Joe Moglia can proudly say that he is a football coach of the people, by the people.
The United Football League announced Wednesday that the 60-year-old Moglia will be the head coach of the Omaha Nighthawks for the 2011 season. Moglia, an Omaha resident the past 10 years and chairman of the board of TD Ameritrade, had been scheduled to coach the UFL’s expansion franchise in Virginia.
UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue acknowledged in an interview with The World-Herald that the grass-roots support Moglia received from the Omaha football and business communities influenced the league’s decision to have Moglia coach the Nighthawks.
“There really was a groundswell of support for Joe from Omaha,’’ Huyghue said. “In the end, we knew we could find another good coach for Virginia but that we couldn’t find a better fit than Joe for Omaha.’’
The UFL filled the opening in Virginia by closing down its franchise in Orlando and transferring head coach Jay Gruden. Gruden is expected to bring the Florida Tuskers’ protected players as well as several members of his staff with him to Virginia.
“This has to make the Virginia franchise feel appreciated, loved and wanted,’’ Moglia said. “Instead of being an expansion franchise, they get an established franchise in Virginia. The way this worked out, it’s a win for Omaha, it’s a win for Virginia and it’s what is best for the league.’’
Moglia had been in Dallas to speak at the American Football Coaches Association convention. He returned to Omaha on Wednesday afternoon and said about a dozen fans in Nighthawks’ gear were at Eppley Airfield to greet him.
Staff members at TD Ameritrade were in Nighthawks’ gear when he arrived at his office.
“Since this was announced, I’ve probably gotten about 25 phone calls and 100 texts on my cell,’’ Moglia said shortly after arriving in Omaha. “I can’t say enough about the support I’ve received and how excited I am for this opportunity.’’
Moglia had been named Virginia’s head coach last fall, culminating his efforts to get back into the football world after a 27-year absence. He had been a coach for 16 years, spending the last three at Dartmouth as the school’s defensive coordinator from 1981 to 1983.
It was then he decided to enter the business world, spending 17 years with Merrill Lynch before becoming TD Ameritrade’s chief executive officer in 2001. He helped build the Omaha-based online brokerage firm into the world’s largest.
In 2008, Moglia resigned as CEO to pursue his quest to return to coaching. He’s spent the past two seasons working as an unpaid advisor to Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. He was named Virginia’s head coach last Nov. 10.
To wind up coaching football in Omaha, Moglia said, is something he could not have anticipated two years ago.
“For all the things that have happened,’’ Moglia said, “it’s a wonderful coincidence.’’
The UFL started play in 2009 and placed an expansion team in Omaha in 2010. The Nighthawks sold out each of their four home games but couldn’t match that success on the field. They finished 3-5, losing their last four games.
That slide cost Jeff Jagodzinski his job as head coach earlier this month. Shortly afterward, Moglia said, Huyghue approached him about the Omaha job.
“He wanted to talk about the possibility and find out to what extent I’d be interested,’’ Moglia said. “I told him I was committed to becoming the coach at Virginia, but that if it would be in the best interest of the league, I’d be honored to stay in Omaha. I told him, ‘Do with me what you will.’”
A fan group started a Facebook page urging the UFL to send Moglia to Omaha. Huyghue said he personally received about 300 to 400 calls, e-mails and texts of support for Moglia, and the league office fielded countless others.
The more he thought about it, Huyghue said, the more the move appeared to be the natural one.
“Frankly, Joe’s hiring did not resonate when he was announced in Virginia,’’ Huyghue said. “It wasn’t like people were against it, but they weren’t saying, ‘Wow, we got Joe Moglia as our coach.’
“But in Omaha, it really didn’t seem like there was any other choice but Joe. I floated the idea with no idea how this would end up. But once we started hearing from the fans, it became clear that he was the overwhelming choice.’’
Moglia said he was flattered when he learned that people in Omaha had started the Facebook page and contacted the league office.
“I can’t tell you how good that made me feel for people to go out of their way to support me,’’ he said. “I was aware of the support, but I really had nothing to do with it.’’
The closing of the Orlando franchise leaves the UFL with five teams — Omaha, Virginia, Las Vegas, Hartford and Sacramento — to begin play next August. Huyghue said the league is actively pursuing another city, but expansion plans would have to be in place by March.
Moglia said he intends to do everything he can to field a winning team in Omaha, just as he would had he remained as Virginia’s coach. No less, no more.
“If I were coaching a bunch of 6-year-olds in a Guatemala village, I would coach the same way,’’ Moglia said. “Just because Omaha is our home, I’m not going to coach any harder. I’m going to give this my total commitment, just as I would have done had I stayed in Virginia.
“But I couldn’t be prouder and more pleased with how things have worked out.’’
Contact the writer: