By 1987, Tim Marcum had already coached football at the high school, junior college, NCAA Division I-A and USFL levels.
Might as well try a newfangled game called the Arena Football League.
“It was wild,” Marcum recalled. “I was able to get with a guy from your part of the world, (director of AFL operations) Mouse Davis, and he had the X’s and O’s and the ideas. They’d played a couple of exhibition games the year before and it was really messed up: four down linemen, defense was a 4-2-2, offense was one or two receivers. The scores were like 20-13 and everyone was trying to establish the run.
“Mouse had the run-and-shoot – nobody misses those tackles but their mothers – and they brought in 70-80 guys for tryouts, divided it into four teams. You can thank Mouse for the excitement of the game.”
Davis helped Marcum get his start in the AFL, and he’s been making history since. Marcum’s teams won the first three ArenaBowls and six of the first 10, even though he stepped away from the AFL to coach with Steve Spurrier at Florida in 1990 and with June Jones and the Atlanta Falcons in 1994.
Marcum’s 211 coaching wins, 27 playoff wins and seven AFL titles rank No. 1 and there isn’t really a close second. He was inducted into the Arena Football Hall of Fame in 1998.
Marcum will try to add to his collection when his Tampa Bay Storm face the Spokane Shock in ArenaBowl XXIII Friday. Marcum guided the Storm to championships in 1995, 1996 and 2003.
In his 21 AFL seasons, his teams have played for 11 titles.
“You get the best players you can possibly get,” he said, setting up his own punch line, “and hopefully they overcome coaching. I’m just an old gym coach.”
A few other things have gone into Marcum’s successful run.
“His experience in the game – he’s a life-long coach, his dad was a coach,” said Orlando coach Pat O’Hara, who played quarterback on Tampa Bay’s 2003 championship team and broke into AFL coaching on Marcum’s 2005 Storm staff. “A lot of (coaches) have fashioned their styles around him: Create a great pass rush and get after people. He doesn’t try to overdo things, just focus on a few things.”
Marcum has an endless supply of one-liners.
“I’m a guy that likes to write things down and I kept a diary of Marcum-isms,” O’Hara said. “I’ve got them on my computer and it fills up four pages. He can lighten up a film room and he loves his players.”
But even O’Hara acknowledges Marcum’s old-school, hard-nosed style isn’t for everyone.
“He’s one of those guys you either love or hate,” said O’Hara, whose Predators lost 63-62 to Tampa Bay in the American Conference title game. “He’s an extremely loyal guy. If he’s your enemy, watch out. He’s been so good to me.”
Shock head coach Rob Keefe called Marcum “one of the AFL originals. The routes and plays we’re doing, he’s one of the guys that started all of this. I believe he created the tight end screen. I’m proud to say we’re going to be coaching against each other.”
Marcum has seen the AFL evolve from four teams and tiny paychecks to its heyday of six-figure contracts and national television audiences. After his Storm won the 2003 ArenaBowl, he lost four players to opposing teams, all signing for at least $100,000. Soaring salaries eventually led to the AFL’s demise in 2009 and its return in 2010 with a new business model.
“We’re kind of back to what it started out as,” Marcum said. “I took a substantial cut in pay, as did the players. We all liked the other one, but you want it to be able to last, especially when you’ve put 21 years into it.”
Marcum is in his mid-60s but shows no signs of slowing down.
“Oh hell, yeah,” he said, when asked if he’s a coaching lifer. “It’s something I enjoy and I have a passion for the game. I’ve got a young wife and a big house. I gotta be working.”