Like most football coaches, Bob Harrison says he was happy to get his first crack at a professional head coaching job.
Now, the Washington Commandos coach says he's confident the Arena Football league will survive, and adds he might even return next season if the chance arises. Yet, his enthusiasm is tempered by one thing:
There are two of them in Arena Football, each 32 feet tall and 30 feet wide, flanking the narrow goalposts. They are designed to make kickoffs and missed field goals a unique adventure, one Harrison could have lived without this season.
"I don't like things I can't control that affect the game," Harrison says. "They bring a new dimension and mystery to the game. If it hits it exactly one way, you won't know where it's going to go. They obviously have an effect."
Harrison doesn't use the nets as a complete excuse for his team's 1-4 record, but he did cite a mishandled return of a net-hitting kickoff as the "devastating blow" when Washington lost to Chicago, 64-61, last week at Capital Centre.
And he wasn't exactly thrilled, either, when the Commandos lost to Denver, 73-57, in a game in which four Denver kicks bounced off the nets' metal supports. Three of those rebounds went back in Dynamite hands.
Because of uncontrollable factors like the nets, the receivers coach for the Atlanta Falcons during the last four seasons says it would be tough to judge his job by wins and losses.
The inability to control his team's destiny is the one major snag Harrison points to when discussing his team's inaugural season, which ends with Thursday's game against the Pittsburgh Gladiators at Capital Centre.
That Harrison is coaching this summer is somewhat surprising.
Just two weeks before the new league opened its training camp in Wheaton, Ill., Harrison, 45, took the summer job. Aside from the Falcons job, his resume included collegiate stints with alma mater Kent State, Iowa, Cornell, North Carolina State and Tennessee. But when Falcons Coach Dan Henning was fired after last season, Harrison took a job as a financial planner in Atlanta, selling securities and insurance.
The job may or may not have been a permanent direction, Harrison said, but it was something he liked. "It was something that I was doing with success," he said. "I think anything you have a little success in, you like."
Success turned out to be a little tougher to achieve with the Commandos, but Harrison says all the Arena Football coaches are in an unusual position, with little control over players, for example.
The players came from tryout camps and networks of contacts. The league -- not the individual teams -- cut down to a final pool, and the four teams divided it up. Strangely enough, while everyone involved with the camp stressed how the teams would be equal, Pittsburgh is 4-1 so far.
Harrison's only major complaint about the players he wound up with was the quality of his defensive backs. The Commandos have only one defensive back, Nathan Creer, who specializes in defense. Harrison said this has been one reason for Washington's last three losses, in which they scored 57, 36 and 61 points.
But offense is another story. It is the specialty of most Commando players, and of Harrison. Washington has racked up 1,441 yards and 236 points in five games.
"I don't know a lot about defense," a frustrated Harrison said after losing to Chicago for the second time last week. "But I just know that they got the ball in the end zone and scored more than we did. We know we can score points, but our problem is, we can't stop them defensively."
One situation Harrison appears unbothered by is the attention he has gotten from being only the third black head coach in pro football history.
"It really hasn't been an issue," he says. "I only think about it when people have asked me. You're judged not on your color, but on the job you do. I was brought here to put points on the board, and I think we've done that."
Though Harrison says he's sure he was hired for his ability, he added that the race issue probably "entered people's minds." But the thought, Harrison said, is what matters in a time when the lack of blacks in professional sports management positions is such a controversial issue.
"Obviously, people are talking about it, and anytime you get people talking about it, it's better, because it's on their minds," Harrison said. "Maybe this will make people do better research on who the qualified people are. Maybe they'll see if some blacks are qualified. I think people don't always take the proper time to find who is the best for the job."
While Harrison says league officials have indicated that the current coaches will be offered jobs for next season, he says he'll also be looking around when he goes back to the financial planning business this fall.
"If this thing is going to go over like people say it will, it might be something to look into," said Harrison, who said he doesn't know yet if he wants to return to the NFL. "I think it's going to go. I'm planning on it going."