Coming off a nail biting 48–52 loss to the Arizona Rattlers in the first round of the Arena Football League playoffs Aug. 3, the Portland Thunder closed the book on their inaugural season with a 5–13 record.
With a first round exit for the Thunder, the front office decided to take the team in a different direction, moving on from head coach Matthew Sauk to another AFL Hall of Famer, Mike Hohensee.
Coach Hohensee currently stands third in all-time coaching wins, posting a regular season career record of 153–147. He has led teams to 13 playoff appearances with a 12–12 postseason record, including an ArenaBowl title with the Chicago Rush in 2006. He threw the first ever AFL touchdown in 1987, and has been making an impact ever since.
Hohensee transitioned into a coaching role in 1990 coming off of the 1987 replacement season with the NFL’s Chicago Bears and two seasons with the Pittsburgh Gladiators. He’s now on his way to Portland and his 29th year in the league, which has included stops at other franchises that were seeking to establish new traditions.
“I’ve helped start up a few organizations and I think my experience will help start up this organization as well. I’m going to bring a wealth of arena experience, maturity; I’m a coach who has been there done that in about every situation that can arise,” Hohensee said.
Before his professional career was underway, Hohensee was an All-American quarterback at Mt. San Antonio Junior College before transferring to the University of Minnesota where he was named the Golden Gophers’ MVP and the university’s Athlete of the Year, and later inducted into Minnesota’s “M” Club Hall of Fame. His professional career lead him to Chicago where he played a few games for the Chicago Bears during the NFL strike in 1987. From there, his talents took him to the Canadian Football League as well as the AFL where he was the quarterback for the AFL’s Pittsburgh Gladiators during the AFL’s first two seasons in 1987 and 1988.
“Ownership” was the word Hohensee used to explain what drew him to the Thunder organization. “I love his (Thunder owner Terry Emmert) commitment to the players, and he understands you have to treat the players the right way. He understands the wins and losses are going to come, but who we are in the community and how people see us is huge. We’ve got to create an image of professionalism, an image of fun and the image of a winner. I know Terry Emmert loves his players and he brought me in here. He said he wanted to build this team with young players and develop this talent, and that’s what we’re going to do. He wants us to be competitive; he wants us to fill this roster with good football players and good human beings; he wants to bring in young talent and guys who want to be here for the right reasons and develop these guys into winners,” Hohensee said.
Portland will have a four man coaching staff this season under coach Hohensee. The Hall of Famer has decided to bring along defensive coordinator Ernesto Purnsley from the Iowa Barnstormers who has 17 years of AFL experience. “He’s an outstanding football coach, great personnel guy and he also loves what he does. He’s one of those guys that, if the organization fell in love with me, then I know they’re going to fall in love with this guy. The players will love him and he’s done a great job for a long time,” Hohensee said.
Discussing season expectations, Hohensee said he’s looking for everyone to be accountable. “I don’t think this coaching change was made because of wins and losses. They wanted stability, they wanted somebody to come in here and do things the right way and coach with integrity and character. I take a great deal of pride in what I do. I’m hoping to enhance what they’ve already started. I think I bring a sense of community everywhere I’ve been. I have…kind of spearheaded talking with kids at school or talking with kids at their youth programs, and talking about parents and how important it is to be a good son, and a good friend and a good student. I understand what my role is as a head coach. It’s not just about winning football games, it’s about the community falling in love with our product and that’s very important to me.”
With such a strong AFL veteran leading the charge, the Portland Thunder are looking to capitalize with key offseason roster moves and put themselves in a position to build on their inaugural season success.