Intelligently rating the new Houston Roughnecks staff
With the 2023 XFL season looming closer, it is time to get a closer look at the new Houston Roughnecks. It has a different roster of players compared to the 2020 season. It also has a different front office roster compared to the 2020 iteration of the team led by June Jones.
Since the shortened 2020 season, Jones has moved on to Seattle to become the offensive coordinator of the rebranded Sea Dragons. His eventual successor, Wade Phillips, accepted the role of general manager and coach of the Roughnecks in April 2022 after nearly a two-and-a-half-year hiatus from coaching since being released by the Los Angeles Rams as defensive coordinator.
Let’s intelligently rate the new Houston Roughnecks front office staff as they kick off the season on the weekend of February 18-19.
The curious case of the XFL and Roughnecks unknowns and well-knowns
“ We’re playing Orlando. We’re looking forward to it. Roughnecks started out (undefeated) last time. Our first three games are home games, so we’d like to do that same thing.” – Wade Phillips
Here is what the main office and coaching staff for the Houston Roughnecks looks like to start the 2023 season:Conversation: Houston Roughnecks head coach Wade Phillips (Part 2) – Gallery Sports
With the 2023 XFL season fast approaching, we have a lot of ground to cover in getting to know our Houston Roughnecks!
Front office staff
Director, Team Operations – Danielle Lee
The daughter of former NFL player Larry Lee, Danielle has spent her life following sports, especially football. She began her career as a crew agent at ESPN in 2015 according to an espnfrontrow.com feature on her.
Having also spent four years in the NFL league office performing Football Operations duties, she is no stranger to the realm of her duties. This is a good individual to have with a “new” franchise in a “new” league. She is definitely not a new face. That should reap benefits for the Roughnecks organization as a whole. RATING – B+
Director, Player Personnel – Marc Lillibridge
Marc Lillibridge has a very diverse background, which makes him an intriguing (and likely successful) hire for this position for the Houston Roughnecks. Having spent time as a Director of Pro Personnel with the NFL for over nine years, and time across his career as Director of Business Development, and even coordinating recruiting, the man has spent a LONG time around football as a whole at all different levels. RATING – A
Head Coach/General Manager – Wade Phillips
With over 50 years of coaching experience, this is a hard hire to argue against. Hell, he’s even a homegrown product! He was born in Orange, Tex. and has attended and coached at the University of Houston (not to mention the Houston Texans), this does wonders for brand recognition in a fledgling league!
A defensive-minded coach, it will be very clear what the emphasis will be for this Roughnecks squad, especially in the early weeks of the season. Having someone who has witnessed the game-changing over 5 decades will be invaluable, as long as he can show that he is not “stuck in his ways”. The only question is this: At 75 years old, has the game passed him by? RATING – B+
Offensive Coordinator – A.J. Smith
Easy call here. A.J. Smith was the wide receivers coach with the Houston Roughnecks during the derailed 2020 season of the XFL. The Roughnecks sported an undefeated 5-0 record and had the best offense in the league led by a passing attack led by P.J. Walker (now with the Carolina Panthers) and current RB/WR Nick “Hollywood” Holley.
Smith was quickly becoming fingered as a potential offensive coordinator and quickly rising talent among coaches in the league. Having had a relationship with Coach Phillips over the past 20 years, and a track record of high-flying offenses in both high school and college, it seems that Smith has a good handle on the offensive game of today. This will be his first professional gig as an offensive coordinator, but he seems to have all the tools to be successful. All that is left is to prove it! RATING – B
Wide Receivers – Payton Pardee
Payton Pardee is a relatively young coach. With around 4 years of experience, he definitely isn’t what you’d call “seasoned”. Having said that, he has seen success during his time as a WR/TE Coach.
Pardee coached with Texas A&M Commerce, helping lead them to enough success that they moved from Division II ball up to Division I FCS according to XFL News Hub. Based on the lack of long-term experience (despite having played the position collegiately at the FBS level), he will be one to watch on the coaching staff moving forward. Rating – C
Offensive Line – Andre Gurode
Talk about a name that will turn heads! Andre Gurode is no stranger to football fans in the state of Texas. Having spent 9 years as a Dallas Cowboy and earning 5 Pro Bowl appearances in that time, the man knows his football.
Having a stud like this join your coaching staff is every casual fan’s dream! But what is the downside here? Well… It’s his first coaching job. It is undeniable that his mentality is there and his passion follows, but can he connect to players in this younger generation and get the best out of them? We should ALL be eager to see how this unfolds. Color us optimistically cautious! Rating – B-
Running Backs – John Estes
Named to the Western Athletic Conference’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s, John Estes had a highly successful collegiate career. Despite his success in college, he never really stuck in the NFL due to a host of injuries.
As a coach, Estes spent 2016-2017 on staff at the University of Hawaii, before joining the Roughnecks staff in 2019 as the offensive line coach for the previous iteration of the XFL. Having the experience of being a running back, as well as coaching the offensive line at a couple of different stops, bodes well for a good relationship to form between Estes and Coach Gurode. Rating – B-
Offensive Quality Control – Marvin Williams
Coach Williams is a former colleague of Offensive Coordinator A.J. Smith. He actually replaced Coach Smith as the Offensive Coordinator at Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport, Louisiana when Coach Smith moved on.
At a bare minimum, this signing is an “analyst” type position. It is a good chemistry fit, but as we go down this list there is a bit of potential to have a nepotism letdown on the offensive side of the ball. That said, the flip side of the coin is an offensive boom similar to what we saw in 2019. We’ll wait to take a guess on which is which until we evaluate the roster throughout the week. RATING – C-
Defensive Coordinator – Brian Stewart
Do yourself a favor and go look at this man’s LinkedIn page. Multiple stops as an NFL defensive coordinator, and defensive backs coach, with stays with the Texans and Cowboys. His experience speaks for itself.
Seeing some of the names in the secondary and on the defensive line, this is a really exciting hire as a DC. Hopefully, it plays out as it seems it should! Rating – A+
Defensive Line – Bill Johnson
Over 40 years of NFL and collegiate coaching experience brings Coach Johnson here to Houston. The man has a TON of big-time team associations under his belt, including the 2019 LSU Tigers (widely regarded as the best college team to ever take the field) and the New Orleans Saints team from the time during and around their Super Bowl run.
As mentioned above, some of the players he will have on the defensive line are going to benefit in a huge way from his expertise and passion. Sure, he is an old head, but he has also coached guys like DL Glen Logan in the past. This should be a strength of this football team. Rating – A
Linebackers – A.J. Reisig
Since 2011, Coach Reisig has earned experience at all three levels of the defense. That kind of experience is not something to sneeze at, as you learn how each fits in and interacts with each other. This makes him an asset in team drills as well as the meeting room.
This could be a good fit, considering he has time spent in successful situations including 4 conference championship games and several bowl games at the collegiate level. He can likely build connections with the players and explain to them things at their level and build them up. Rating – B-
Defensive Backs – Morgan Ford
Morgan Ford has spent the last five years of his life building his experience for a break into the bigger picture of football coaching. He has been a graduate assistant on the defensive side of the ball, spending a ton of that timeframe with the defensive backfield.
His work in recruiting means that he has a high degree of relationship-building skill, and in a position group that rivals the wide receivers in terms of ego, that can be absolutely invaluable. The talent is there in the defensive backfield, and with the help of Defensive Coordinator Brian Stewart (who has countless years of defensive backfield expertise himself), this should be a hire that doesn’t threaten the cohesiveness of the overall defensive unit. Rating – C+
Special Teams – Greg McMahon
Coach McMahon has been to a lot of places over his 40-year career. Most recently, he has spent time in the same position with Louisiana State University and the USFL’s Houston Gamblers.
The man knows what he is doing on special teams, but in recent years his product has left a bit to be desired. How much of that was player mistake versus his scheme is up for debate, but this will be a hotspot in terms of potential downside to watch for in the 2023 season. Rating – B-
Conclusion and rating the Roughnecks front office overall
This coaching staff has a good mix of up-and-coming talent to go with experienced and previous coaching relationships. It doesn’t seem like coaching chemistry is going to be a huge deal. Coach Wade seems to have a system in place to have offensive production and game planning go off without a hitch, and the defensive staff is pretty stellar.
Pair that with a front office that is young but well-experienced in team operations, and it seems like the Houston Roughnecks may be a sleeper despite being dead last in odds to win the XFL. (We all know how those odds turned out in the 2019 iteration… *rolls eyes*.)
Overall Staff Rating – A-