line coach, could be in charge of special teams for the Generals. It’s an area that Diaco coached in his early college coaching days.
If there is any confirmation from the league or team, this article will be updated.
Let’s take a look at the staff that Mike Riley has put together for the upcoming season. The Generals will kick off the USFL season, playing the Stallions in Birmingham. Riley and his lieutenants will have their work cut out for them, as training camps begin in four days. They will need to get their 45 players’ regular-season ready in a short amount of time.
New Jersey Generals Offensive Staff
Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach: Steve Smith
Steve Smith reunites with Mike Riley from their time together on the Seattle Dragons in the XFL. Smith coached Seattle’s offensive line and will do the same with the New Jersey Generals. He will also be tasked with helping coordinate the offense, although Mike Riley figures to have a role in the team’s playcalling.
Smith, a 45-year-old native of Illinois and former college fullback at Southern Illinois, has been in the coaching ranks for over two decades since his playing days ended. Smith has had several stops in the pro and college ranks. Including a two-year head coaching tenure in 2017 and 2018 at Division II’s Lincoln University.
Smith has experience with several players that New Jersey selected in the draft process. The Generals have four former Dragons players on offense, like RB Trey Williams. The familiarity with Mike Riley and those players will help Coach Smith as New Jersey attempts to transition smoothly into the regular season.
Running Backs/Tight Ends Coach: Jay Locey
Longtime veteran coach Jay Locey is another assistant on the Generals’ staff, who has a history with head coach Mike Riley. The two patrolled the sidelines together for nearly a decade at Oregon State. For eight years with the Beavers, Locey was Riley’s right-hand man, assuming duties as assistant head coach coaching receivers, and was even appointed as ‘chief of staff.’ A role where Locey was involved in fundraising, alumni engagement, high school and community relations, player leadership development, and team-building activities.
The well-traveled Locey has extensive experience in the college ranks, particularly in Division III as a head coach with Linfield U and Lewis & Clark University in Portland. Locey was a 5× NWC Coach of the Year (2000, 2002–2005), amassing a 95-63 record in the D-III ranks. In 2004, he won a championship at Linfield.
The 67-year-old Jay Locey is coming out of retirement to assist Mike Riley’s latest pro football team. Locey has a ton of experience working with Riley and players on all levels of football. So he should be an asset to the Generals’ staff.
Wide Receivers Coach: James Rodgers Jr.
Another reunion on New Jersey’s staff, this time a former player/coach for Mike Riley, in former OSU standout James Rodgers. The former first-team All-Pac 10 receiver and kick returner spent two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons before ending his playing career in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes.
Rodgers has transitioned to coaching ever since. With stops at his alma mater, the San Antonio Commanders in the AAF with Mike Riley, and most recently at Wisconsin in 2021.
Rodgers can aid several of New Jersey’s young receiver/returner types on the Generals roster based on his playing background. Like KaVontae Turpin, Darrius Shepherd, and others.
Quarterbacks/Quality Control Coach: Zerick Rollins
Rollins, a former college quarterback, and receiver at Alcorn State, will be rounding out the Generals’ offensive coaching staff. Upstart leagues like the USFL provide opportunities for players to continue their pro-playing careers and for coaches.
The opportunity for Rollins to work with an experienced group of veteran coaches will help aid his development in the coaching ranks. Rollins’s experience as a receiver and quarterback can be a valuable asset to a staff whose members are expected to assume multiple roles. Being in a quality control position can be a thankless and names task, but its often one of the more challenging positions.
New Jersey Generals Defensive Staff
Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs Coach Chris Dishman
Although Chris Dishman has been an assistant coach for nearly two decades, it’s difficult for long-time football fans not to think of him as an All-Pro cornerback in the NFL for the Houston Oilers. A standout at Purdue University, Dishman was a first-team all-pro cornerback for Houston during the 90s. He was one of the better all-around defensive backs of his generation.
Chris Dishman has paid his dues on the coaching ranks since hanging up his cleats after a 13-year playing career. Dishman has been coaching defensive backs since 2004, in the college and pro ranks. He was most recently at IMG Academy and in the XFL with the New York Guardians. The Generals unsurprisingly drafted several former Guardian defenders. Including league standout defensive back Dravon Askew-Henry.
After many years of paying his dues, Dishman finally gets an opportunity to coordinate his own defense. It’s well deserved and long overdue.
Defensive Line Coach: Robert Diaco
Once upon a time, Bob ‘Robert’ Diaco was one of the rising young stars in the college football coaching ranks. The now-49-year-old New Jersey native, Diaco, a former All-Big 10 linebacker at Iowa during the early to mid-90s, has coached at several prominent college football universities for over two decades.
Diaco has been an assistant at Western Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Virginia, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Louisiana Tech, and Purdue. Diaco rose up the ranks fairly quickly on the defensive side of the ball. As defensive coordinator at Notre Dame in 2012, Diaco was awarded the Broyles Award as the best assistant coach in college football.
The success in South Bend led to Diaco getting his first and only head coaching job with UCONN. The three years that Diaco spent coaching the Huskies, from 2014-to 2016, did not go well. Diaco clashed with the university and players and finished his head coaching career at the University of Connecticut, having the worst winning percentage amongst Huskies’ head coaches since 1920 at 11-26.
Diaco landed on his feet as DC at Nebraska under Generals’ head coach Mike Riley. But their team up together in 2017 was short-lived. Riley and his entire Nebraska staff were dismissed after a 4-8 campaign with the Cornhuskers. As defensive coordinator, Diaco’s last two stints at Purdue and Louisiana Tech were also short stints, and Diaco was one and done in both jobs.
With New Jersey, Diaco has a shot at resurrecting what was once a promising coaching career. His expertise in calling plays should be helpful towards Chris Dishman. But Diaco could have his hands’ full coaching on special teams as well with the Generals.
Linebackers Coach: Ken Watson
Ken Watson is a veteran coach who has spent most of his time coaching defense in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference at Miles College. In two different stints, Waston has spent over a decade coaching defensive backs for the Golden Bears.
The former collegiate defensive back was a four-time All-Gulf South Conference defensive back at Livingston University (now the University of West Alabama). After his college playing days were over. Watson went on to play eight seasons in the CFL for four separate teams. He played in three Grey Cup Finals, winning two of them: 1992 with Calgary and 1995 with Baltimore.
Watson is another coach on the Generals’ staff, reuniting with Mike Riley. As he coached defensive backs with the San Antonio Commanders in the AAF.
Defensive Backs/Quality Control Coach: Dominique Franks
Dominique Franks, the former Oklahoma Sooners standout defensive back and fifth-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2010 NFL Draft, joins the New Jersey Generals coaching staff.
Franks, 34, played five seasons in the NFL before deciding to try his hand at playing professional basketball. Franks played pro ball briefly in Europe, then returned to the States to get into football coaching. Franks has been coaching in the high school ranks since 2020; this will be his first opportunity to coach on the pro level.
Leagues like the USFL can be a breeding ground for former players turned recent coaches. Franks will get his shot to pave a new pathway in his career with New Jersey.
Similar to how players in non-NFL leagues are typically not given enough respect. The same can be said for the coaches who participate in these leagues. The coaches who agree to take the plunge and coach in alternative pro leagues have a much more difficult job than NFL assistants.
Simply because assistants in these leagues are tasked with doing a lot more, and they are doing it from a position where every aspect of a team is being built from scratch. In the USFL, because of the limited roster size of 38 players per active roster, and more importantly, the limited amount of time, to get acclimated with players before the season. Getting players and entire units on the same page is quite challenging. And the majority of these coaches are being asked to cover more than one area of the team.
Familiarity is widespread in football. And in this particular case, it’s essential. So it’s not surprising to see Mike Riley surround himself with so many of his former assistants and players. The Generals are going to war very so, andn. Riley needs as many soldiers who have been with him in the tranches ready to go to battle. That’s exactly what he has set up for New Jersey.