Ex-linebacker in new arena

Well-known as a team leader on the football field during his NFL playing career, Brian Noble is getting a chance this year to show that he can be a leader of a somewhat different kind – as a head coach.<p>

Noble, over a decade removed from his retirement from the Green Bay Packers, was hired last October to coach the Green Bay Blizzard, an indoor football franchise in just its second season competing in the af2 (arena football) league. With just a handful of regular season games completed, he is already making a difference.

Not only has Noble quickly earned the respect of his players and the attention of the local media and fans, but he also has worked hard to upgrade the talent of a team that finished 2-14 a year ago in its first season in what is considered a developmental league for the Arena Football League (AFL). Furthermore, some of the same traits that made him successful as a football player are being displayed prominently as a coach.

"When Brian played football, it was obvious that he had a lot of passion and fire for the game," said Blizzard general manager Deb Barlament just before her team's season opener in early April. "I believe that he is going to bring that same fire and same passion to coaching. Actually watching him on the practice field, there's no doubt about it. That's what he's doing."

Noble was a rock in the Packers' defense at middle linebacker during his playing days in Green Bay. As a fifth-round draft choice out of Arizona St. in 1985, he soon found himself as a regular starter and eventually became one of the more vocal team leaders. In four of his nine seasons he led the Packers in tackles. A knee injury suffered in a 1993 game against the Eagles at Lambeau Field ended his career.

Prior to joining the Blizzard, Noble had no head coaching experience at any level. He spent his post-retirement years in Green Bay working in sports for a local television station and radio station. His love for hunting and fishing also led him to create his own highly-successful television series, "Hitting the Outdoors," which continues today. It airs on ESPN2.

After he guided his team to a 67-49 victory over the San Diego Riptide in the season opener on April 9, Noble admitted it was difficult to be a part of the game in such a new capacity.

"It was somewhat nerve-wracking," he said. "That being my first game as a coach, rather than a player, as a player you prepare for a game, put your pads on, and go out and knock the snot out of somebody. As a coach, you put your clothes on and go stand in the box, and watch everybody take care of their business. So for me, it was somewhat nerve-wracking not being able to participate from the standpoint of not being able to play the game itself."

That Noble finds himself as the Blizzard head coach happened simply by a chance meeting. A little over a year ago, he found out about the vacant position while signing autographs at a Lambeau Field atrium event. There, he ran into the assistant general manager of the Blizzard, who asked if he would be interested in coaching. That led to a discussion of the possibilities with team staff the next morning. Though Barlament had received nearly 50 resumes for the position, and initially had someone else pegged for the position, Noble's curiosity changed the agenda. In addition to his qualifications, he brought name recognition to a team in search of more community interest, and after a few more meetings with Barlament, it became clear he was to become the head coach.

"I've always wanted to get into coaching," said Noble. "This opportunity kind of fell into my lap. I've always believed in life that timing is everything, and this just hit at the right time."

Noble hired two full-time assistant coaches, who are familiar with the arena-style game, and one part-time assistant, who have all been of great help to the ex-linebacker adjusting to the rules and intricacies of a game quite different from the NFL. As an example, it is played on a 50-yard field with eight-yard end zones and walls bordering the sidelines. Even with the differences, Noble believes he can have a positive impact this season, with a roster primarily comprised of new players.

"I don't necessarily believe it matters what level you're coaching at, when it comes to coaching, as in business itself, if you surround yourself with good people, good things happen," he said. "The fact that I am a very detail-oriented and organized person also helps me out immensely, even at this level."

Thus far, Noble said the most difficult part of his job has been cutting players and dealing with injuries. He assembled his roster, which includes ex-NFL quarterback Chris Greisen, partially from conducting open tryouts around the state. He saw two of his players go down with season-ending injuries before the season began, a difficult position relatable to his own experience.

"That's kind of hard for me to see a player get hurt," he said.

At just 31 years old, Noble was forced to retire from the NFL in just the second week of the 1993 season, suffering a serious dislocation of his right knee. He will turn 42 this September, and after 17 knee surgeries is looking at the possibility of a knee replacement.

Knocking on the door

Though his sole focus at the moment is on being successful with the Blizzard, Noble still has a deep love for the Packers and follows them on a regular basis. His office with the Blizzard and the team's home arena, the Resch Center, is a short walk from Lambeau Field, a place he admitted he would not mind working someday.

"I've tried a couple of times across the street, and expressed an interest, but have never been taken up on it," he said.

"I would love to coach across the street, needless to say my dream is not to chase the brass ring. I don't have that desire to move across the country with my family chasing a job. Green Bay, Wisconsin is my home. I like it here. If something should open across the street, that would be what my ultimate desire would be."

Noble would not say specifically which positions he applied for with the Packers in past years, only to say that he is not sure why he was not considered. The Packers have had five different linebackers' coaches since Noble retired, a position that when vacant, may have been one of interest to Noble. The Packers most recently hired Mark Duffner to coach the linebackers in 2003.

For now, Noble will continue to provide insight and analysis as a contributor to the Packers' post-game show on the Packers Radio Network. The Packers' regular season coincides with the af2 off-season, which will afford him such opportunities. The Blizzard will conclude their 16-game regular season on July 31.

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