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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Blanchette: Former Shock coach finds success in indoor league

If you don’t have at least a minor rooting interest for Adam Shackleford, there just may be a hole in your soul.

This should go double for the folks down at the Chamber of Commerce. Here’s a guy who came to town with the impossible task of improving on the instant dynasty that was our indoor football enterprise and yet eventually did, made friends, got himself on a bobblehead, won a championship – and then got fired for his trouble. Rather than bolt town in a slow burn, he continued to make his home here, rustled up a job down the freeway he commutes to and has his new team in its championship game.

Now, you could trump up an easy premise – playing well is the best revenge or something along those lines – but it’s a non-starter. Shack’s teams routinely played well anyway. The outfit that cut him loose has done better than OK. And the revenge part is both inaccurate and irrelevant.

“No personal agendas,” he insisted.

Because winning is always agenda enough.

On Saturday, Shackleford’s Tri-Cities Fever make a run at the Indoor Football League championship – in something called the United Bowl – against the host Sioux Falls Storm. The site, the Storm’s 13-1 record and a ridiculously high-octane offense – Sioux Falls scored 105 points in its opener, and 80 four other times – make the Fever obvious underdogs, but outsized challenges have been deflated before.

In any case, it’s the third time in four years that a Shack-coached team finds itself in a title game. That has to say something about something.

Shackleford owns one ring – the one he won with the Spokane Shock in 2009 after a 19-1 run in the last season of arenafootball2. As the Shock management midwifed the rebirth of the Arena Football League, it had Shackleford reapply for his job – and decided instead to consummate a long infatuation with Rob Keefe, Shack’s assistant.

It seemed cold and risky, and Shackleford was rightfully hurt.

“But really, I put it to rest a lot quicker than people have said I should have,” Shackleford said. “I looked past it. I’m where I want to be right now.

“I can’t speak for (Shock CEO) Brady Nelson, but I don’t think he ever thought I couldn’t coach. I think he went a different direction from a marketing standpoint, and he made a decision he thought he had to make.”

The Shock haven’t hit many dry holes and this was no exception – Keefe steered Spokane to the AFL title in his first try.

In the meantime, Shack found a second home a couple of hours away. The Fever had been an old af2 punching bag, and something of a civic embarrassment with revolving door coaches and behavior issues on and off the field. When a proposed two-level structure of the AFL didn’t materialize, owner Teri Carr decided to throw in with the IFL – now the biggest (21 teams) and best of the sub-AFL leagues.

“This league has become what af2 was,” Shackleford said. “We’re going to lose guys to (the AFL). We’ve lost three to the UFL and Canada this year, and that’s what we want.”

The salary structure – $250 a win – is the same as the old af2, but there are differences. No nets. No defense-limiting rules keeping linebackers in a “box.” Two players can be in forward motion.

“I got through about two days of camp last year and I might as well have taken a match to my Spokane Shock playbook,” Shackleford said. “But I’ve been told by scouts that if a young man wants to get to the outdoor game, this translates better to the big field.”

After a 7-1 start, the Fever staggered in 10-4 but have won two road games in the playoffs. Southeast Missouri State grad Houston Lillard is No. 2 in the IFL in passing yardage and Shack contended his secondary “would all be starting in the AFL.”

But how about the coach?

After making the playoffs last year, Shackleford signed a three-year guaranteed contract with the Fever, with the stipulation that the only league he couldn’t jump to was the AFL.

“It was a clause I agreed to quickly,” he said. “I told Teri I thought it would be three years to get to where we are now and I’ll stay longer if she’ll have me. All due respect to the coaches in the AFL, but the coaching contract there is unsignable. They fire you and you get two weeks pay.

“I landed in a wonderful spot. Teri lets me run my show. I’m the coach and director of operations and nobody’s looking over my shoulder.”

Must help keep the agendas to a minimum.