Interview: Jonathon Coachman talks XFL, WWE, and working with The Rock
Jonathon Coachman is easily recognizable among sports fans and wrestling fans alike. “Coach,” as he’s commonly called is the only person to work for both ESPN and WWE. But, while he’s quite visible on WWE television and also XFL pregame shows, many probably don’t know Coachman grew up in Kansas and has been a diehard Chiefs fan.
“I’ve been a Chiefs fan my whole life,” Coachman said. “I thought I would stay and work in Wichita and Kansas City and I did that by the time I was 22-years old and I was gone by the time I was 23.”
Like many Chiefs fans, I shed tears at the end of their Super Bowl victory. For those who aren’t a fan of the Chiefs, it’s hard to explain just how monumental this Super Bowl win was for fans. Coach talked about the importance of the game.
“I worked at Channel 9 with Lenny Dawson in 1999,” he said. That was as close as I thought I would ever get to a Super Bowl championship. To be able to take my son, who is nine-years old, was just the best thing that could ever happen. The way the game ended up was very emotional. It meant a whole lot.”
When asked if he thought Kansas City could be on the verge of a dynasty, Coach said it all depends on what type of contract quarterback Patrick Mahomes signs. Mahomes is being touted by many in football to be the next highest paid player in the league. Some have speculated Mahomes could earn in excess of $40 million per year.
“If I was Patrick’s agent, I would sit him down and tell him he’s the most marketable guy in the world right now,” Coach said. “You only need so much money, so let’s make more off the field and leave some money on the field. That way you can become one of the greatest like Tom Brady, who has left a lot on the field. That’s what it’s going to boil down to really.”
While he may be a fan, Coach spoke like a true analyst and sports broadcaster when speaking about Mahomes.
“There’s never been a quarterback with his skillset,” he said. “He’s cool as a cucumber and as a fan that works me up. However, when you talk about his skillset, I think he’s as good and as cerebral a quarterback there has ever been in the National Football League. I think we’re on the verge of seeing a run that will rival the New England Patriots run from 2000 to now.”
While he is known for his interaction with The Rock and other wrestling superstars, Coachman can now be seen on the pregame show for the XFL every weekend during the season. Three weeks into the season, ratings and attendance are at an all-time high for the league, which opened in 2001, lasting just one season. 19 years later, WWE owner Vince McMahon decided to take another stab at professional football. Rules were changed, along with some aspects of gameplay including the kickoff. Fans have welcomed the XFL with open arms, especially here in St. Louis. The Battlehawks opened their home schedule by setting a league record for attendance with over 29,000 fans.
Coachman is not surprised by St. Louis’ acceptance of the team.
“Think about it for a second if someone told you or I that the Chiefs were leaving Kansas City, we’d be heartbroken,” Coachman said. “That’s how they were in St. Louis. The bottom line is this, St. Louis love sports. They are a great sports city. No matter what kind of person you are, if you live in the Midwest, you’re some kind of sports fan. To bring a football team, I knew that was going to be a homerun.
Coach also talked about some things the XFL had to change.
“When you’re putting a league together like the XFL, there are so many things you have to do right. I was a part of the first XFL and there were so many things we did wrong,” he said. “This time, I feel like we’re doing so many things right, including picking the right cities. There’s a lot of differences. The football is light years better.”
Coach also talked about the importance of good quarterback play, something St. Louis has been blessed with. Jordan Ta’amu is quickly becoming a sports star in the city.
“You have to have good quarterbacks for teams to score and for people to watch,” he said. “That’s why there’s such a difference in how the quarterbacks are treated. If the rest of the team has a problem with it then they are not living in reality because everyone knows that if you don’t have a good quarterback, you’re not going to win the game. In the XFL it goes further than that. If you don’t have a good quarterback, no one wants to watch your team.”
Another benefit the XFL is enjoying is the relationship it has with ESPN and Fox.
“They’re putting some of their best talent on those games,” he said. “The first time it was NBC and UPN. UPN doesn’t even exist anymore! We have buy in. Everyone has bought in, and we are not trying to compete with the NFL. If anything, we’re trying to supplement the NFL. We are giving viewers who may not like college basketball another option of football to watch in the spring.”
With Wrestlemania season upon us, Coach reflected on what the biggest event in Sports Entertainment means to him. After counting them up, he said he’s been to 16 of the events.
“I’ve been to so many,” he said. “Every one of them has a different meaning to me. When I started, I was really wide-eyed, and then when me and The Rock were doing our thing I got to see up close and personal the greatest of all time doing his thing. When I went to ESPN, I got to watch it from afar and now I get kick things off with the preshow.”
Coachman also offered some constructive criticism on the event, which ran over 7 hours last year.
“When I started, everyone competed for a spot,” he said. “Everybody gets a spot now and it’s a little too long. I think you could have some really good competition if you had guys competing for say 8 spots. But, I don’t make those calls. I do what I’m told to do, I have for 20 years. If they ask me I tell them and that’s why they respect my opinion.”
Besides working with The Rock, Coachman said he enjoyed working with Tajiri and Hornswoggle. Coach, who was a former college basketball player, tried to explain just how difficult it is to do what wrestlers do on a nightly basis.
“I’ve play basketball and baseball at a very high level, physically, I’ve ran a triathlon,” he said. “Physically, there’s nothing harder than training to be a professional wrestler. Nobody wants to get picked up and slammed through a table. This is what we do. Getting slammed on the floor for me is a Tuesday.”
Being a huge fan of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and knowing the friendship that he and Coach share, I had to ask Coachman if Johnson was really as nice and down to earth as he always seems.
“Probably better to be honest,” he said. “I’m always honest with him when I see him because I feel like he promotes too much shit on social media. If you and I made $80 million a year, we’d promote our shit too. But, he done so many things for me on television that he didn’t have to do to help me get over. He was the very first person I was ever on WWE television with. He was so good at manipulating the crowd. I’ve learned all kinds of things from how I work out to how I start my day from him.”
Coach also lends his voice to the iconic Madden Football franchise. He said sometimes when he’s alone on a plane or by himself he realizes how lucky he is to have achieved the things that he has.
“Sometimes I go man, I’m the only person to walk on the planet who has been the voice of Monday Night Raw and Sportscenter. That can be a little daunting if you’re the only one to do something.”
You can find Coachman on XFL pregame shows every weekend during the season and doing the preshow for WWE payperviews throughout the year. Wrestlemania airs on Sunday, April 5 from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.