Lee Leslie, Warriors Coach on the past and the future

Interview by Cris Watkins
Photos by Philip J. Rogich, Syracuse, UT

Coach Lee Leslie started out in the trenches.  He was the quarterback for the Utah Catzz of the now defunct PIFL, but gained such a passion for the indoor game that he decided to try his hand at coaching a team. He knew what a phenomenon indoor football would become and decided the NIFL would be the perfect outlet for his passion.  He lead his team, The Utah Warriors, to the Championship game in its inaugural year.  A successful season by any standards for the team and their coach.  He has now put aside 2003 and is working on finishing what was left unfinished in Wheeling West Virginia, namely a Championship for the Utah Warriors.  Recently we had an opportunity to get his thoughts on that game and more.

Now that the season is over, how would you view the Warriors first season?
As an obvious success. We had a huge number of injuries and we kept turning over people and every player answered the bell each time. And we played in the Championship game... So, I would definitely deem it a successful season.

The league awards were announced recently and no Warriors were mentioned.  How do you feel about that?
I feel like we are the new kid on the block and nobody likes the winner, because everybody is trying to make their programs great right now. So, we will deal with that. It is secondary to most of the goals we have right now anyway. Hopefully people will know we are in it for the right reasons and that we want to have respect as well as give respect to the other teams in the league.

What changes do you feel are needed in the team to repeat as Pacific Champs?
I don't know how many changes other then that I want to make sure my personnel is as good as it can be... character wise and on the field. I want to make sure I have the proper pecking order of athletes so that instead of cutting athletes... let them know they are on a call back list and that we will use them as quick as we can, depending on injuries

Do you think those changes will result in winning it all in 2004?
Basically we will just do our best.  Every year we will come in there trying to win it, but things have got to happen and fall into place to get back to a championship game.  We will hope for the best and work as hard as we can

How does it feel to come so close to winning the championship and walk away empty?
It's TERRIBLE!!  You never know when you will get another chance to be in a championship.  When you get there you want to win it. There is no question we got beat by Ohio Valley... they were the better team, but we will continue to work at it and try to get back to that game as soon as we can.

Off the field where do you think the Warrior organization needs to improve?
We've already done that. We have improved in so many areas it's not even funny...That will be a TBA.   The things we've done will be announced later.

Knowing all you know now, if you had it to do over, would you still accept the Warriors head coaching position?
Absolutely!  It has been a great experience.

Looking back, any decisions you would change if you could?
No, most of the things you learn in life are by mistakes.  So, any mistakes I made I will rectify those and get better. The things we did good we will continue to do.
(left Coach Leslie watching the offense. Click on image for larger version)

You also coached the Utah Catzz of the defunct PIFL.  How would you compare this experience with that one?
I was the starting quarterback for the Catzz before I hurt my shoulder and then took over for Gordon Hudson and finished the year after he left.  It was a good experience because it was my first experience with Indoor football.  It helped me to understand what the body goes through being hit into walls and what not. It definitely takes a toll on you.

Not comparing the NIFL with the PIFL, but how did it feel to be in on the ground floor of indoor football?
The NIFL is much more organized.  There are more credible teams and I think the future is bright if we all work together.

Did you see indoor football than, as catching on as it has?
No, I didn't because I didn't see the organization in the Catzz program nor in the league program.

Is there any one win this season that stands out more than the others?
Probably beating the Omaha Beef.  That was a good program. We had gone there a month earlier and watched them play and we were impressed with their whole program.  To be able to beat them was probably the best win we had.

Why is it your opinion that Pacific teams don't build defenses as strong as the Atlantic teams?
That's not the case at all.  The case is the Pacific teams throw the ball much more. Whether you call it west coast philosophy, or what, the Pacific teams throw the ball and don't grind it out nearly as much as the Atlantic teams.  So, if the ball is in the air there is going to be much more scoring.

Do you think the success of the Warriors this year will pay off in higher attendance next season?
Without question.  I have already received emails and calls on a daily basis of people wanting to join and be a part of the program... wanting tickets.  We've got our front office in perfect shape right now to reload and make things better then they have ever been before. I don't think I can be more excited then I am right now.

Being the Pacific Champs puts a target on the team for everyone you play next season.  How do you feel about that?
The same way I felt this year, everyone wanted to beat us because we were the new team.  I feel like it is always going to be like that while we are in this league.   We will always be the team to beat.

Any team you enjoyed playing against this year more then any others?
I had a lot of respect for Magic in Rapid City... I thought he was a good stand-up guy.  Colin seemed to be a good stand-up guy in Omaha as well.  There was really only one coach I didn't care for, and I won't mention him.

What team would you consider the Warriors biggest rival?

Coaching is a stressful job, but after a game are you able to let it go or do you replay it over and over that night?
I let it go.  I break the film down one time so I can see where our problems were...Then I start tackling the next opponent.

Do you see the level of competition in '04 league wide being better then '03?
Yes, I see this league constantly growing and possibly rivaling the Arena league in years to come
(right Coach Leslie setting the ref straight on a call. Click on image for larger version)

From the outside it looks like AF2 is losing ground to the NIFL. If the AF2 should close up shop, do you see that as good or bad for the NIFL?
I think it's bad because more guys want to play football and I think the NIFL, AF2 and AF1 all give guys an opportunity to play and compete... so I am fine with all of them.

You have a certain section of fans that are maybe more passionate about Warrior football.  Do you feel the "Warrior Nation" adds to the home field advantage?
Without question, I think the Warrior Nation is the best crowd in the league.  Every time we called on them to get our guys pumped up they responded and it was a first year experience,.. so they weren't really sure what to do, but by the middle of the season they were freaking out and getting in the other teams face.. Definitely a combative personality from the Warrior Nation.

Having  fans come to away games is always an added boost to the team.  What do you think needs to be done to get more Warriors fans to travel to away games?
Our front office setting up traveling and getting them decent rates where they can stay in hotels.  Getting them more excited about what's going on.  Our  fans already support our players enough.  The new front office we have, I guarantee will do a good job in supporting our fans and getting them opportunities to come to away games.

How much affect on team performance did the long travel to some of  the games have?
I think an incredible amount.  Some of those bus trips were absolutely ridiculous.  Coming home after a game at 11pm and getting home the next night at 11pm is real hard on these guys... personality wise and physically

Of all the road games, which team had the rowdiest and most supportive fans?
Sioux Falls and Omaha.

Your job is on the field, but what plans do the Warriors have to get more fans into the E-center next season?
It is already underway.... Our front office is unbelievable right now.. We have our full year planned out.. The fur is going to fly here really soon.. Right after Thanksgiving things are going to really start flying.  We are excited about moving into the E-center and having our office in there.. We look forward to another incredible year

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