Donald Burrell is enjoying success in his first season in a league he believes in reinventing football.
The former Trojans' head coach is now a defensive coordinator in the Fan Controlled Football League which is a 7-on-7 league where the viewers call the offensive plays.
A plethora of high-profile names are attached to the league, including Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook, Super Bowl Champion Marshawn Lynch, and rapper Quavo, among many others. Donald Burrell talks about how he got involved with the league that saw 2.5 million viewers in the first week of this season.
"One of the original founders of the league actually coached me at Mississippi State University, coach John Jenkins. He knew my background as far as coaching defensive backs and he called me out of the blue and said 'Hey, I have a job that's perfect for you. You'll be a defensive coordinator, coaching defensive backs, would you like to join this league?' I had no idea about the league but I said yeah," says Burrell.
The defensive coordinator notes he did his research about the FCF immediately after the phone call and says he was very intrigued with the concept.
1. Pick a team— Fan Controlled Football (@fcflio) March 22, 2022
2. Draft the players
3. Call the plays
This is Fan Controlled Football.
All the Fan Control Football League games are live-streamed on Twitch where the viewers vote on which play they want to see called during the possession. The field is also just 50 yards in length, there's no special teams play, and the game is one hour long with a continuous running clock.
Burrell describes how all these unique aspects changed his approach as a coach.
"Having to coach defensive linemen and linebackers is something I've never experienced before, and I had to learn on the go. The rules are a little bit different too," Burrell explains. "When it comes to sending pressure, you're only allowed to rush up the middle, you couldn't come off of the edge. So, I basically had to relearn football to be honest with you."
Burrell adds his scheme that he has been using for a number of years had to be completely overhauled this season but he says that was a great thing.
"I enjoyed this more than any of my other coaching experiences because it made me go back in the book, study, and rethink how to play zone coverages," says Burrell.
Prior to this, Burrell had experience coaching defensive backs for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, was a head coach for Team Manitoba's U18 program, and most recently was the head coach at Portage Collegiate. Burrell was under the helm of the PCI Trojans from 2016 to 2020 and led the team to the championship game in 2019.
Losing in the 2019 Finals, left an extremely sour taste in his mouth as Burrell felt like he could've been better as a coach. Now having won a championship with the Zappers in the FCF this season, he feels a sense of redemption.
"I always reflect back to my time there in Portage, having the Trojans in the championship game. We went to that championship game undefeated, and we didn't win it," Burrell explains. "I always felt like I wanted another chance at a championship, and I wanted to make myself coach better. I think that's what I did this time around. I felt comfortable and felt like I was calling the right plays. This was a tremendous weight off my shoulders, winning this championship after not winning one for Portage."
Take me back to Championship Saturday 🙏— Fan Controlled Football (@fcflio) June 19, 2022
What a ride. pic.twitter.com/rboqirftYE
While he will always feel like he could've done more to guide the Trojans to a title, Burrell says he learned some extremely valuable lessons during his time on the sideline at PCI.
"The big thing I took away from my Portage experience is the importance of building team unity, building team comradery, and building relationships with players," Burrell continues. "I'm building my relationships with these professional football players the same way I would with the players and staff in Portage. I make sure to enjoy it and embrace the moment, which is something I came away with from the Portage experience."
The defensive coordinator is extremely optimistic for the future of this league as he believes it will be a branch for pro players to showcase their skills in the summer to potentially earn a CFL or NFL contract. He says after just two seasons of existence, the FCF has a ton of opportunities to continue growing.
"I think this is going to be a tremendous league, simply because of the fan involvement. I'm not totally sure of the exact numbers, but I think last year we had 10 million fans tune in, and this year we had 20 million," says Burrell. "The fan support is improving to the point where owners are talking about adding more teams. I find it very exciting as there's nothing more popular than what we're doing in the spring."
While he was on the defensive side of the ball, Burrell also shared a locker room for a good portion of the year with the highest-profile player in the league, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, Terrell Owens. The NFL's second all-time leader in receiving yards joined the FCF this season at 48-years-old as he has been looking to make an NFL comeback.
NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens achieved a new milestone tonight. His first career FCF(Fan Controlled Football) touchdown pic.twitter.com/jhZ7bZ1SRP— Mo Sports (@MoSportsNetwork) April 17, 2022
Burrell says he was like a kid in a candy store his first time seeing Owens walk into the arena, noting the receiver was in way better shape than most people expected. Burrell notes it was huge for the league to have him involved.
"He was a tremendously good influence for this program and this league. I hope he stays with us next season," Burrell continues. "He's the total opposite of all the negative stuff you read about him. He is such a good guy and to watch him with the kids when they want his autograph, he's personable, he chats with them, and looks them in the eye. All of that negative media portrayal is not the Terrell Owens we had this year with the Fan Control Football League."
The former Trojans' head coach is thrilled to be a part of the potential football revolution that is the Fan Control Football League.