The Massachusetts Pirates professional arena football team in Worcester have named Anthony Payton Head Coach of the team and promoted Sergio Gilliam to Defensive Coordinator. The moves were facilitated after Ameer Ismail, the National Arena League Coach of the Year, could not come to terms with the Pirates to coach for a second season. Pirates President Jawad Yatim announced the moves and thanked his former coach.
"I would first like to say that we wish Ameer the absolute best moving forward,” Yatim said. “Whatever he decides to do I know he'll be successful and we certainly appreciate all the work he put in last season. He's still a good friend of mine and I wish him the best, just except when he plays us of course," he added.
Payton becomes the second Head Coach in the history of the Massachusetts Pirates. Last season Payton served as Associate Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach for the Pirates in their inaugural season. In 26 years of coaching this will be Payton’s first time as a Head Coach. His professional coaching resume includes stops as an Offensive Coordinator in 2016 with Spokane in the Arena Football League and in the Indoor Football League with Portland in 2015. Prior he worked as a wide receivers coach with Louisville in the AF2 and also in the AFL with Las Vegas and Buffalo. Although his title has changed, Payton says he won’t change his approach.
“I welcome it. I really didn’t look to be the Head Coach of the Massachusetts Pirates, but I feel like I’m ready,” he said. “For me it’s just all about winning. Whether I’m an assistant coach, position coach, coordinator or Head Coach, I’m going to do my job the same way. Nothing changes for me other than the fact that now I don’t have to get permission to do a lot of the things that I’ve wanted to do in the past. Now I’m in a position where I will take the blame for all of the things that don’t go right and I can give the people that help me out the credit for things that go well,” he added.
With Payton calling the plays last season the Pirates were the highest scoring team in the NAL. Massachusetts led the league in touchdowns with 123, most offensive touchdowns, total offensive yards and average yards per play. The Pirates also had the number one passing offense with 3,677 yards and 229.8 yards per game. Additionally Pirates QB’s had the most yards per completion with 12.2 and yards per attempt (7.3). Payton’s creativity enabled Pirates QB Sean Brackett to thrive, becoming the league leader in total offense while passing for a league best 226.4 yards per game. Brackett was the NAL’s Most Valuable Player while earning second-team honors on offense. Wide receiver Devonn Brown was an NAL first team offensive selection with 24 touchdown receptions, 1,024 receiving yards while averaging a league best 19 yards per catch.
"AP came in and worked extremely hard for us,” Yatim said. “It's funny because I felt like sometimes last year we were competing as to who would stay in the office the latest. He's that kind of guy and he takes an extreme amount of pride in his craft and it paid off for him and our organization last season. He's fully entrenched in our culture and immediately bought into what we have going on here. He had a great playing career in the AFL, knows the game and has seen every situation there can be in arena football. Our guys respect him and respond well to his coaching. He led an offense that produced the most points, yards, and yards per play than anyone else in our league last season. He's been waiting for this opportunity for some time and I feel as if he's ready for it. I respect his work ethic and the way he carries himself on and off the field. I wanted to keep this hire in-house and there was no better candidate than Anthony Payton. I am glad AP is our head coach and I'm excited for this upcoming season," Yatim added.
A former wide receiver, Payton enjoyed a nine year career in the IFL, AFL and AF2 with six teams including Dayton, New Jersey, Louisville, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Las Vegas. He began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Eastern High School in Louisville, KY. Later he coached at Fern Creek High School in Louisville and also served as quarterbacks and wide receivers coach at Kentucky Wesleyan College. A graduate of Kentucky Wesleyan College, Payton also attended East Mississippi Community College and Austin Peay University.
After coaching the defensive backs and being promoted to Special Teams Coordinator in year one, Sergio Gilliam returns this season with another promotion to Defensive Coordinator.
Under Gilliam’s watch defensive back Kiante Northington led the league with 12 interceptions and added 18 passes broken up while earning All-League first team defensive honors. DB John Hardy-Tuliau was tabbed as a second-team selection with six picks, taking a pair back for scores.
The secondary also averaged a league best 5.2 yards allowed per pass. The Pirates also returned seven interceptions for touchdowns which was the most in the NAL. Yatim is happy to have Gilliam back as well.
"Coach Gilliam came in last year and really did a great job for us. He coached our secondary and Jack linebackers and was an integral part in us leading the league in interceptions returned for touchdowns while also finishing second in the league in total interceptions. Our players really respect him and also take his coaching very well and it ultimately translated to the field. He had a long successful career in the AFL, had an opportunity with the Minnesota Vikings, and played at Clemson University so he's seen the game at the highest levels and was exposed to some great coaching in the past. He's very knowledgeable of the game and he communicates that information well to our current players. He's also been a defensive coordinator before in Salt Lake so he has experience in that role as well. I know he's excited to get started and we are certainly happy to have him back," Yatim said.
The Greer South Carolina product first started in coaching as a co-defensive coordinator with the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles in the Indoor Football League and then moved on to high school coaching in Pennsylvania. In 2018 He came to Worcester and now is excited to grow with the organization.
“Just having the reigns as a Defensive Coordinator is a big promotion. I actually like what we have going on in Massachusetts. Anybody in their coaching career would want to have more responsibility. I played this game for quite a while so I’ve been looking forward to teaching guys things that I learned and
hopefully we’ll be able to execute it on the field. I expect big things from these guys and I feel that I can actually get the job done. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam entered coaching after an outstanding seven year career in arena football with stops in Oklahoma City, Arizona, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Spokane, Portland and Shanghai in the China Arena Football League. Gilliam played collegiately at Clemson, becoming a starter in his junior year. He was a starter his final two seasons and finished his Tigers career with 64 tackles with two interceptions and one touchdown.
The Massachusetts Pirates are members of the National Arena League (NAL). The Pirates play all home games at the DCU Center located at 50 Foster St. Worcester, MA. 01608. Pirate Nation Season Ticket Memberships for the 2019 season will be on sale in September. Pirate Nation Memberships start as low as $199.00. To become a Pirate Nation Season Ticket member or for more information on the Massachusetts Pirates please call (508) 452-MASS (6277), email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.masspiratesfootball.com. Single game tickets are available online at ticketmaster.com or the DCU Center Box Office. For group outings please call 508-452-MASS (6277). Follow the Pirates on facebook at facebook.com/MAPirates on Instagram @mass.pirates, as well as Twitter @mass_pirates.