Les Moss, the only head coach the Sharks have ever had, is in a sense that perfect complement to the passionate, outspoken Jeff Bouchy. Calm and matter-of-fact, quick to joke with the players about his weight, Moss is hands-off in practice, relying heavily on his assistants, stepping in when he wants to see crisper plays or heightened intensity.
Like the Sharks’ owner, however, his path to Jacksonville has a familial backstory — and also runs through Orlando.
This season, as his team has dealt with bad bounces on the field and tragedy off, Moss has been helping care for his father, Perry Moss, 87, who is suffering from a neurological disease at his home in DeBary.
The elder Moss is a football legend in his own right, with a career as player and coach that spanned six decades and two countries. He was a tailback on the University of Tulsa team that won the 1945 Orange Bowl, then an all-American starting quarterback on the University of Illinois team that won the 1947 Rose Bowl. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in ’48, but played for only a year before rejoining the collegiate coaching ranks — the freshman head coach at Illinois, then an assistant at Washington, LSU and Miami, finally landing the top job at Florida State in ’59 where, in his one season, the ’Noles went 4-6. He spent three years coaching the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes, and eventually made his way back to the NCAA as head coach at Marshall University in 1968, where his team went a disastrous 0-9-1. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Perry served as assistant coach for the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills, and had a stint in the semipro American Football Association before finding a home, and thriving, in the nascent Arena Football League.
In 1987, the same year the AFL was founded, the Associated Press called Perry Moss “the only man alive who has coached in every major American professional league since the All-American Conference folded in 1949” — the NFL, AFL, WFL, USFL, AFA, UFI as well as two different CFLs (Canadian and Continental). From 1991 to 1997, Perry was head coach of the Orlando Predators, amassing an impressive 67-31 record before handing the reins to Jay Gruden. And it was Gruden, in turn, who served as an AFL mentor for Les Moss.
Because of his dad, Les Moss grew up around the game, roaming the Chicago Bears’ practice fields at age 6 or 7, carrying Dick Butkus’ helmet while his father was an assistant coach there.
“I owe everything to him,” Moss says of his father. “He’s a fighter. He had a tremendous career. I would be dishonoring him [by not coaching]. When you have adversity in your life, when you have something that’s your passion, that allows you to get away.”
Moss credits time spent as an assistant under his father as well as under Gruden, a six-time ArenaBowl champion as a player and coach (and recently named head coach of Washington’s NFL team), with broadening his mind, especially as relates to AFL clock management, onside-kick philosophy and the subtleties of the 8-on-8 game.
Gruden was known as “The Gambler” in Orlando, and Moss has applied Gruden’s risk-taking philosophy on special teams and defense, often calling surprise onside kicks. The AFL is not the NFL, especially in offensive philosophy (the league is even more quarterback-driven), and Moss is one of the best at managing time and keeping opposing teams off-balance.