By Gisselle Romo-Gonzalez ([email protected])

(CATHEDRAL CITY, Ca.) – After their spring-summer season fell four quarters short of another title in July, SoCal Coyotes head coach J David Miller, GM Scott Alvarez and Assistant Head Coach Lawrence Coffey officially wrapped up the 2021 campaign recently with a video conference call, patiently answering questions on what went right, what went wrong, and what the future holds.

It was a rare opportunity to get inside the inner workings of the Coyotes, a franchise that NFL executives christened America’s #1 Developmental Pro Football Program™ in 2014.

It took a double-overtime war in the league semifinal to finally put away the overachieving 2021 version of the six-time champion SoCal Coyotes, who fielded the youngest team – 34 rookies, median age 22 – in franchise history.

At one point or another, rookies started at every position but two, and the Coyotes replaced 16 starters, including every skill position except quarterback.

In his 10th Coyote season, Miller has an .848 career winning percentage – his teams have never missed the playoffs

The 2021 season was the Coyotes’ 14th consecutive spring-fall playoff appearance in 10 years under Coach Miller (146-26 lifetime), who earned his 98th win as head coach. In their storied history, the Coyotes have never lost two consecutive games.

“You know you’re in a special place,” said Coach Miller, “where anything short of another championship is a disappointment. The norm for a franchise rebuild is at least two free agency periods, maybe three. Coach Alvarez and his staff did it in one.

“We’re extremely proud of our guys and how deep we went in the playoffs. We have a very young, very hungry, very talented, very dangerous team.

“We achieved every goal but one.”

Covid-19: ‘God is Still in Control’

With Covid-19 rocking the country and the world, 2021 also was another season that nearly wasn’t – after the deadly infectious disease wiped out the Coyotes’ entire 2020 season.

Regardless of which sideline you stand on politically, 2021 was in no way warm and fuzzy, and the disease took a devastating toll on the Coyotes roster, and staff.

By the start of the playoffs, SoCal was down to 26 healthy players – and half its coaching staff. Athletic Director Robert L. Cummings and Coach Coffey missed the last three weeks of the season, sidelined by Covid, pneumonia and its many side effects.

After the season ended, Coach Miller and his entire family were bedridden with Covid; the Hall of Fame coach lost 25 pounds before the insidious virus finally released its grip.

“Covid creates a lot of anxiety,” said Coach Miller, who admits he was ‘shaken’ by the Covid deaths of several long-time friends.

“But as the body of Christ, we cannot be in retreat or flee the battlefield. Every crises presents opportunities that we must seize – because God is still in control, and we know His purpose for us will be fulfilled.”

Win with Performance, Lose with Potential

Before the 2021 season – and the first time in Coyote history – Miller charged new GM Alvarez with the authority to ‘shop for the groceries.’ Over the 2019-2020 winter, Alvarez – at age 32, SoCal’s youngest executive ever – built the Coyotes using Zoom calls, WhatsApp and Hudl.

Coach Miller said the youth and energy of Coach Alvarez and recruiting coordinator Coffey kept the 2021 Coyotes a fun-loving, new-age program. He also praised the returns of assistant coach Mark Ramer and operations manager James Baxter.

“Our continual improvement was a result of the ferocious work ethic and intelligence of those men,” he said. “Our game evolves constantly. There’s no room for the stale, stubborn, ill-informed or out-of-touch.”

Hindsight is always 20/20, Miller added. “It’s the little things that keep you awake at night in this business,” he said. “If there’s one constant in football, it’s that you win with performance

Returning OL-DL Coach Mark Ramer ‘improved us exponentially,’ Coach Miller said

, and lose with potential. It’s our job to turn potential into performance.”

Recruiting, like almost everything else, took a digital turn during the pandemic – one that will outlast the class of 2021. “The pandemic created more reliance on technology,” said Alvarez, a Penn State grad who began his craft as a grad assistant in the Nittany Lion athletic department. “As everyone got acclimated, it became the ‘new norm.'”

Local Talent: Life-Changing Leverage 

While players come from all over the country to “Coyote Up” – the hybrid SoCal non-profit developmental program has also become life-changing leverage for local talent, as evidenced by 2021’s influx of players.

Thanks to Coach Alvarez, local Coachella Valley prospects – who already have high awareness of the six-time champion Coyotes – are now getting equal opportunities to join the fastest-growing sports brand in desert history.

“Instead of squandering your valuable eligibility at a junior college,” said Coach Coffey, “a prospect can come here and improve themselves spiritually, academically and even occupationally, while vastly improving their football skills and building game film,” under the watchful eyes of a professional coaching staff.

New assistant head coach Lawrence Coffey, a 17-year coaching veteran, had a profound impact in 2021

In recent years, the Coyotes have seen its best players land four-year scholarships at multiple different schools.

“We extend walk-on invites to great local players who don’t necessarily project at the highest level,” said Coach Alvarez. “We’re that safe haven for a young man who may need another year or two of development.”

Vision, Understanding, Courage and Action

When Covid turned the 2021 spring-summer campaign into an unpredictable, 18-week riddle of postponements and cancellations, closures and quarantines, the ‘Coyote Culture’ still saved the season.

The 2021 season “was a challenge like we’ve never faced before,” Coach Miller said. “But our entire staff responded with vision, understanding, courage and action. On top of all the Covid issues, it also was one of those years injury-wise, which started in camp, and went all the way to the last week.

“(Medical Director) Dr. Ben Wehrli, (operations director) Heidi Navarro, (trainer) Mike McBride, and the medical staff were remarkable. Dr. Wehrli never gets the credit he deserves. ‘Doc’ gave our players the best medical care possible. We had four season-ending injuries to starters.

“We didn’t have a single week with the same starting lineup. The treatment room was a revolving door. Heidi and her staff deserve a medal for keeping us competitive.”

‘Contagious’ Character and Culture 

Future Hall of Famers (left tackle) John Zazueta and (wide receiver) Rashad ‘The Franchise’ Roberts were the only remaining players from the Coyotes 2012 inaugural season. Zazueta credited SoCal’s playoff run to a strong collective work ethic and growth mindset.

“Coach Alvarez and Coach Coffey know exactly what Coach Miller expects, and they did a great job of finding so many young guys with character,” said Zazueta. “We like guys who aren’t full of themselves. Guys who are people persons. Guys who have histories that may not be perfect – but deserve another chance. Guys like me and Franchise, who 10 years ago, were looking for something beyond just football.”

The Coyotes “have definitely changed my life,” said Roberts, who Miller nicknamed ‘The Franchise’ in 2012 for his hands, speed and game-breaking ability.

Today Roberts holds 16 franchise records (including 123 career touchdowns), and is a married father of three. “This organization instilled in me the life skills I needed to be a better father, better husband, better man, better friend. Now we have a whole new locker room full of young men full of character, which is contagious.”

Faith, Family, Football 

Coach Miller describes ‘Coyote Culture’ as ‘life-changing,’ one in which players can be themselves – but within the boundaries of SoCal’s disciplined team structure. “We’re not collecting talent – we are building a team,” he said.

The Coyotes call this ‘scaffolding’ – developing each player spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally, one level, one asset – one brick – at a time.

“Before we ever get to offensive or defensive structures, we start at the bottom with our scripture-based culture, faith-based standards and expectations, and the direct connection between details and improvement,” Coach Miller said.

Coyote character camps, clinics and leadership symposia impact 50,000 youth annually

“Whether it’s the gospel or the gridiron – we’re an attack organization.”

The 2021 Non-Profit of The Year

Since 2015, Senior Vice President Ron DiGrandi has been a driving force behind many of the Coyotes’ innovative, forward-thinking community outreach initiatives, retail activation, and upcoming new facilities. He said 2021 has demonstrated the synergy and continuity between the front office and football operations.

“The on-field success of our developmental football program provides the platform for our off-field non-profit to impact the welfare and growth of every child in our community,” DiGrandi said.

California State Senator Melissa Melendez named the Coyotes the 2021 Non-Profit of the Year for the 28th District, which spans the eastern portion of Riverside County to the Southern Inland Empire, and has more than 40,000 non-profits.

In June, The Desert Sun recognized the Coyotes for ’empowering generations of Coachella Valley youth’ through the non-profit’s camps, clinics and symposia. SoCal’s ‘Above the Line’ leadership programs have been presented in 51 schools, and impact more than 50,000 youth per year.

“These milestones are possible because of the great sacrifice and commitment from our entire administration, staff and volunteers,” said Coach Miller.


‘Darkside Defense’ A Refreshing Surprise

When looking at what went right in 2021, all eyes go to the ‘Darkside Defense’ and the remarkable first-year impact of Coach Coffey, a former D-1 defensive back and 17-year coaching veteran.

“Coach Law (Coffey) is a bright defensive mind with a proven history of success,” Coach Miller said. “Experience matters. His attacking schemes, leadership skills and teaching ability are a perfect fit. He also shares our love for Christ, and our passion to help young men heal, grow and find their purpose through the grace of God.”

Hard-hitting safety Tray Watson put teeth in the ‘Darkside’ secondary

The unit forced 19 turnovers (11 interceptions), while also tallying 26 sacks. Fifteen (15.6) percent of SoCal defensive series ended in a turnover, which was the highest mark in the league. They also allowed their opponents to score on just 30.7 percent of drives.

When the Coyotes opened camp in March, Coach Miller tasked Alvarez and Coach Coffey to quickly identify who the ‘dawgs’ were defensively – Miller-speak for intelligent players willing to hunt, chase and lead by example.

“Bring in enough dawgs,” Miller said, “and even the cats start barking.”

“Our guys on the edge could rush with power and speed,” said Coffey. “We had guys in the middle who were run stoppers. We had DBs who combined athleticism with excellent cover skills. Our linebackers were fast, agile and could flow to the ball. We had a great all-around defense. As long as we communicated, we were always in a good place.”

Jake Sheffield: ‘An Iron-Man J.J. Watt’

Arizona State superstar Jake Sheffield, a seven-year veteran, anchored the defensive line, and started every game.

Sheffield put up a remarkable 13-sack season to finish 2021 with 103 career sacks. His total sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback pressures are all franchise records.

“We’ve run out of adjectives for Jake,” Coach Miller said. “He’s an iron-man J.J. Watt – a disruptive destroyer. No one’s figured out how to block him. Theres no formula, no recipe, to stop him. He’s always facing three, four guys on every play.

“That kind of adversity causes some men to break – but in Jake’s case, he breaks them, and breaks records.”

Sheffield finished 2021 with 13 sacks, including this playoff strip-sack-fumble

A team captain, Sheffield’s presence is felt throughout the organization. When injuries depleted the team down the stretch, Sheffield played both ways, starting at defensive end and center in both playoff games.

Over his SoCal career, he has logged more than 2,000 hours teaching boys and girls how to eliminate ‘blaming, complaining, and excuses’ – as a part of the Coyotes ‘Above the Line’ youth programs.

Command of the Mission

Standout defensive veterans Ryan O’Bryant and Jordan Warford welcomed newcomers (free safety) Tray Watson and (linebacker) Michael Greer, as the Coyotes filled holes in the secondary and linebacker corps.

“They bring joy to the game,” Coach Miller said. “They helped make us one of the top five defensive units we’ve had.”

As for Greer and Watson,  “our expectations are clear,” Coach Coffey said. “To have command of the mission requires command of yourself. Now they have to take that next step. Personal accountability is the ultimate sign of strength. We’re excited to see them continue to grow as men.”

The ‘Yotes added a litany of supporting-role players throughout their defensive personnel.

“Coach Miller wanted guys to match the bar we’ve raised in other units,” Coffey said. “Linebacker Zach Huff is another rookie who jumped out right away. Zach didn’t miss a practice, stayed healthy, and was always at the bottom of the pile.”

Cornerback Brandon Heinel established himself as a hawk whenever the football was in the air -returning two key picks for touchdowns. “Brandon is a drive-killer,” Coffey added. “We actually baited quarterbacks to throw his way.”

D-1 linebacker Michael Greer made his presence felt

Hard-working strong safety and cornerback Anthony Goodall provided much-needed depth, versatility and maturity, playing multiple secondary positions. His quickness took away the flats and underneath routes – and he was arguably the best open-field tackler against the run.

Joshua Cooper was a free agent San Diego product who chose the Coyotes. When healthy, Cooper dominated on the interior line. “He gave us a lot more maturity and experience,” Coffey said.

Massive offensive and defensive tackle Java Oliver, 6-6, 330, was another experienced free agent who chose the Coyote program. Oliver brought tremendous size, power and strength, and was talented enough to play both ways.

Midland University defensive end Kamalis Buggs came in very green – but by mid-season, grew into his potential, which was as big as his smile, and positive attitude.

Of Mouse and Men

Legendary Run ‘n’ Shoot icons Darrel ‘Mouse’ Davis and June Jones, who popularized the modern fire-breathing offense, are lifetime mentors to Coach Miller. Their relationships date back almost 40 years; this includes stops along their fabled USFL, NFL and NCAA career, and quarterbacks named Jim Kelly, Warren Moon and Colt Brennan.

The legendary Mouse Davis – godfather of the Run ‘n’ Shoot, and SoCal Coyotes patriarch

Loyalty to Davis, Jones and the Run ‘n’ Shoot is evident in many of Coach Miller’s best-selling mainstream books (he has authored 14). Everywhere Miller has coached – high school, college and pro – Mouse (who turns 89 September 6) has shown up to support, teach the offense and counsel quarterbacks.

Coyotes captain Michael Karls met Mouse at a Coyote training camp in 2014, and is one of the few remaining active quarterbacks in the nation who can call himself a first-generation ‘Mouseketeer’.

SoCal is one of the longest-tenured Run ‘n’ Shoot programs in the country. The Coyotes are frequently visited by college coaches who want a closer look at the Coyote game film, playbooks, and system.

More than a dozen former SoCal players have parlayed their unique Coyotes Run ‘n’ Shoot experience into career coaching opportunities. This includes Karls, who in the fall, is the offensive coordinator at Xavier College Prepatory, the Coachella Valley’s largest private Catholic school.

“Just like Disney,” said Coach Miller, “we owe all this to a Mouse.”

Coach Miller, Coach June Jones and the late NCAA phenomenon Colt Brennan – at the University of Hawaii in 2007

Unexpected Strengths 

Every single play in the SoCal Run ‘n’ Shoot offensive scheme is designed around precise timing.

Routes are synchronized  to the quarterback’s third or fifth step. That quick-hit rhythm relieves the offensive of holding blocks too long. It allows receivers to become runners in stride and in the open field. As a result, multiple players have an opportunity to thrive.

It’s also a lot to ask of a totally freshman class, at positions where Coach Miller extracts perfection through repetition, repetition, repetition. On average, a 90-minute Coyote practice includes 500 throws – to backs, slots and receivers.

Receivers Robert TaylorJulian Hill and Kevin Johnson all had flashes of brilliance, as well as veteran Ty Simmons. Each logged individual 100-yard games, and improved weekly as they adapted to the speed of the game and the possibilities of the playbook.

Running backs Kavan Buggs and Markese Denmon averaged 4.6 yards a carry – but just as importantly, learned how to pick up blitzing linebackers, and catch out of the backfield.

In Week Two, the upstart Coyotes lost to the eventual league champion by just three points – and squandered six red zone opportunities. This led to an early-season revamping of the offensive line, after which Miller took veteran quarterback Michael Karls out of the shotgun, and put him under center, for the rest of the season.

“There are uses to adversity, and they don’t reveal themselves until tested,” Coach Miller said. “Difficulty taps your unexpected strengths.”

For instance, free agent pick-up Paul Bartley, who won the locker room and played every position on the offensive line. Or 6-6, 320-pound Juan Romero, who by year-end had blossomed into a dominant tackle opposite Zazueta.

Protecting ‘Iron Mike’ 

Modern college offenses are controlled from the sidelines – “every play, every audible, every adjustment,” said Coyotes line coach Mark Ramer. “In our Run ‘n’ Shoot, the quarterback controls it all. Mike (Karls) was surrounded by young players who were seeing this kind of game speed for the first time.”

Veteran Michael Karls threw four touchdowns in a 44-0 first-round playoff victory

Keeping Karls upright – while virtually every single player around him learned from scratch – was a daily exercise in patience, and a tribute to the quarterback’s professionalism.

Karls, who holds nine SoCal franchise records, including 16 300-yard games, spent most of his 2021 season methodically teaching all the rookies in his huddle how to process information, play faster, and overcome adversity.

Teaching has become second nature for Karls, who is 28-5 lifetime at the Coyote helm. Since bursting onto the SoCal roster in 2014 as a big-armed, baby-faced rookie himself, Karls understands the truly scariest moments for a quarterback are when receivers aren’t in sync at the same time an offensive line is learning its chops.

In 2021, Karls faced it all – and stood tall, completing 61-percent of his passes. That included another five-touchdown game, the sixth of his storied Coyote career.

“It’s impossible to measure Mike’s football IQ,” said Coach Miller, “or duplicate his courage.”

‘You’re not rookies anymore.’ 

In the first round of the playoffs, the Coyotes played their most complete game of the season – a 44-0 rout of San Diego.

“Keep trusting God – and keep chasing  your dreams,” Miller told his team afterward. “No matter what happens from here, every one of you are now veterans, with playoff experience.

“You’re not rookies anymore.”


The six-time champion SoCal Coyotes are the 2021 California Non-Profit of the Year, and the national standard of American developmental football. The Coyotes’ organization provides elite athletes a professional environment that refines and showcases their skills through trademarked processes similar to the NBA’s D-league and MLB’s minor-league systems.

Additionally, the Coyotes’ 501c3 and award-winning ‘Above The Line™’ leadership programs impact the social, mental and physical growth of more than 50,000 youth annually through remedial curriculum, training camps, clinics and symposia. NFL executives have named the SoCal Coyotes organization America’s #1 Developmental Football Program™ for its national, scalable brands, community outreach programs, 10-year operational track record, verifiable data, youth curriculum, sales, public-private sector alliances, and measured results.


On the heels of The SoCal Coyotes success, Coachella Sports and Entertainment Stadium Authority Corp. (CSESA) marks the advent of the Coachella Valley’s first and only centrally-based campus developer for sports, medicine, events, media, sports tourism and retail. CSESA’s unparalleled vision in sports tourism, medical, entertainment, restaurant, hotel and convention offerings will make it the region’s most active live content and event campus developer in Coachella Valley history.

The Shield at 1 Coyote Way will soon be the desert’s premiere destination

CSESA sports and entertainment partners are dedicated to all aspects of festival, exhibition, broadcast, merchandise and special events. CSESA believes the Coachella Valley’s greatest resource is its human potential, and invests heavily in community development and youth leadership initiatives.

CSESA is the master developer of The Shield at 1 Coyote Way, a 588-acre, multi-use campus that will be a 365-day-a-year destination. The Shield will include indoor and outdoor sports centers for soccer, concerts, football, lacrosse, field hockey; more than 100,000 square feet of retail, food and beverage, and other community space; more than 2,000 housing units; three hotels; 200,000 square feet of commercial office space; and over 100,000 square feet of family entertainment.

-Public Relations Director Gisselle Romo-Gonzalez ([email protected]) is a graduate of California State University San Bernardino and a frequent contributor to TheSoCalCoyotes.com. Discover more at Facebook.com/TheSoCalCoyotes. 



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