Three coaches just right for Fever

July 10, 2012 

Take a look at most of the Indoor Football League team websites. It’s interesting to see how many coaches there are on those teams.

Most have five to eight assistants.

So it’s amazing when the Tri-Cities Fever goes 14-2 this season, it’s done with just three coaches on staff: head coach Adam Shackleford and assistants Ryan Lingenfelder and Cleveland Pratt.

None of them would have it any other way.

“I’ve never had more than two or three assistants,” said Shackleford, whose team will be in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Saturday to play the Storm (16-0) in the IFL’s championship game, the United Bowl. “Those two take care of so much, I don’t have to worry about things. I lean on those guys a lot.”

And they get a lot done.

Lingenfelder is the defensive coordinator, helps with the offensive line and, as he says, “puts his two cents in about the special teams.”

Pratt is the special teams coordinator and works with the defensive backs.

But there’s more.

“We do a lot of off-the-field stuff,” said Pratt, who played seven seasons as a receiver in the Arena Football League. “We get players to and from practice, to dinner, rehab if need be. We get them their equipment. We wear a lot of hats.

“I like being busy. There’s no need to have five, six, seven coaches.”

Lingenfelder wears a lot of hats, too.

“I’m the strength coordinator,” he said. “Cleveland and I are in charge of equipment. And I’m responsible with housing this year.”

Fever owner Teri Carr said there is a salary cap.

“Some teams say ‘Here’ to the head coach -- ‘You decide what to pay the assistant coaches,’ ” she said.

By having just three coaches, those staffers can make somewhat of a living wage.

When Shackleford was hired as an assistant three years ago by then-Fever head coach Pat O’Hara, Lingenfelder and Pratt already were with the team -- hired the previous season as assistants by then-coach Richard Davis.

But when O’Hara left to coach in the AFL, Shackleford was named the new head coach.

“I asked Pat when he left if they were good coaches,” Shackleford said. “He said yes, and I kept them. It was the best decision I have ever made. They are a majority of the reason I think that players play as hard as they do for us. My job is to recruit players. But once the players get here, they have to be well-coached. And that’s what these guys do.”

Shackleford loves offense, and he doubles as the offensive coordinator.

“We teach a system of offense,” he said. “We don’t teach these guys to be better football players, but we teach them the system. I’m picky, and I want it done my way. I don’t think I’ll ever give up playcalling. But I need someone to take care of special teams and someone to take care of the defense.”

Pratt said all three coaches have the same point of view.

“We’re all offensive-minded first,” he said. “So we understand defense. I coach the defensive backs, but I do it from a receiver’s standpoint.”

Lingenfelder played at Northern Arizona University as a center, then played a little in the AFL at Arizona and Portland. His first coaching job was as the head coach of his 12-year-old brother’s Grid Kids team.

“I didn’t make the kids cry,” he admitted. “But I made some mothers cry because I was yelling at their kids.”

He moved up through the high school, junior college and college ranks before coming to the Fever.

He has had interviews to be a head coach in the IFL.

“It’s gonna take the right situation,” said Lingenfelder, who added that he’s using the Fever as a measuring stick for future jobs.

“I’ve been around a lot of good head coaches all of my life,” Lingenfelder said. “One thing to be successful as a head coach is it takes more than yourself. You’ve got to have a good ownership to get those players. It takes three components to make things work for a team -- great housing, an outstanding food program, and some sort of transportation to get your players to places. And you’ve got to be able to tell a kid he’s going to have his own room.”

During the season, Fever players get 14 meals each week provided by area restaurants. They live in apartments, and the coaches ferry them around to various appointments.

“There are some franchises who feed their players just once a day and others just three days a week,” Lingenfelder said.

Shackleford wants other franchises to take note of his two assistants.

“They deserve to be head coaches immediately,” he said. “Any team looking for a head coach should be looking at them.”

Pratt would be open to that.

“Hopefully, I’ll get a shot,” he said.

Meanwhile, all three of them keep putting their noses to the grindstone.

“When I get here in the morning, at least one of them is already here,” Carr said. “If I come back here late at night, at least one of them is here. They’re always working.

“I’m really lucky. In my opinion, I’ve got the greatest coaching staff in the league.”

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