“You can change coaches. You can change the front office, change every single player,” Coach Victor Mann says. “It happens all the time. So what’s left?”
Mann is a big guy, with a big voice matching a big personality. He’s down in Texas, getting ready for the move north, but even though we’re on the phone it feels like he’s right here in my living room. He’s intense, and he’s rolling:
“The fans, the community,” he says, answering his own question. “Nothing else. If you’re not committed to them, you’re not a part of this team. That’s non-negotiable.”
Mann has always been about the community. A five-star athlete coming out of high school, he was a punishing fullback (and two year team captain) at Kansas State in the early Aughts. But around Manhattan he’s remembered as much for his off-field accomplishments. He was the first Wildcat player to be named to the prestigious American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team, in 2005 — one of only eleven Division I athletes so honored that year.
“If you’re not willing to be in the community, you’ve got no place on this team,” Mann says. “We’re here to be the best professionals we can be. We’re here to play the game, but that doesn’t mean we can’t cut lawns, pick up trash, read to kids, whatever needs to be done. That’s what the indoor game is about. That’s what community’s about.”
Of course, it’s also about winning football games, and Mann is very good at that. He won a championship with the Texas Revolution in the Champions Indoor Football League, going 27-9 overall in his tenure in Ft. Worth. His indoor league experience goes even deeper — as a player for five years, then as part of the front office of the Kansas City Brigade, where he worked with River Kings GM Reggie Harris.
“I met Reggie in college, actually,” Mann says. “He was working as an agent, and some of my K-State teammates were potential clients. Then we worked together in Kansas City. He’s been a mentor, especially for the back end of things [i.e. the business side of indoor football]. He knows that I understand the game, I understand the athlete, and I understand the fan. I can work well with anyone, but we have a long and successful relationship.”
Both Mann and Harris know that getting Cedar Rapids back to championship caliber won’t be easy, but it’s a challenge they welcome. “Look, you’ve got Arizona, Sioux Falls, Des Moines, everyone knows they’re great teams. They always have success. They’re going to get good players. But do you want to be ‘a good player,’ or do you want to be part of something great?
“What we’re doing here is entirely new,” Mann continues. “It’s unique. You can be a pioneer here. Do you want to be ‘a guy,’ or do you want to be ‘the guy?’ The guy who gets his name carved on a plaque because he helped build something new?”
In short, for Victor Mann it’s all about mindset. He calls it “Team No Soft.” “We say, ‘Be a dog.’ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Put in the work. Pay the price. Be unbreakable.” His recruiting philosophy is simple. “For every player, I want to know: What does he want to get out of his career? If he’s just playing for the money, then I’m not your guy. If he’s playing for passion, then I’m here to work for him, just like I’m here to work for the fans.
“We are your team,” he concludes. “I want people in Cedar Rapids to see us out on the street and say ‘That’s our coach; those are our players.’ I want to do something every day that makes [fans] say ‘This is our team.'”