OKLAHOMA CITY – Jared Allen’s Pro Bull Team finally has their man.
Following a long phone call Tuesday night with team owner Jared Allen, 1997 World Champion Michael Gaffney has accepted the invitation to serve as the inaugural head coach for Jared Allen’s Pro Bull Team this season after a few weeks of recruiting by Allen and company.
“It is a great deal and a great opportunity,” Gaffney said Thursday. “You just hate to fall short and disappoint. It is humbling and it is nice and it makes you feel good, but at the same time, it puts you in a spot where you almost are like, ‘Hey, by golly, these guys are relying on me and I have to be able to step up and hopefully deliver some real useful information.’”
Gaffney’s name eventually rose to the top of the candidate list once Allen approached his riders – Kasey Hayes, Tanner Byrne and Jordan Hupp – with the notion of adding a former bull rider as a coach in December. Hayes and Allen had called Gaffney a variety of times since the beginning of the New Year, but the 2005 Ring of Honor inductee was originally nervous about accepting the offer because of time constraints.
He wanted to make sure he would truly be a resource to the team and not fall short of expectations.
“It’s a good deal, I just tried to plead my case how unworthy I am and how busy my life is,” Gaffney said. “I wanted to be up front with him and say look, ‘I can’t give the time these guys probably deserve.’”
However, Gaffney is more than worthy, says Allen.
Just look at his resume.
Gaffney, one of the PBR’s original 20 founders, racked up 13 90-point rides in his career and he successfully rode the legendary Little Yellow Jacket for 93.75 and a PBR-record tying 96.5 points in 2004. In 1991, he rode 9-of-10 bulls to win the event average at the National Finals Rodeo. According to ProBullstats.com, Gaffney has more than 150 qualified rides in his career and qualified for the PBR World Finals six times.
“I felt like we just closed a $1 million sale,” Allen said. “The more and more I talked to him I realized he is the guy that we really wanted. His biggest concern was time and energy, and the fact that he didn’t want to sell the guys short just shows the integrity and the character that he has.”
The Chicago Bears defensive end reassured Gaffney that the team would work with his schedule.
Gaffney’s hesitations about being away from his wife, Robyn, and family – he has two children, Destyn, and Marek – only furthered Allen’s belief that Gaffney was the right guy.
Allen and his wife, Amy, welcomed their second daughter to the world in August and their other daughter, Brinley Noelle, is 4 years old. Hence, the NFL sack artist understands how tough it is being away from the family.
“What I really like about him is the way he talks about his wife and the way he talks about his kids,” Allen added. “The passion he has for that is the same values I have.”
Initially, Gaffney’s primary responsibilities will be advising the riders throughout the week and serving as a mentor to them. Every weekend, Gaffney will review film of each of the riders, breakdown their performances and offer feedback to them.
“The only thing I can do is be the old, washed up guy that used to do it and point out some things that I see that as a rider myself I would try and correct,” Gaffney said. “That is all I can do. I will try to put myself in their position because I once was there and try and convey to them if that was me this is what I would try to execute. Just have a conversation with them and be that guy that they can look to and ask questions and see if I do have an idea or an opinion about what it is they may be feeling. That type of thing.”
He also will be a listening ear and available to simply help walk the riders through the roller coast ride that the Built Ford Tough Series can be.
Gaffney, who is also coming out of retirement to compete at the J.W. Hart Invitational on May 30 in Decatur, Texas, will primarily remain in contact with the riders via phone and video training. Although, he tentatively plans to attend four or five BFTS events before the summer break, starting in Anaheim, California, on Feb. 6-8.
Hayes was one of the big advocates for Gaffney since the start of the recruiting process and had even made a variety of phone calls to the retired bull rider.
“I am super pumped up for a coach like that,” Hayes said. “Michael is a World Champion and knows what he is talking about.”
He knows firsthand that this won’t be Gaffney’s first stint as a coach in bull riding. The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native served as head coach of the 2007 Team USA World Cup team that competed in Queensland, Australia.
Hayes was a 22-year-old bull rider at the time.
“When I went to the World Cup in Australia, he was the team captain for us, so he somewhat had been a coach for me,” Hayes said. “He was great and would sit down and talk to you levelheaded. It was one of those deals where we were a man short, so he was deciding who was getting on an extra bull that night. He would talk to all of us and say, ‘Who thinks they can ride this bull,’ or ‘I think you can ride this bull easier than so and so.’”
He reminded Gaffney about that on Thursday when he called to congratulate the G-Man.
“He remembered that specific time when we were together in Australia,” Gaffney said. “He was like, ‘Remember you strategized and you found out what the bulls were doing and you tried your best to match us up the way you thought it would work out for the time.’”
Gaffney called the World Cup experience a memorable one, but said coaching for an entire season will be entirely different. More importantly, it will be a trial-by-fire process as head coaches in the PBR have yet to truly be explored for a full season.
“I think this will be a little more in depth, but the main thing is to benefit these guys,” Gaffney said.
The fact that Gaffney is a former World Champion is music to Byrne’s ears. The youngest member of Jared Allen’s Pro Bull Team (22 years old) remembers watching Gaffney on television as an aspiring bull riding in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and he can still recall Gaffney’s 96.5-point ride aboard Little Yellow Jacket in Nampa, Idaho.
He said the knowledge and attitude Gaffney is going to bring to the team should help elevate the riders focus and commitment.
“It is probably one of the coolest things ever to have Michael Gaffney as our coach,” Byrne said. “He has a good way of going about things and he was one of the best bull riders to ever get on bulls. To have somebody like that in your corner can only better you. Having him on our side is just going to excel us to do better, even with him just watching. You want to do good with somebody like that is watching and helping you.”
Allen compared having Gaffney give feedback to the riders to the reaction he had when he received his first email from Pro Football Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood.
“I remember the first time I got an email from Jack Youngblood telling me he was a fan of how I played,” Allen said. “Like, are you kidding me? Jack Youngblood! He is iconic. It was amazing.”
Hupp, a seven-year veteran on the BFTS, has heard talk for years about the idea of coaching becoming a part of professional bull riding beyond the normal bull riders that have served as mentors in the past.
He is curious to see how it will all play out; but he knows they have a great guy in Gaffney to attempt to create a new role in the sport. Hupp believes it may be similar to how golfers have coaches to work on specific parts of their game.
“I think it will be good, but I am anxious to see how good it is for everybody,” he said. “I don’t think it is going to be the type of deal where everybody says this was a huge waste of time. I do think it is going to be beneficial. It will be really good to have that extra set of eyes and have somebody there that can tell you what you are doing wrong like in every other sport.”
The common theme among all three riders is the understanding that Gaffney is a very approachable and an easy to talk to kind of guy, which is exactly how Gaffney wants them to view him.
Gaffney actually is not a fan of having the title of “coach.”
“Man, I hate the word coach. I really do,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t like that word, but I don’t know what other word that you can call it. I am just there to be there for the guys and hopefully they get something out of it.”
In other words, Gaffney may be lining himself up to be a player’s coach.
“Look, I am no better,” he explained. “Yes, I was fortunate enough to win a world title and did this that and the other, but it is the same road. We all travel the same road together. It is just a different time. It will be good.”
His personality was a big factor in Jared Allen’s Pro Bull Team selecting him as their guy, added stock contractor Matt Scharping, who has played a large role in helping elevate Jared Allen’s Pro Bull Team on the bovine athlete side.
“He fits the team well,” Scharping said. “He fits the mentality. I just feel like he is going to really blend well with us. He is a high character guy that has been there done that. He knows how to get it done.”
Scharping admits that when he got into the bull business this is not how he thought things would unfold, but that was until he began working with Allen and learned of the professional athlete’s vision.
“We are really getting started,” Scharping said. “I am not saying this is where exactly we want to be, but we are going in the right direction.”
In his brief time with the PBR, Allen has been willing to try new ideas and create new avenues for bull riders to find success inside the arena. He has already supplied workout plans, diets, new sponsorship opportunities and other resources to his riders.
Coach Gaffney is just the latest development for Jared Allen’s Pro Bull Team.
“I had a vision of what I thought could happen, and to have a guy who has been in it from the beginning to see that vision, agree with it and see how the athletes can get better is really cool,” Allen said. “We are so excited. Heck, we are going to do everything we can to make sure we are never a burden on him.
“We want him around for a long time.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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