Bighaus Column: Ex-UM QB enjoying life as Elway's coach

2002-10-10T23:00:00Z Bighaus Column: Ex-UM QB enjoying life as Elway's coachBILL BIGHAUS, Gazette Sports Writer The Billings Gazette
October 10, 2002 11:00 pm  • 

Bob Beers, head coach of the new Colorado Crush of the Arena Football League, came to Billings last Sunday looking for - among other things - a quarterback or two.

The truth is he already has a pretty good one working in his front office - John Elway.

"Let me tell you, if we get into trouble there's no rule the owner can't play," Beers said with a smile. "We've already talked about that."

"We're saving (uniform) No. 7 for him, too," interjected another Crush employee standing nearby in the cold and wind on the Billings Skyview football field.

"That's right," added Beers with a laugh. "He can still throw. Trust me."

Elway, who directed the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowl titles and is bound for pro football's Hall of Fame, is the president and CEO of the Colorado franchise which will begin its inaugural season in the 16-team AFL this coming February.

The 55-year-old Beers, a veteran coach with strong Montana ties, is in the process of putting that Crush team together. He, along with his son Bobby Beers and defensive coordinator Lee Johnson, spent four hours on Sunday looking at about three dozen potential players from 11 different states.

"I froze my legs off," said Beers. "Of course, that's not much because they're short."

Beers, a former All-America linebacker for the University of Montana and assistant Griz coach, enjoys poking fun at himself and everyone else around him. He was serious, though, when it came time to assess the talent gathered at Skyview.

"I think we're going to sign three or four guys out of this camp, maybe more," said Beers, who was hired by the Crush in July and has been a scout for the Broncos since 1995. "This was the best group of quarterbacks and receivers we've had."

While speaking of quarterbacks, the Elway name constantly came up. He is part owner of the Crush along with Pat Bowlen, owner of the Broncos, and Stan Kroenke, who owns the Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets and the Pepsi Center.

Crush will play inaugural game Feb. 2 DENVER (AP) - The Colorado Crush will kick off its inaugural season in the Arena Football League on Sunday, Feb. 2, with a home game against the Georgia Force.

The Crush, a member of the AFL's Western Division of the American Conference, will play eight home games at the Pepsi Center and eight away games during the 2003 regular season.

"We're really looking forward to kicking off the season here in Denver," said John Elway, president and chief executive officer of the Crush. "I wish we could start it up tomorrow.

"With NBC coming on board, it's an exciting time to be entering the league, and it'll be great for our fans."

NBC plans to air nine of the Crush's 16 games.

The Crush will play 11 games on Sunday, three on Saturday and two on Friday.

Colorado's first three games all are at home, followed by four straight road games. The Crush concludes the season May 18 at home against the Arizona Rattlers.

"John is our CEO; he's the hands-on guy," said Beers. "He's in the office everyday. He moves furniture around. I mean everybody does different things … he's been super.

"He's a football guy," Beers added. "He has been around coaches all of his life. I think that's when he's in his comfort zone - around the coaches."New excitement Beers, who was the head coach at Western Montana College in Dillon for two years (1993 and 1994), is also back in his element.

"When you get old," he said. "You've got to find new excitement in life."

He has found it with the Crush, who will play a February-June season.

"I was happy with the scouting, but when John presented this to me it sounded like a lot of fun," said Beers. "Denver is a big football town so this just gives those football junkies another outlet.

"We've already got a lot of people talking about us," he said. "They've sold approximately 6,000 season tickets already."

Beers, who will remain as a Broncos scout, and the Elway family go back quite a few years. John Elway's late father, Jack, coached Beers at Montana in the late 1960s. John, then 9- or 10-years old, was a Griz ballboy.

"When Don King, the old scout for the Chicago Bears, came to watch the Grizzlies he went over to (trainer) Nase Rhinehart and said, 'Who's the best quarterback you got?' Nase said, 'The ballboy,' and he was right.

"That's an old story, but it's true."Regional flavor The Colorado Crush have already looked at around 400 players at tryout camps in Colorado and Montana. Beers said there will likely be some "Montana guys" on the roster.

"I think that's really important," he said. "Some of our guys will be from different parts of the country, but I think the heart and soul of this team will come from the Rockies. There's some good players in the Rockies, there really are."

Colorado will conduct its expansion draft on Oct. 22, picking from 86 players left unprotected by other AFL teams - including former Griz Joe Douglass and Drew Miller and ex-MSU player Kenyatte Morgan.

After that comes the signing of free agents.

"We hope to have the whole roster - 40 guys - filled by the first of November," said Beers.

Quarterback Bob Bees and place-kicker Geoff Groshelle, both from Billings, were a part of Sunday's tryout camp. Both played for the arenafootball2 team in Richmond, Va., last season and are looking to move up.

"It's a lot of politics in this game," said the 26-year-old Groshelle, who made the all-af2 team last summer. "Who's your agent? Where did you go to school? Who do you know? You've just got to kind of play it by ear."

Groshelle, who is coaching boys' soccer at Billings West, said he would like to be in the AFL in the next year or so. "Hopefully I'll get some shots," he said. "Right now they're not signing anybody until late October."

Bees, an All-America quarterback at Rocky Mountain College in 1996, turned 30 in September. He threw 192 touchdown passes in nearly three full seasons with Richmond, but said his playing days with the Speed are likely over. If an AFL team doesn't call, he is considering a coaching career in arena football.

"I'd like for that to be down the road," Bees said. "That's why I'm out here. I have the itch to still play. Last year when I was suiting up for games, I'd get butterflies."

After rounding up some warmer clothes, Beers, who has been around football for 33 years, experienced some of that excitement on Sunday.

"I really hated to quit today," he said. "I really enjoyed watching the quarterbacks throw."

Maybe No. 7 won't be needed after all. Bill Bighaus can be reached at 657-1394 or bbighaus@billingsgazette.com.

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