Trigg Likes Sports Arena

February 17, 2003
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KENTWOOD — Less than two years after being named Arena Football League coach of the year and handing the city its first national pro sports championship, Michael Trigg and his Grand Rapids Rampage should make their must-see TV debut on Sunday.

What viewers will see is a head coach doing his all to direct his team to another win. What they won’t see is the other Michael Trigg, the administrator who also serves as the director of football operations for the franchise owned by DP Fox Sports.

Not everyone can make the leap from field general to general manager and handle both positions simultaneously, but Trigg has done it successfully. What makes his transition even more meaningful is that Trigg, despite having played quarterback at East Texas State and for the AFL Detroit Drive, never planned on a career in sports management. No, he thought he was going to be a hospital administrator.

“I didn’t have a career path in football. I was spending my time working on my master’s in business and had set up an internship with a Sisters of Charity hospital based outside of Houston, Texas,” said Trigg, a 37-year-old native of San Antonio.

“I planned on finishing my master’s at Rice, at the Jones School for Business, and getting into health care administration. It was more of a career path with the help of my parents,” he added. “They’re both involved in health care to this day, as consultants now.”

Trigg started his career as an offensive coordinator and scouting director for the Dallas Texans, an AFL franchise that folded after three seasons under three different owners. Even though the club failed, Trigg made some valuable contacts over those years and called three of them. One, Woody Kern, hired him as GM and head coach of the fledgling Fort Worth AFL franchise in 1994.

“We end up playing one year in Fort Worth with a team called the Cavalry, an expansion year, and then he bought the Tampa Bay Storm, which is still in existence.”

Fort Worth was sold to a group from Mexico City and never played another game. Kern still owns the Storm. And Trigg was hired by Milwaukee to coach the Mustangs, who went winless in a dozen games the season before he arrived.

Trigg led Milwaukee to a 22-20 mark in his three years there, a record that includes the biggest single-season turnaround in AFL history when the Mustangs went from 4-8 in 1995 to 10-4 in 1996. A year later, Dan DeVos chose Trigg to manage and coach his new AFL franchise.

“Kern gave me the chance to be a head coach and then through some internal problems with the guy that he hired to be the GM, he also had me doing that right before the season started. I was probably a functional incompetent at that point, but you learn these kinds of jobs by doing them,” he said.

“There is no school prep that can really give you the comprehensive nature of what you’re going to have to deal with.”

With the Rampage, Trigg has broad administrative responsibilities — too broad to list here. But it’s probably sufficient to write that whatever affects a player or one of his eight staff members, as it relates to the budget, falls under his jurisdiction. He also has to meet a salary cap agreed to by the league office and the players group, and works closely with DP Fox CFO Tim Gortsema on most team budget items.

“I think I’ve really grown in my position that someday if I did step off the field and go into just a pure administrative position, I think I’m at least getting groomed for that,” he said.

He’s been groomed once before. Trigg met his wife, Susan, while he coached Milwaukee and she danced with the city’s ballet company. She hasn’t hung up her slippers since they moved here six years ago, as Susan teaches dance to young girls at the Ramblewood Health Club, performs a recital each spring and substitutes with the local company. The Triggs have two sons, Tanner, 5, and Tyler, 3, and the boys occupy a lot of their free time.

“I’d like to learn how to play golf again and the new season change will give me that opportunity. But we try to keep the kids as active as possible, even as young as they are. We spend a lot of time with their functions and activities,” he said.

Trigg told the Business Journal that he is happy with the way things have turned out. The almost-hospital administrator has gone from quarterbacking a now-defunct AFL franchise to running one of the league’s most respected and successful clubs.

“It’s funny. There are always the different roads that you can take when you’re at that age that will basically dictate the rest of your life and what you’re doing. I fell into arena football and the coaching aspect by happenstance,” he said.

“I got to jump over a whole group of people that have to take their time to get into coaching. I got to jump over them because I was in the right place at the right time and I was, honestly, doing something that a lot of people wouldn’t do for the pay,” he added of those early AFL years.

“But to be in that position at 23 years old as an assistant coach and then three years later to be a head coach right before my 27th birthday — a lot of people wait their entire career and get into their 50s before they even have that opportunity.”

So what did the Arena Bowl victory on Aug. 10, 2001, mean to him personally, seven years after he accepted the Cavalry head job?

“It gave me a bit of self-gratification that it was worth it. Because even if I had to leave the game and things didn’t work out from now on, I would be able to say that by sticking in there and working through it I was able to achieve the highest compliment, which is winning a championship,” he said.

“But I probably draw the most satisfaction from having the ability as a manager and an administrator to bring 40 or 50 people into a process and have them be the best at what they do for one particular season. Knowing that you had some responsibility for putting all those people in place is probably the greatest compliment a manager can have,” he added.

“And that’s really what I take from it. It’s not the job that I did. It’s the fact that I got a lot of people together and that the work that they did cumulatively really paid off, and I just got to oversee and manage it. And that is a tremendous high that doesn’t come around very often.”

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