Neuheisel, Phoenix Latest to Join AAF's Fold

by Fran Stuchbury
May 19, 2018 - Alliance of American Football (AAF)

The Alliance of American Football welcomed Phoenix, Arizona as its fifth market at a press conference on Friday.

The AAF franchise will join the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks, NBA's Phoenix Suns, NHL's Arizona Coyotes, WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, IFL's Arizona Rattlers and USL's Phoenix Rising FC on the Arizona sports scene.

"We wanted to have a strong west coast presence for the inaugural Alliance of American Football season, and the addition of Phoenix, a booming metropolitan area with a passionate fan base across all sports, is another step in the right direction," said Charlie Ebersol, co-founder and CEO of the Alliance. "Fan engagement is critical to our success and we look forward to this city embracing the experience and fueling the Alliance Phoenix."

The league named Rick Neuheisel as the team's first head coach. Neuheisel grew up in Tempe, graduating from McClintock High School in 1979. He played college football as a quarterback at UCLA. He spent two seasons as the starting QB of the USFL's San Antonio Gunslingers in 1984 and 1985, then played for the San Diego Chargers as a replacement player during the NFL's 1987 three-game strike. He also spent the last two games of the season as a backup for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"Rick Neuheisel's experience playing and coaching at both the professional and collegiate level is something we value. We believe he will come in and motivate, teach and lead a hungry group of players looking for an opportunity to begin, extend and/or revive their professional careers," said Bill Polian, co-founder and head of football of The Alliance.

Following his playing days, Neuheisel climbed the coaching ranks at UCLA, starting in 1986 as a graduate assistant before moving up to quarterback coach from 1988-1989 and then wide receivers coach from 1990-1993.

In 1994 he became Colorado's offensive coordinator. The following year Neuheisel was named head coach of Colorado. He led them for four seasons and finished his stint with a 33-14 record. In 1995 and 1996 Neuheisel led the team to 10-2 records.

In 1999 he became head coach at Washington where he remained from 1999-2002, compiling a 33-16 mark. His best season in Washington came in 2000 with an 11-1 record.

In 2005 and 2006 he served as the QB coach for the NFL Baltimore Ravens, and in 2007 he was promoted to the Ravens' offensive coordinator position.

Neuheisel led his alma mater from 2008-2011 as the head coach at UCLA. In four seasons, he earned a bowl victory in 2009 and took his team to the Pac-12 championship game in 2011. His overall college coaching record was 87-59.

In the fall, Neuheisel will continue working on CBS as an analyst for College Football Today, the pre-game show for the Southeastern Conference.

"The combination of a passionate fan base and motivated, talented players looking to make a name for themselves on the professional level will result in exciting football at Sun Devil Stadium in the spring, with the ultimate goal being to bring home the first ever Alliance Championship", said Neuheisel.

Neuheisel joins Steve Spurrier at Orlando, Brad Childress at Atlanta, Mike Singletary at Memphis and Craig Erickson at Salt Lake City as head coaches in the AAF.

The new team will be playing at Sun Devil stadium in Tempe, Arizona. "Sun Devil Stadium is the perfect home for our Alliance Phoenix team. There is a lot of positive momentum happening with the school, and this addition adds fuel to that fire. With Coach Neuheisel at the helm, there will be high-quality football all year long in Phoenix," added Ebersol

The stadium opened in 1958 and currently has a capacity of 57,078 spectators. It has been the home of Arizona State football team since 1958, the Fiesta Bowl from 1971 till 2006, the USFL'a Arizona Wranglers from 1983-1984 and Arizona Outlaws in 1985. The Arizona Cardinals called it home from 1988 until 2005 and the Cactus Bowl from 2006 till 2015, the latter of which will return once renovations at the stadium are complete.

Sun Devil Stadium also hosted Super Bowl XXX when the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 on January 28, 1996, as well as two BCS Championship games: the first after the 1998 season when Tennessee defeated Florida State 23-17 and the second after the 2002 campaign when Ohio State defeated Miami-Florida 31-24 in two OT's.

The Valley of the Sun's first dalliance with pro football came in 1983 with the birth of the Arizona Wranglers of the United States Football League, a circuit which competed with the NFL for players.

Arizona had a good start in 1983 going 4-4 but then lost the last ten games of the season to finish 4-14. In a bizarre franchise swap, Phoenix-based heart surgeon Dr. Ted Diethrich bought the Wranglers and shifted his Chicago Blitz squad to Phoenix in 1984, sending the 1983 Arizona roster to Chicago to compete as the Blitz under new ownership. Hall of Fame coach George Allen arrived in the Valley as well, and the new Wranglers went 10-8. In the playoffs they won on the road, defeated the Jim Kelly-led Houston Gamblers 17-16. They were supposed to play the at the Los Angeles Express but got a home game because LA Coliseum was getting ready for the Summer Olympics. They defeated Los Angeles, led by quarterback Steve Young, 35-23, in a game delayed by heat. The Wranglers went on to lose to the Philadelphia Stars in the USFL Championship 23-3.

With Diethrich out of money, the USFL kept Phoenix pro football alive by moving the Oklahoma Outlaws to the market for the 1985 season. The Arizona Outlaws finished 8-10 under future Super Bowl MVP quarterback Doug Williams. He had a solid season for the Outlaws with 3,673 passing yards and 21 touchdown passes.

The Outlaws were one of eight teams that planned to play in the fall of 1986 before the USFL's demise.

Phoenix didn't have to wait long for pro football to return, as the burgeoning market had attracted the NFL's interest. The St. Louis Cardinals moved to the city and became the Phoenix Cardinals, later renamed the Arizona Cardinals in 1994. Sun Devil Stadium was supposed to be a temporary home, but it took a very long time to get a stadium built. The team often struggled with attendance, though many opposing fans would attend games. The Cards spent 18 seasons at Sun Devil Stadium, compiling a home record of 64-80.

In 2006 the Arizona Cardinals moved to a University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

They have had three players make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame: RB Emmitt Smith in 2010, CB Aeneas Williams in 2014 and QB Kurt Warner in 2017.

Their best season cam in 2008 when they advanced to the Super Bowl XLIII, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-23.

Playing arena football, the Arizona Rattlers have had no shortage of success. The team played in the Arena Football League from 1992-2016 before switching to the Indoor Football League in 2017. The Arizona Rattlers were the third oldest AFL franchise until their departure in 2016. They won five ArenaBowl Championships: 1994, 1997, 2012, 2013 and 2014. The team retired numbers for three players: QB Sherdrick Bonner who played with them from 1993-2007, WR/LB Hunkie Cooper 1993-2005 and Randy Gatewood 1996-2007.

The Arizona Rattlers joined the Indoor Football League in 2017 and won the United Bowl Championship in its first season, defeating the Sioux Falls Storm 50-41. On April 29, 2018 The Rattlers won its franchise 300th game defeating the Cedar Rapids Titans 84-83.

The AAF has three more cities to announce in the coming weeks.

Stay up to date with all the AAF market announcements:

Orlando

Atlanta

Memphis

Salt Lake City

• Discuss this story on the Alliance of American Football message board...

Alliance of American Football Stories from May 19, 2018


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s), and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.


Sports Statistics from the Stats Crew