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First Time a Charm for Avenger Coach

Pro football: Hodgkiss believed his rookie year as an Arena League head coach would include a playoff appearance.


When Ed Hodgkiss became head coach of the Avengers in October, he was convinced the team could make the playoffs.

He didn't have many believers outside of the Avengers. After all, the third-year Arena Football League team had won only eight of 28 games. Although Hodgkiss had been in the league since 1997 with Indiana, he never had been a head coach.

But Hodgkiss, 31, was true to his word. The Avengers reached the league's 2002 playoffs by finishing third in the Western Division with an 8-6 record. On Saturday, the fifth-seeded Avengers play host to 12th-seeded Tampa Bay at Staples Center.

"I don't want to say we overachieved this year," Hodgkiss said. "This is where I expected us to be, if not higher. I think we've played to the best of our ability many times. If I had to give us an overall assessment, I'd say I'm happy where we're at. I think we're strong going into the playoffs. It's been a long road, but in the right direction."

Hodgkiss, the team's third coach following Stan Brock and Robert Lyles, came to Los Angeles with the reputation as one of the league's top coaching prospects. He was offensive coordinator his last three seasons with the Firebirds, who won the Arena Bowl in 1999 and were always among the top scoring teams.

Hodgkiss had similar success this season in Los Angeles. In 2001, the Avengers ranked 18th in scoring (40.3) and 17th in total offense (245.6 yards). This season, the team finished fifth in scoring (52.2 points) and fourth in total offense (275.6). The Avengers also lowered opponents' scoring average from 51.1 points in 2001 to 49.6.

"No doubt, it would have been a big disappointment to me for us not to make the playoffs," Hodgkiss said. "Especially this year, with 16 teams in the league and 12 making [the playoffs]. If we stayed healthy, I firmly believed we would outwork and out-character at least four teams over the course of the season."

Still, no coach knows how his first season will work out when inheriting a team. Half of the Avengers' 24-man roster this season came from somewhere else. Only two players, Anthony Rice and Chris Jackson, remained from the team's inaugural season.

"It's a credit to Ed and his staff that they brought us together as quickly as they did," quarterback Tony Graziani said. "Coach stressed chemistry and togetherness, and I know a lot of people say those words. But he came in here with respect from what he did at Indiana. It made us want to try things his way."

Besides his staff, Hodgkiss said he drew on two other resources this season.

One was his head coach at Indiana.

"My mentor," Hodgkiss said of Mike Daily. "I have great respect for him, and we run similar type programs. I didn't talk to him a ton this year, maybe three, four times during the season. But I was with him for so long, and he prepared me very well."

The other was famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.

"I've never met him, but I draw from him, too," Hodgkiss said. "I do all the Wooden stuff, like worrying about yourself, practicing well, playing to the best of your ability. I've gotten all that from reading and studying Wooden. I'm like a Wooden disciple.

"I know he's from a different sport. But that's a guy, as a head coach, I took a lot of notes from. I give the players quotes from Wooden and really try to follow his footsteps on how he approached games and everything else."

Now he will try to lead the Avengers to a place they've never been. Tampa Bay comes into the playoffs with a 6-8 record, which includes a 38-24 loss to the Avengers on May 17. But the Storm, which has won four Arena Bowls, is making a league-record 12th consecutive playoff appearance.

"I know [Storm] Coach Tim Marcum has the motivation since we beat them," Hodgkiss said. "We have to guard against that. But it goes back to focusing on ourselves. If we don't turn the ball over, [if we] play physical and tackle well, I think we're going to be fine.

"That's why I focus on us--that way you don't get into those [mind] games too much."

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