BY CHRIS SILVA
STAFF WRITER

August 17, 2004


Weylan Harding said the biggest challenge he faces as the new head coach of the Dragons will be putting his personal stamp on the team, particularly the defense.

Harding wants to add swagger to a defensive unit that ranked 15th in total defense in the 20-team Arena Football League last season. In such an offensive-minded league, he should have his work cut out for him.

"We're going to be a hard, tough-nosed defense," said Harding, who was introduced yesterday at Nassau Coliseum. "I think that's one thing I've been known for. I want to bring that attitude and intensity to New York."

Harding isn't just talking the talk; last season, his third as the defensive coordinator of the Columbus (formerly Buffalo) Destroyers, he led the AFL's top-rated defense. Harding, who is only 32, said yesterday that he's been a bit amazed at the high cost of living in the metropolitan area, but he felt that it was time for him to climb the coaching ranks.

"I'll sleep on a couch here [in the Coliseum] if I have to," he said.

Harding said he was courted by several teams, but declined to give names. He said joining the Dragons was a whirlwind marriage and that the two sides simply eloped.

"Considering the point in time in my career," Harding said, "right now I think I was ready. I think I'm ready -- I know I'm ready for this opportunity. It's like getting the keys to your first car, except mine was a jalopy and it broke down, you know, slightly used but ready to go. I really wanted [this opportunity]."

Harding inherits Aaron Garcia, one of the league's top passers, and receivers Will Holder and former Jet Kevin Swayne, who are emerging stars. Dragons vice president Michael. Picker is highly optimistic about the upcoming season.

"This is not a rebuilding process," Picker said. "I believe Weylan was ready, he just needed the right opportunity."

Harding was on a short list of candidates to replace 2003 Coach of the Year Todd Shell, who left to take over the Arena Bowl XVIII runner-up Arizona Rattlers. He inherits a 9-7 team that just missed the playoffs.

Harding has been thinking about the Arena Bowl for quite some time. "That's what I'm pushing for," he said. "I definitely have something to prove."

He now will spend some time evaluating the roster, but he emphasized that his goal is for his defense to make four or five "stops" a game, which in the wide-open AFL can make all the difference. And if the offense continues to rack up points, maybe the Dragons will be punching their ticket to the Arena Bowl sooner than later.

"If you make those three, four stops a game, with the offense we have, we expect to be contending for the Arena Bowl," Picker said. "We're not that far away. So now the question is, can we take it to the next level?"