Utah Blaze owners Robert and John Garff's primary business is selling cars, so they know the value of a good test drive.
In a sense, Robert Garff explained, they've been test driving Ron James as an Arena Football League coach for the past couple of years. And they've been pleased with the experience.
The team held a national search to land a replacement for former head coach Danny White, with dozens of candidates. But in the end, the Garffs and team president Jason Jones picked a man from their own backyard who has worked for them and has lived in south Davis County the past two years.
James, previously the Blaze director of player personnel and defensive coordinator, was named the new head coach of Utah's AFL franchise in a news conference Wednesday afternoon at the team's headquarters.
"We have had a demo ride with Ron James being in our organization for two years," said Robert Garff. "We've seen him behind the scenes, in front of the cameras, with the players and with the fans, and what we've seen we've liked very, very much. It is not a new risk we are taking on. We know exactly what we are getting, and we are pleased with what we see."
James served as White's right-hand man the past two seasons both on the field as a coach and as the team's main go-to guy in scouting and negotiations with free-agent players.
"Ron has a very tireless work ethic," said John Garff. "He's the first one at the office at 5:30 in the morning all throughout the year. He is a great individual. He has a commitment to us and to the players to bring our team to the next level and to help us build a championship caliber team."
The Blaze went 21-30 in three seasons under White, an AFL Hall of Fame coach. Utah made the playoffs each year but lost all three postseason games. James said it is his goal to turn the Blaze into a perennial winner that has playoff success.
"We're going to work hard, and we're going to have fun on and off the field,' said James. "And we spell fun W-I-N."
James got his first taste of the AFL back in 1990 as an assistant coach with the Albany Firebirds. After coaching for most of the '90s in the college ranks, he returned to the AFL in 1999 with the Houston ThunderBears and then with the Las Vegas Gladiators from 2002-06, the final two years as the head coach.
The Gladiators, under James, went 8-8 with a potent attack that led the league in total offense in 2005. Las Vegas took a step back in 2006, falling to 5-11, but the franchise struggled in many areas, including financially, and has since relocated to Cleveland.
Despite a 13-21 overall record as a head coach in the AFL, the Blaze management thinks James is ready to succeed this time around.
"The head coaching position with the Utah Blaze is considered a gem amongst the Arena Football League," said Jones. "There are a lot of things that we are recognized for as a franchise. It is a highly coveted position. ... We did our due diligence. We were very thorough (in interviewing candidates), but at the same time we've known all along that we had a hidden gem in our back pocket in Ron James."
Several current Blaze players attended Wednesday's news conference. And they seemed pleased with the promotion of James.
"I'm excited about it,"' said ex-Ute and current Blaze linebacker Corey Dodds. "He brings a lot of fire and intensity and that fits in really well with me and my personality. I can't speak for everybody on the team, but I think the players will be happy with him being our new head coach."
White held the dual titles of head coach and general manager of the Blaze, but James will not have the title of general manager. He will, however, share in some of those duties, primarily with Jones.
"We will work in partnership in taking on the general manager responsibilities,' said Jones. "There are certain strengths that Ron has with relationships, particularly with players and agents with his contacts. And there are some strengths in business administration that I have. We'll continue to work in conjunction."
James said one of his first priorities will be to sign some of the team's own free agents, which includes the record-setting receiving trio of Huey Whittaker, Aaron Boone and J.J. McKelvey.
"We'll be starting to contact those players immediately,' said James. "We wanted to wait until the head coach was named to do that, but as soon as I leave here I've got a few players on speed dial and I'll start calling right away."
One of the team owners also took a few moments to thank White for his three years of service to the upstart franchise.
"I want to express my deep appreciation to Danny (White)," said John Garff. "He is a class individual. We wanted someone who could help build our franchise from the ground up, someone who would bring luster to our company as well as to our brand with the Blaze, and Danny clearly did those things for us."
But now it's the new guy's turn and expectations are high.
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