Spokane fired assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Fred Biletnikoff Jr. on Sunday, one day after the Shock lost their home opener to Cleveland and dropped to 0-2 on the season.
Biletnikoff was just two games into his first season with the Shock.
“For Coach (Rob) Keefe to come in there and lay that on me, I couldn’t believe it,” said Biletnikoff, who has nearly 20 years of coaching experience, including eight in arena football. “I said, ‘Let’s watch the film.’ That’s how coaches are; you watch the film and make sure there’s accountability with the players. But when those players are part of a championship season (in 2010) and were once the roommate (quarterback Kyle Rowley) of the coach, you’re not going to call them out.
“I get it. I’m the new guy in town. I’m responsible for kids dropping balls and for the quarterback not throwing the ball to the open guy.”
Keefe said Biletnikoff has a highly respected offensive mind but his system wasn’t working with Shock veteran players.
“I don’t think it was anything with Freddy’s schemes, it was more just a lack of trust for the players,” Keefe said. “For some reason, it just really wasn’t working.”
Thus far, nothing has really worked for the Shock offensively, defensively or on special teams. They were blown out by San Jose 76-48. The coaching staff, including Biletnikoff, front office and ownership huddled at the Arena for a couple hours after Saturday’s loss. Biletnikoff said the discussion centered on personnel and there was no discussion of coaching changes. The next morning he was summoned to Shock headquarters and fired.
“The organization treated me very well. I have all the respect in the world for Brady (Nelson, majority owner) and Adam (Nebeker, general manager),” said Biletnikoff, who was en route Monday to his home in Pleasanton, Calif. “People on the outside looking in are probably saying, ‘Let’s blame the offensive coordinator, we’re not scoring 70 points a game.’ Put that film on and tell me we weren’t putting people in position to score.”
Keefe, already the defensive coordinator, will take over as offensive coordinator. Spokane has hired ex-Shock receiver Andy Olson as an offensive assistant. Line coach Travis Crusenberry has been promoted to assistant head coach.
Keefe nearly took over as offensive coordinator when Matt Sauk left after the 2010 season to take a similar position with Utah. Keefe said his system will be similar to Spokane’s offense the last few years under Sauk and ex-Shock coach Adam Shackleford.
Asked why he brought in Biletnikoff and his system in the first place, Keefe said: “I let him have total control over the offense and I think where that got out of touch, I wanted to change up and do things a little differently. We brought him in thinking with the talent we had, we thought he could adapt and adjust to what we had. (Biletnikoff) was thinking, ‘I am me, let me do this.’.”
The Shock averaged 51.5 points in two games, tied for 10th in AFL. They were stung by four interceptions and ranked just 12th in pass efficiency. Spokane ranks last (18th) in scoring defense (68.5).
“I’m frustrated with the defense, too,” Keefe said. “The reason we made the change is, if you don’t believe in the coach, they’re not going to believe in the system.”
Biletnikoff defended his coaching and his system, which ranked among the best in arenafootball2 during his six seasons with Central Valley.
“It’s very easy to pick up,” he said. “And (Rowley) was in the development of the game plan every week. There was nothing Monday through Friday that was force-fed down the kid’s throat. If he didn’t like it, we threw it out and didn’t even practice it.
“We had good enough players. The play-calling was good enough Saturday to win that football game.”
Biletnikoff, the son of Hall of Fame receiver Fred Biletnikoff, isn’t sure what he’ll do next.
“They threw me under the bus,” he said. “It’s probably time to get back to real football. Eleven men, take out those silly nets.”