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Amid Crisis, SoCal Coyotes Pivot Hard to Youth, Social Services As ‘Non-Profit of the Future’

The clock stopped for The SoCal Coyotes, America’s #1 Developmental Pro Football Program™. One by one, sports league after league – the NBA, MLB, MLS, NHL, NCAA, PGA, Formula 1 and the XFL – either cancelled or suspended play, as the reality of Covid-19 gripped the world.

Since 2012, the Coyotes – winners of six titles in eight championship appearances – have flooded the pro ranks with prospects, built a national brand and staked their reputation on ‘Building Champions, Building Men™’, all while impacting more than a half-million Coachella Valley youth through their leadership camps, clinics and symposia.

Now, in a single day, the handwriting was on the wall for possibly the Coyotes, and thousands of organizations just like them.

“We realized right then it was pivot, or die,” says Coyotes’ non-profit founder and Hall of Fame head coach J David Miller, who is also chairman of Coachella Sports & Entertainment Stadium Authority (CSESA).

Covid-19 would make 2020 the first time in nearly a decade that the Coyotes didn’t field a team.


In October 2020, the Charities Aid Foundation reported that Covid-19 had shuttered fully one-third of all non-profits in the nation. At the same time, Forbes estimated that nearly 170,000 small businesses were closed for good. Sports programs were crippled – without the exorbitant Covid-protocol budgets and ‘bubbles’ that only major pro sports and Power Five NCAA conferences could afford, thousands of sports opportunities such as minor-league baseball – and Coyote football – became memories, overnight.

Fortunately, the Coyotes hadn’t waited for Covid-19 to rethink why they exist, who needs them, and how to play a significant role in the Coachella Valley community.

For the past two years, behind the scenes, Coach Miller – a former CEO of three multi-million-dollar companies – had been carefully planning a separate business strategy.
At left, Dr. Robert L. Cummings, Coyotes Athletic Director – who oversees drug, alcohol, addiction and anger management counseling

Miller was counting on his hand-picked, top-flight senior staff to deliver on his hefty promises to the youth and community of the Coachella Valley.

Along with SVP Ron DiGrandi, Miller’s chief lieutenant, and Athletic Director Dr. Robert L. Cummings, the Coyotes had been hard at work becoming as formidable off the field as they have been on the gridiron.

“Call it fate, call it luck, reading the tea leaves, or divine intervention – but when Covid-19 struck, we were ready,” says former three-term Indio Mayor Michael Wilson, now CSESA Chief of Staff, and board member.

“The Coyotes are cultivating leadership in underserved populations, laying out sustainable educational and vocational opportunities, and filling holes that contribute to the overall health of our community.”

By April, the coronavirus had wrapped its tentacles around the Coachella Valley. With stress levels soaring, the Coyotes stepped forward to deliver food and minister to vulnerable communities; serving alongside therapists as advocates for the mental health and public safety of those in need.

Critical action steps included:

Coyote leadership earned certifications for court-approved drug, alcohol, and addiction counseling;
Made anonymous mental health mentoring and counseling available to all youth, County-wide, via telehealth;
Expanded offerings to include marital, domestic violence and anger management counseling for young adults;
Generated sustainable financial support for children and family charities through community engagement programs;
Distributed funds to families in need, efficiently and transparently.


It was evident in March, said Miller, “that in the worst of times, our community needed the best of times from our organization, which has become far more than just a football team.”

How, exactly, did the Coyotes transform into a non-profit for the future?

Underscored its culture and values of faith and family, and reimagined its purpose toward youth-based initiatives;
Rebuilt an inclusionary, diversified board of directors that better served the communities the Coyotes represent;
Recruited a senior-level, C-suite talent structure made up of powerful communicators, collaborators, and global, strategic thinkers. The Coyote team includes doctors, engineers, designers, data scientists, business managers, civil servants, entrepreneurs, and research experts.
Deployed fresh platforms of leadership, resources and allies to drive change and build new ecosystems across desert communities, further strengthening their brand and reputation.

“Non-profits that survive Covid,” says DiGrandi, himself a veteran community-builder of 37 years, “will be those whose mission and programs adjust to changing needs in a rapidly changing world.”
Veteran defensive assistant Greg Marshall – who once starred for the team at linebacker – is a popular Coyote mentor


Once Covid officially sidelined the team for 2020 (and quite possibly, 2021?), instead of caving under fear and uncertainty, the Coyote non-profit staff took a page from the football coaches, and were determined to peak under pressure. With its non-profit game plan already in place, the Coyotes pivoted from football and hit the community running.

“Our senior team typically meets most mornings for 30 minutes,” says board member Curt Pesmen, founder of BoCo Media, a Boulder, Colorado-based multi-media company. “It’s passionately productive. We make decisions and go.”

A streamlined Coyote organization eliminated bureaucracy, empowered previously untested leaders with weighty responsibilities, and ‘turbocharged’ decision-making. Results were swift and palpable in the strange new Covid landscape.

Overnight, the Coyotes adjusted to distance-learning, offering its motivational and instructional ‘Above the Line’ leadership curricula via Zoom to thousands of young people. Other changes were just as huge.

Funds once earmarked for football were repurposed to put food on kitchen tables;
Players and staff hand-delivered more than 50,000 meals to those in need;
Full-time counselors meet weekly with needy youth, in person whenever possible;
Donations of time and resources were made to other non-profits, including the Inland Empire Ronald McDonald House, and Angel Light Academy.

“Health crises are an opportunity for us to step up and connect meaningfully with people in our community like no other time in history,” Miller says. “Leading with empathy, vulnerability and compassion is vital to weathering this crisis, and setting the stage for recovery.”
Receiver Joel Felix is a certified strength, speed and fitness instructor, as well as a credentialed Coyote mentor and counselor


The six-time champion SoCal Coyotes are the national standard of American developmental football, and are 88-13 under Hall of Fame head coach and non-profit founder J David Miller. The Coyotes’ organization provides elite athletes a professional environment that refines and showcases their skills through trademarked processes similar to the NBA’s D-league and MLB’s minor-league systems.

Additionally, the Coyotes’ 501c3 and award-winning ‘Above The Line™’ leadership programs impacts the social, mental and physical growth of more than 50,000 youth annually through remedial curriculum, training camps, clinics and symposia. NFL executives have named the SoCal Coyotes organization America’s #1 Developmental Football Program™ for its national, scalable brands, community outreach programs, nine-year operational track record, verifiable data, youth curriculum, sales, public-private sector alliances, and measured results.

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