Bye weeks in the UFL aren't like they are in the NFL. Instead of splitting the week between days off and practices, the players head home for a week of family time — most live out of hotels in the cities of their respective franchises during the season. For Hartford Colonials head coach Chris Palmer, though, the bye week means business as usual. He spent it preparing for his week 4 matchup against the Florida Tuskers.
In fact, when Palmer describes his experience in the UFL, it seems as though — lack of bye week practices aside — he may as well still be coaching an NFL team. Palmer broke into professional coaching with CFL's Montreal Concordes. Thereafter, he coached the New Jersey Generals, and his subsequent journey took him through the college and NFL ranks until he was named the head coach of the new Cleveland Browns franchise in 1999.
He's coached alongside all sorts of NFL legends and current head coaches, including Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano — Sparano's son is even on his staff in Hartford. When he and Parcells coached together, Palmer's was the Patriots' quarterbacks coach, putting him in charge of Drew Bledsoe, and sometimes, handling him took a little bit of extracurricular activity.
"When Bledsoe would act up, I'd put blue dye in his shoes. One time his feet were blue for three months, and Parcells came up to me and asked what kind of dye it was because he wanted to do it to his wife. I couldn't tell him, because his wife was friends with my wife, and I would've been sleeping on the couch for months," he explained.
Clearly, he's seen just about everything there is to see in his travels, but while the UFL may be something new, he says that, unlike the CFL or USFL, the game is really no different than in the NFL.
"Well, I don't know that there's much different [from the NFL]. Obviously, the NFL gets the pick of the litter first, but there's probably on each team anywhere from 8 to 12 guys who could walk into an NFL camp and be playing on the team and have value on the team. When the season is over, I think you're going to see a number of our players migrate to the NFL.
"I think the UFL is most like the NFL and is almost meant to prepare players to go to the NFL. These rules are very close to the NFL's … the quality of players is very good," he said.
As a coach, however, being like the NFL isn't always so easy — especially as far as NFL-like parity is a reality.
"There's parity in this league, and the competition is very very close. Parity is great for the fans, but I don't know about the coaches. It makes it tough on the coaches. I'll tell you that," Palmer remarked.
The atmosphere, though, is a little different. The Colonials aren't just about the stars. Everybody has ownership of the team — the backups and the fans too.
"I think the involvement by the fans is the major difference [from the NFL]. We have a following of a retired guys who come and watch practice every day. We have one guy who comes and sits under a tree by the field and brings his lunch. When we're having a good practice, he watches us, but when we're having a bad one, he reads the paper — so I know whether or not we are having a good day," he said.
Since everybody is contributing in Palmers' practices, everybody gets to contribute in the games too — even backup quarterback Ryan Perrilloux takes snaps in every game. It's a unique situation, but one that Palmer thinks is for the best.
"Having coached in the NFL for 20 years, we'd always cut anywhere from six to 10 players that could still play. I felt when I became the head coach and GM that I would try to get everybody involved in the game. The backup quarterback is probably the only guy who never gets on the field in the NFL. He should have to prepare like he's one play away from being in the game, but at the end of the game, he hasn't played, so I thought I'd try to get everybody involved. When we voted for captains, 29 guys got votes. This was an indication that we're all part of this, and I wanted everybody to feel like they had an investment in our football team."
The UFL is occupying a niche never before carved out by a professional league. It is mimicking the NFL, being big league football in the markets that it occupies, but also serving as a launching pad for players aspiring to make it to the NFL. That, Palmer says, allows him to do what a coach should be doing — making his players the best that they can be.
"Any coach is trying to develop a player to the fullest … That's what our league is about, and that's what we're trying to do."