Carl Peterson built the Philadelphia Stars to last in the USFL. Unfortunately, the USFL didn’t last that long.
Former Stars quarterback Chuck Fusina visited our Talk of Fame Network “5 Games” podcast this week and in the first installment, he discusses the inaugural season of the USFL in 1983 and how the most dominant team in the league was built. The Stars went to all three USFL championship games and won the final two.
The Stars had an edge in the three key elements off the field – ownership (Myles Tanenbaum), personnel (Peterson) and coaching (Jim Mora).
“I’ve been in business for a number of years since I’ve been out of pro football,” Fusina said, “and I learned a few things. I know that any culture or attitude in a business comes from the top. The guy I always go to first was Myles Tanenbaum, our owner. He gave us so much confidence not only as a team but as a league. He really believed in it. He loved what he was doing and he made it a lot of fun for us. Now he was very smart in that he got Carl Peterson.”
Peterson had been the director of personnel for the 1980 Philadelphia Eagles that won the NFC championship and would play in the franchise’s first Super Bowl. Peterson had a couple future NFL general managers on his USFL personnel staff, Bill Kuharich and Terry Bradway. They knew how to find players and sign them in bidding wars with the NFL.
“Carl was just a football junkie,” Fusina said. “He loved it and lived it. He was the general. Carl ran the operation. He brought in the right people – players, coaches and everything.
"When he brought in Jim Mora and that coaching staff, he knew what he was doing. Again, when he drafted players and got those players from Penn State, I think he looked at more than just football. He looked at attitude and the person as a whole. It was very important. You could see both Bill and Terry modeled their careers after him and learned a lot from him, which is why they had later success in the NFL.”
Peterson delivered the roster to Mora, whose Stars’ staff included future NFL head coaches Vince Tobin and Dom Capers. In addition, Jim Erkenbeck, Vic Fangio, Joe Marciano, Kohn Pease, Joe Pendry and Jim Skipper went on to have long and distinguished careers as NFL assistants.
“What I could tell by the practices and the meetings is that we were very organized,” Fusina said. “Carl Peterson and Coach Mora had a plan. Just going by what these coaches did after they left the Stars, they were very talented. They were good teachers. That’s always a sign to me of a good coach. Not only were they good coaches and good teachers, they were good people. What Carl Peterson and Jim Mora put together as a staff, they were incredibly fortunate to get those guys.”
The Stars won 11 of their first 12 games on their way to a league-best 15-3 record.
Fusina also talks about the USFL’s stocking plan of assigning regional schools to its teams, which steered Penn State players like Fusina in the direction of the Stars. He recalls he realized that first season that this Philadelphia team could be special, and offers up an amusing anecdote of an Easter Sunday game in San Antonio where there were seemingly more players in the building than fans.
You can listen to this podcast plus our other Talk of Fame Network “5 Games” podcasts featuring Hall of Famers Jerry Kramer, as Charles Haley, Jam Ham, Mike Haynes, Willie Lanier and more – at VokalNow.com or by subscribing to our podcasts at iTunes. Click the links below.