West Virginia Roughriders coach walks away on top
WHEELING — LaRon “Mook” Zimmerman is walking away from the game he started playing at the tender age of 5 and has loved his entire life.
The 2019 American Arena League Coach of the Year after guiding the West Virginia Roughriders to an impeccable 13-0 and the AAL championship, “Mook” announced his decision, which he said was the toughest he has to make in the following 25 years, to retire from arena football.
“It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. Leaving the city of Wheeling and the Roughriders organization was very difficult … it felt like I was walking away … but with the understanding that it was time,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
While not disclosing his future endeavors — although Mook, a veteran of one professional season overseas and seven years in Arena Football, did say it will not involve coaching football — he did say it was time.
“It’s a better opportunity for me as far as the general workforce goes,” he added.
In their only season in Wheeling to date, the 2020 campaign was canceled due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Roughriders, under Mook’s direction, took down all 13 of their opponents, including a 55-29 rout of the Carolina Energy in the title tilt inside a jam-packed WesBanco Arena.
The Roughriders were dominant all season as they outscored their opponents by an eye-popping 640-201, an average of 49.2 to 15.5.
Mook was also the APF Coach of the Year in 2017 when he led the Richmond Roughriders to an undefeated season and a championship. In 2018, the team only lost twice while finishing as league runner-up before re-locating to Wheeling. He is a spectacular 32-2 in three seasons as head coach of the franchise.
“My goal was to be the head coach of the West Virginia Roughriders. I accomplished that last season. I love the game and still love the game, but it was a decision that had to be made” he stressed. “Wheeling has the best fans and I appreciate everyone in the Ohio Valley community for accepting us with open arms.
“We were really excited for the 2020 season as we felt we had a better team than the season before,” he admitted. “We were looking forward to bringing another championship to the Friendly City.”
Another factor that made the decision that more difficult was the relationship he had built with team owner Gregg Fornario.
“We weren’t just owner-head coach, we were like brothers,” Mook noted. “We had a true friendship and that was the formula for success. Gregg is the best ownership group that I have ever worked under.”
Fornario said it will be hard to replace a person like his good friend.
“Mook will be missed. He was much more then a Xs and Os coach,” Fornario said. “Mook and I would be on the phone every night going over the roster and when I say every night I mean until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. evaluating and recruiting whatever it took to be great.” Fornario said.
“I want to wish Mook the best of luck in his future endeavors. He will be greatly missed by the entire Roughriders organization. To me he wasn’t my employee, he was my brother. I want to say thank you for being a huge part of the Roughriders success.”
After playing at Sacred Heart University, Mook’s football odyssey began when he played arena football professionally in South America, in Natal, Brazil, with America Bulls Potiguares, in a pro league called Campeonato Brasileiro de Futebol Americano.
Following that season and seven more in the arena league, Mook knew his playing days were numbered, so he took to coaching.
He got a head coaching opportunity with the Buffalo Lightning of the American Indoor Football league,” he said. “I knew this was something that I wanted to do. I knew I had a longer career ahead of me as a coach than I had as a player. And you never know if this opportunity would present itself again.”
Fortunately it did and the Roughriders couldn’t have been happier.
Tampa Bay joining NAL
The National Arena League has announced partnerships and expansions to Baltimore, Louisville, Ky., and Tampa Bay, Fla., for the 2021 season.
The Baltimore Lightning is under the ownership of HMG Sports Marketing and Will Hanna. The team has signed a three-year membership agreement with the NAL and will play in the Royal Farms Arena.
The Louisville Xtreme will be under the ownership of Victor Cole. The Xtreme will play in legendary Freedom Hall.
The Tampa Bay Tornadoes is under the ownership of Alton Walker, John Amato and Ken Nelson. The Tornadoes will play in Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds with a little more than10,000 seating capacity.