Less than a month into its inaugural season, the Myrtle Beach Freedom American Indoor Football team is beginning a new era.
Owner Ronnie McCuin was set to introduce the squad’s new coach, Terry Foster, to the team at practice Tuesday after picking him up from the airport following a flight in from Colorado.
The hiring comes less than a week after the franchise’s inaugural coach Ryan David – along with offense/defense line coach and equipment manager Harold Kane and strength and conditioning coach Tom Martin – resigned from the team, citing concerns over player safety and a difference of opinions with management concerning the coaching staff.
Foster takes over a team sitting at 3-2 after a 65-8 road loss to the Columbus (Ga.) Lions in a game where McCuin served as offensive coach and volunteer coaches led the defense two days after the three coaches resigned.
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Now, the Freedom have three days of practice before heading back on the road to take on the Georgia Firebirds on Saturday night.
“I don’t think it will be as wild as last week, to be honest with you,” McCuin said of getting his new coach acclimated in a short period of time.
Foster brings with him a great deal of experience coaching indoor football teams. He most recently coached the Colorado-based Steel City Menace, which is now disbanded, and coached teams spanning from Michigan to Texas over the years.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for myself to come into an organization that is trying to do things the right way in a professional manner,” Foster said. “The talent level is great. I’m very excited to become a member of the Freedom.”
Foster’s experience made the hire a no-brainer for McCuin.
“Obviously his indoor experience [was important],” he said. “That was something that is key that we needed to bring in, especially at this point of where we’re at.”
His hiring comes soon after an ugly falling out between the former coach – and two assistants – and ownership.
David contends that his and the other coaches’ reason for resigning centered around the playing conditions, which the former coach blames for a series of injuries that occurred during the Freedom’s 49-20 loss to the Georgia Firebirds on April 11 at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
The Firebirds’ Antwontis Cutts broke his leg, one of the Freedom’s players was hurt and David said other players and their families now have concerns over them continuing to play.
“The field conditions were horrible,” David said. “A guy from the other team had a compound fracture of his leg because of the field conditions. One of our players, he got a real bad foot injury. Our second-string quarterback, his girlfriend doesn’t want him to play anymore because she’s afraid he’s going to get hurt.”
David also said that the practice field was insufficient for players’ safety, and Martin asserted that he had already seen damage being done to players in conditioning.
Reached a few days after the resignations, McCuin said the coaches’ concerns about the playing conditions were news to him.
“This stuff about the field and all that, that blows my mind,” he said. “That was the first I’ve heard of any that from those coaches. That was never why they left.”
Rather, McCuin says that a disagreement among coaches is what led to the resignations.
McCuin said David and an assistant coach had gotten into an argument during film study Monday night, an incident that occurred in front of the players. He said he heard both sides of the story and tried to find a way to reconcile the issue to no avail. The unnamed coach was let go, McCuin said.
However, during an ensuing practice the players voiced their frustration as they thought both coaches were in the wrong and asked for an apology and admission of fault from David, McCuin said. The coach refused and instead quit and “took the other coaches with him,” according to McCuin.
Playing conditions and/or player safety was never brought up before then, the owner said.
“If that’s the way they felt, they should have voiced that ahead of time,” McCuin said. “They should have said, ‘This is part of why I’m leaving.’ But that was never brought up as an issue. [The resignations were] based on what happened at the film study.”
Though David did say he didn’t feel like management backed him when it came to the incident with the other coach, he said unfit field conditions and lack of player safety precautions were what led to his resignation.
“What the problem is, is that it’s not being set up professionally,” David said. “You’re asking people who don’t know how to set up a field, you’re asking them to set up a field.
“… One of the things they kept saying was, ‘This is an expansion team and we’re doing everything on a shoestring,’ so therefore they can’t hire people to do it.”
Foster hopes to bring long-term stability to the franchise after what began as a strong beginning on the field but a rocky one off it.
“I want to try to get a long-term contract and have the team become a pillar in the community,” Foster said. “It’s definitely a developmental league. You want to get them prepared to play at a higher level. The longer you can stay in one place, the better the chance you can do that.”
McCuin said “it’s a whole process” setting up the field, which includes 14 sections that are held together by Velcro seams and double-sided tape among other items. He said AIF officials inspect the playing surface before the game and decide whether it’s playable or not. “If they have an issue they say we need to take care of it,” McCuin said.
The Sun News reported issues with parts of the field coming up while covering the squad’s first contest. McCuin said in-game fixes to the playing surface isn’t unusual with this type of field.
“Sometimes the seams come up so we have to push them back down,” he said. “[It happens] with guys running over it. Sometimes when they run or fall on it some of it will come up.”
The Freedom were 3-1 before the coaches’ resignation.
“We’re very proud of our 3-1 record that we had as coaches. We’re very proud of that 3-1 record as an expansion team,” David said. “To walk away from a 3-1 team, that takes a lot of courage.”
However, seeing the injuries proved to be too much, David said.
“When you look over and see a guy’s leg going straight with his foot out to the right, that’s not easy to take,” said David, who has coaching experience at both the high school and collegiate levels. “… If you’re not well funded and ready to go, you probably shouldn’t get into it. I didn’t look into it until I was in it full boar and then I saw it.”
McCuin said the players have workers’ compensation coverage and have access to a personal trainer and physical therapy. However, he said, there is a risk with playing football.
“Football is a physical game,” McCuin said. “You hope nobody gets hurt, [but it happens.]”
Now, Foster will look to get to know the players and get the team back on track after a challenging week for all.
“It’s just getting the guys used to him, getting him used to the guys,” McCuin said. “It’s just going to be football as normal. They’re just going to go out and practice hard and do the things they’ve been doing at this point.”
Foster said he is ready to get the team back to its winning ways after two straight losses.
“I want to make sure we can continue to have a successful season in 2016,” he said.