A pack of Wolves is hoping to pack Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark next spring. And they’ll be led by a familiar face that once helped the Billings Outlaws do just that.
Indoor Football League commissioner Mike Allshouse announced Wednesday afternoon that the Billings Wolves will join the IFL in the 2015 season, ending a four-year absence of indoor football in Billings. The highly successful Outlaws franchise folded in October of 2010 after the team won back-to-back IFL championships in 2009 and 2010.
“It’s about time we brought our great sport back to Billings,” said Allshouse during a press conference at the Lexington Inn. “We’re very excited about bringing a team back here. We expect great things from this organization. It’s not often that we expand into a city where there’s already a wonderful fan base in place, but that is the case here.”
At Wednesday’s press conference, team owner Ron “Shorty” Benzel and general manager Marc Burr introduced James Walton as the first head coach of the Wolves.
The 30-year-old Walton was a star wide receiver for the Outlaws in their championship seasons of 2009 and 2010. He spent his entire five-year professional career in the IFL, playing for the Evansville BlueCats and the Bloomington Extreme before coming to Billings.
With the Outlaws, Walton was as personable and likeable as he was productive. And he stole the show at Wednesday’s press conference.
“Surprise,” Walton said with a big smile as he stepped up to the podium. “This is a great honor for me. The city of Billings has meant the world to me. The only two team championships I won in my entire athletic career were in Billings.
“The fact that Ron and Marc are turning to me to help continue the winning tradition of indoor football in Billings is a huge honor.”
Walton caught more than 100 touchdown passes in his indoor football career, including a remarkable 68 in two seasons with the Outlaws. He brings no head coaching experience to the Wolves, but he feels his approach to the game as a player will help him succeed.
“An uncle of mine once told me that it was my destiny to become a coach,” said Walton. “And that was back when I was a young player and had never given any thought to coaching. He just said the way I study the game and how I study why certain plays and certain schemes work or don’t work would translate to coaching.
“That was the first time that I realized that I could be a coach, and today is the end result of that. I can’t wait to get started and immerse myself in this.”
Burr is also confident that Walton’s lack of coaching experience will not be a hindrance.
“We had a huge number of applicants for our head coach position, and I did an extensive process of interviews,” said Burr, a Cincinnati native who was a wide receiver for the Outlaws in 2008. “The decision to hire James came down to him being a great student of the game, particularly the indoor game, and him having a winning personality that will be contagious throughout our team and our organization.
“I got lots of resumes from guys who had a lot of experience but not a lot of success. For me, hiring James over a guy like that was easy.”
Walton’s defensive coordinator will be Ken Blankenship, who’s currently the head coach of the Laurel Locos semi-pro outdoor team. Blankenship has more than 20 years of coaching experience and has coached both professional indoor and outdoor teams.
The Wolves will practice at the Billings SportsPlex and play their games at Metra, just as the Outlaws did. Burr said once the team’s deal with Metra was finalized earlier this month, the addition of Billings was a unanimous vote by the nine current IFL owners.
The Wolves are a family operation. Benzel, who owns a farm in Hardin and is on the board of directors of Town & Country Supply Association in Laurel, is Burr’s father-in-law.
Standing in front of a red and silver banner of the Wolves logo on Wednesday, Burr stressed that Benzel has two visions for the Wolves — winning football and community involvement.
“We really want the community to feel that this is their team,” said Burr. “Our coaches and players will be out in the community all the time, and the community will have access to this team.
“We will have things like indoor tailgating for home games, where we’ll open the doors at 4:30 and allow the fans to come in and interact and get to know our team. We want the kids of Billings to look up to these guys as role models. We will have that in mind when we sign players, and if they don’t live up to their end of that bargain, they will be gone.”
Burr added that over the next 12 months, he’s hoping to see more and more red around Billings.
“We envision 5,000 to 6,000 fans at our home games, and all wearing red,” he said. “Red is a passionate color, and we are passionate about bringing championship indoor football back to Billings.”