PLANT CITY — Inside the South Tampa guest house that Jerry Glanville currently calls home, he places spiral notebooks in three strategic spots to ensure no idle thought gets wasted — one in his living room, one next to his bed and the other in the bathroom. This way, the Vipers defensive coordinator always has a place to draw up his latest play.
“Last night, at 4 in the morning, it came to me, this is what you need to do,” Glanville said Thursday. “And so I drew it up and today we put it in. I draw every day.”
At 78 years old, Glanville’s mind is sharp, as is his wit. He’s 27 years removed from his last NFL head coaching gig, and his tenure leading the Houston Oilers and Atlanta Falcons is as memorable for his eccentric personality as his football accomplishments.
“He’s nearly 80 years old and you wouldn’t know that he’s (not) 45,” Vipers coach Marc Trestman said. “He gets everybody excited each and every day.”
From the mid-1980s through the early ‘90s, Glanville was one of the NFL’s best characters. He would wear fur coats, customized leather jackets and big belt buckles. He is the man who first coined that the NFL stands for “Not for long,” something NFL Films captured him telling a rookie official during a 1989 game. He would regularly leave tickets at will call for Elvis Presley and James Dean. He made a cameo in MC Hammer’s Too Legit to Quit video.
Most of Glanville’s Vipers players know nothing of those glitzy, glamour days, and he doesn’t tell them about it either. With Glanville, a lot of reflections of life can be compared to auto racing, his other love. Glanville ran on the stock car, truck and drag racing circuit as an owner and driver. The late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. taught him how to race.
“If you’re looking in the rearview mirror, nobody really cares,” Glanville said. “I try to look out over the hood. I drove at Talladega and I ran 211 (mph) and you can’t run 211 looking in your rearview mirror. I shifted from third to fourth at 194, You better not be looking in the mirror. …Today’s youth, and I love them to death, history is something that happened five hours ago. They don’t want to hear about 30 years ago.”
He’s coached every game in Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots. He's always wearing dark or reflective sunglasses so you can't quite read his eyes. The only thing that stops him from wearing his cowboy hat is having to put on his headset.
To this day, Glanville still wears all black every day. He says black isn’t a color, it’s an attitude.
“If I wear all this black, you feel the spirit, and the spirit makes the master,” Glanville said. ”It’s all about the spirit, what’s inside coming through. ... I never talk to the players ever unless I have on my sunglasses and my black because I don’t want them to hear me. I want them to hear the message."
And that’s where we get to the way Glanville coaches his defense, which has become the XFL’s best. He calls it relentless pursuit. He borrows from a U.S. Army motto, “In the absence of orders, always attack.”
And that’s what the Vipers do. They live by blitzing, often rushing seven or eight defenders, forcing quarterbacks to either release the ball quickly or pay the price. That’s what they did to D.C. Defenders quarterback Cardale Jones in last week’s 25-0 win, the franchise’s first victory and just the second XFL shutout this season.
“You see guys now that they've watched three games of us on film, that they'll go one yard and they'll just duck and fall,” Vipers linebacker Lucas Wacha said. “They know that guys are coming to hit you every play, five or six guys trying to take your head off every play, and that's how he teaches. We're trying to get to that football as quick as we can and hit them as quick as we can.”
Glanville used to drive a 1949 Ford down drag strips throughout Florida, and his car wasn’t always the best, biggest or fastest, but he still managed to win his share of races. That’s the way he sees his new job in the XFL. Most of his players are NFL castoffs, but he’s gotten the best out of them by getting them to believe in themselves and work cohesively as a unit. He did that last season in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and he recruited several players to the Vipers.
“He has a unique ability to make everybody feel like they’re the best player on the field,” Nikita Whitlock, an undersized 5-foot-10 defensive tackle who played under Glanville in the CFL. “When you feel like you’re the best player on the field, you play like you’re the best player on the field. He gets all the potential out of you that he can get.”
On this day, Glanville is taking his post-practice walk around the Plant City Stadium complex. If he’s not doing this after practice, he goes into the team’s covered outdoor gym and works out there with his players.
There’s no quiet time walking with Glanville. He is full of stories, moving from one to another like he's under a 25-second play clock. A lot of them having to do with auto racing.
There’s the story of a USO/NFL trip to visit troops in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm that brought him back to coaching. Hearing 19-year-old servicemen coaxed him back to the sideline.
"They said, ‘You’ve got to come back to coach because our grandparents tell us about you and we’ve never seen it,’” Glanville recalled. “When I came back from Iraq, I started coaching again.”
Glanville spent the past seven Februaries vacationing in Treasure Island, and was planning to spend this one there before Trestman called and offered him the job.
“Do you want to interview me?” Glanville asked.
“No, I play your defense three times a year,” said Trestman, a three-time CFL Grey Cup winner. “I don’t need to interview you.”
Glanville figured spending three months in the bay area, and getting paid for it, was a nice proposal, so he accepted.
Back on this walk, Glanville strolls past a swampy area where he was told an alligator hides.
“Want to go in there and walk through there? He’ll come get 'cha.” Glanville says, using his hand to simulate a chomp.
After a moment of silence, he quips, “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
And Glanville certainly likes the notion that some might think he’s a little out there. But in truth, he’s less mad scientist than thoughtful teacher. And that’s a title he runs to more. Not only do his players flock to him for his knowledge, so do his Vipers coaching colleagues.
“I want to lay it all on the line for this coach because he believes in me,” Vipers defensive back Robert Priester said. “He’s seen it all. He’s like so old, but he knows exactly where you need to be on every play. You can’t fool him either way. He knows you’ve either got it and doing it or you’re not. ... He loves the game. He wants to teach and he wants to deliver all that knowledge to the next person.”
This is a man who as a Georgia Tech assistant was recruited by Woody Hayes, Bear Bryant and Paul Brown to join their coaching staff. But he’s still listening, and learning through asking questions — he notes that that’s how Socrates did it.
His “Gritz Blitz” defenses of the late 1970s in Atlanta were great, but they didn’t deal with the run-pass options. Still, Glanville’s longevity is proof he knows how to adapt. He’s already trying to figure out what the next big thing offenses will do, and how to attack it.
“I’m a teacher,” Glanville said. “What’s the fun for me is, here’s a guy who you don’t know if he’s good enough to start. You don’t know if you like him. And four weeks later, he’s out there winning games. You can’t buy that. That’s beyond description. He’s not good any more. He’s very good. That’s the deal. If they don’t grab what you’re teaching and there’s no results, it’s time to quit doing it.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.