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Kusek: MSU-B drops ball on coaches' job status
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Joe Kusek

Joe Curtiss loves to fish.

Any time there is a break in his work schedule, even for the briefest moment, Curtiss hops in his truck, fishing gear in the back and heads out of town.

There, in the quiet of his own thoughts, Curtiss can take a mental break from all the duties that come with being the head coach of an indoor football team.

The fish will have to wait this spring.

Mostly out of necessity, Curtiss will be taking on additional coaching duties this spring for his Billings Outlaws.

Previously, he let the offensive and defensive coordinators — along with their assistants — map out upcoming game strategies.

But Ian Cooper, last year's defensive coordinator, left at the conclusion of the season to become the linebackers coach at Gardner-Webb in Boiling Springs, N.C.

And with increasing rent costs from MetraPark Arena, the Outlaws are cutting costs by trimming some of the other coaching positions.

Curtiss will now also serve as the team's defensive coordinator for the 2004 season which officially begins March 15.

"I'm going to take a bigger role in coaching," said Curtiss, who was formerly the defensive coordinator at Rocky Mountain College before coming the Outlaws' head coach.

"I'll be calling the defenses, maybe even specials teams and some plays on offense. I'm going to become more involved."

Along with changes in the coaching staff, expect a revamped Outlaws roster this coming season.

"It's the nature of the league," said Curtiss.

Entering the 2003 season, Curtiss kept most of the players who helped Billings reach the championship game of the National Indoor Football League.

But last year's team stumbled to a 6-8 record, forcing Curtiss to take a new approach.

"We'll bring back a few guys from last year's team," he said. "But not as many as we did from the year before."

One high-profile player not returning will be quarterback Albert Higgs. Higgs led the NIFL in touchdown passes for 2003 and passed for 48 touchdowns and 2,638 yards last year.

"We've decided to take the team in a little different direction," Curtiss explained. "Albert might show up around the league, you just don't know."

Curtiss is already pursuing a couple of younger quarterbacks and could have them signed to contracts in the upcoming weeks.

The folding of some Arena Football2 teams will deepen the talent pool, said Duane Anderson, the Outlaws' owner.

"A tremendous amount of talent has fallen our way," he said.

The NIFL's stature is on much firmer footing than previous years and people are starting to take notice.

The league has already signed a deal with a major cable network to televise two games next year — somebody's season opener and most likely the championship game — and is finalizing plans for a "Game of the Week," on another prominent cable outlet for 2005.

If things hold steady, the NIFL will have 26 teams next year. Wichita Falls, Texas and Fort Collins, Colo., will be new franchises. The team from Knoxville, Tenn., is moving to Greenville, S.C., for 2004.

The Sioux Falls, S.D., franchise will move to the Pacific North Division, replacing La Crosse, Wis., which folded this past August. Fort Collins will replace Sioux Falls in the Pacific West, where the Outlaws reside.

"And that doesn't bother us at all," said Curtiss of the shorter bus rides.

Joe Kusek can be reached at 657-1393 or jkusek@billingsgazette.com.

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