Gray Angles Toward Success with Pirates
By: Mick Moninghoff
When the Massachusetts Pirates offense runs onto the field this season it will be under the direction of Offensive Coordinator Reggie Gray. For Gray, who played 14 seasons professionally (nine in the Arena Football League), this will be his first time coaching at the professional level.
During his AFL career, Gray recorded 879 receptions, 10,945 yards, and 267 touchdown receptions, but with each passing season he became a leader and knew that after his final game with the Washington Valor in 2019, he would like to get into coaching. Gray already had a taste of it, working as a wide receivers’ coach at Elmhurst College in his home state of Illinois. Now as he embarks on his first season as a professional coach, he remembers his first head coach in 2008 with the Chicago Rush who showed him the ropes and planted the coaching seed.
“It would have to be when I first got into the arena game. Definitely coach Mike Hohensee,” Gray said. “He basically turned me into a pro. He gave me an understanding of how to watch film. That gave the inspiration of loving to watch film and knowing that one day that I would be coaching. The rest of my arena coaches helped along the way but as far as the inspiration to become a coach, that would be coach Hohensee,” he said.
Hohnesee, who set several records at the University of Minnesota, was a quarterback who saw action in the United States Football League, the National Football League, the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League. After his playing career Hohensee coached professionally for 13 seasons in the AFL and AF2. He led the Chicago Rush to an AFL Title in Arena Bowl XX in 2006. He was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame as a coach in 2012.
It was Hohensee who told Gray to slow down and to concentrate on the things that make a route successful.
“Coach Hohensee taught me the game. I’ll give my players some of the same pointers that coach Hohensee gave to me,” said Gray. “He broke it down to me. It’s not all about speed. The slowest receiver can get open. It’s about angles so I’ll definitely take that approach to help these guys. Some are naturally just fast, some guys are big, so I’ll try to teach them that the arena game is mostly about angles. I know that in my playing days I probably ran my routes at 70 to 80 percent. I never really ran them at full speed because of what coach Hohensee taught me. At the beginning I was just full speed, 100 miles per hour, but those are some of the things that I will instill in my players now,” Gray said.
As a player, Gray was also an explosive kick returner with 302 returns for 5,752 yards and 15 TD’s. He also had two rushing touchdowns. As he looks at the Pirates 2020 roster, I asked the five-time All-Arena performer, what are the traits of a “Reggie Gray” player?
“It’s a different era of the “Reggie Gray style,” he said with a laugh. “Early in my career I was more about speed and quickness and as time went on, I became more of the coach on the field; a smart player. I may have lost some of the intangibles, but having the knowledge of the game helped me out. When I look at a player now, there are some things I see like quickness. I might see a guy with quickness, quick feet, who gets in and out of breaks. I may see a player that may not possess speed or quickness, but he’s smart and knows how to maneuver to get open on his routes. Those are also “Reggie Gray” things. If somebody has both; records are made to be broken so they will be on their way to breaking records. I look at those things. That’s one thing I’ve been taught as a coach; I should not be looking for what I did that was special in other guys because there will never be another Reggie Gray. Coach Cedric Walker taught me that. Coach Walker is one of the best defensive coordinators and defensive minds in arena football. I played with him in San Jose for two years and he was recently with the Baltimore Brigade of the Arena Football League,” Gray added.
Walker has impressive credentials. He won two AFL titles, one as a player with Arizona and one as the Defensive Coordinator of the San Jose Saber Cats. Walker played defensive back for 10 seasons and then coached in the AFL and AF2 for 12 years. From 2012-2015 he transformed San Jose into one of the most dominant teams in the Arena Football League, culminating with a victory in Arena Bowl XXVII over Jacksonville in 2015.
The Pirates hope that Coach Gray can attain the same success he did as a player. A two-time AFL champion, Gray was the Most Valuable Player in Arena Bowl XXVIII in 2015 with the San Jose Saber Cats. He also won an AFL Championship in 2017 with the Washington Valor. Yet the Chicago, IL native does not measure success by the amount of championship rings that a player might have.
“My definition of success is anything that you put your mind to and you give full effort, That is my definition of success because you’re doing it with the frame of mind that you’re trying to be the best and you’re putting all that you have into it. Therefore, at that moment, if you’re a very good player, a very good coach, or a very good team, if you do those things, I think success just follows. So-what if you go out there with half-effort or put part of yourself forward; you may accomplish things, but as far as success? I don’t think I could be OK with not putting my best foot forward. So, whatever I do, I put my best foot forward, going 100 percent, and whatever the result is, I deem that successful because it’s all about yourself and not what other people think.”