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Pro Football Newcomer Salt Lake City Becomes AAF's First Western Outpost

by Fran Stuchbury
May 17, 2018 - Alliance of American Football (AAF)

The Alliance of American Football officially welcomed Salt Lake City as its fourth franchise at a press conference on Wednesday.

"We have been very deliberate with the cities we've chosen to represent The Alliance in our first year, and we see Salt Lake City as the perfect backdrop to introduce high-quality, professional football next spring. As one of the fastest-growing American cities it's backed by an ever-rising millennial population and an incredibly ardent fan base," said Charlie Ebersol, co-founder and CEO of The Alliance.

The AAF franchise will join the National Basketball Association's Utah Jazz, G League's Salt Lake City Stars, Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake, United Soccer League's Real Monarchs SLC, National Women's Soccer League's Utah Royals FC, Pacific Coast League's Salt Lake Bees, ECHL's Utah Grizzlies and Major League Rugby's Utah Warriors on the Salt Lake City professional sports scene.

Ebersol named former NFL and college football coach Dennis Erickson as the team's head coach. Erickson has 47 years of coaching experience starting back in 1969.

"Dennis is a two-time National Champion and one of the most respected coaches of our time," said Bill Polian, co-founder and head of football for The Alliance. "His experience at the collegiate and professional level makes him an ideal fit to come in and lead these young men looking to begin, extend and/or revitalize their professional careers."

Erickson was a head coach at Idaho for four seasons from 1982 to 1985 having a 32-15 record. In 1985 he won a Big Sky Conference Championship with them. In 1986 he took over the program at Wyoming and went 6-6. In 1987 he moved on to Washington State where he went 3-7-1 that season. In 1988 the team improved to a 9-3 record and he was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year.

Erickson ascended to the head coaching position at the University of Miami in 1989, succeeding Jimmy Johnson who was named coach of the Dallas Cowboys. He led them for six seasons from 1989-1994 and compiled a 63-9 record while winning National Championships in 1989 and 1991. He was named Big East coach of the Year three times: 1991, 1992 and 1994.

In 1995 Erickson moved to the NFL, becaming head coach of the Seattle Seahawks for four seasons from 1995-1998, finishing his tenure with a 31-33 record. In the final game of the 1998 season, the Seahawks lost a controversial decision to the New York Jets that cost them a playoff berth when the referees awarded Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde a touchdown when replays clearly showed he was short of the goal line. The mistake cost Seattle a playoff berth and Erickson his job, in addition to providing further impetus to implementing instant replay.

In 1999 Erickson caught on at Oregon State and went 31-17 in four seasons with them. In 1999 he took the team to its first bowl game in 35 years, losing to Hawaii 23-17 in the Oahu Bowl. In the 2000 season he led Oregon State to an 11-1 record with a big 41-9 victory over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, earning him Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors.

Back to the NFL in 2003, Erickson was named coach of the San Francisco 49ers where he lasted two seasons, going 7-9 in 2003 and 2-14 the following year.

He returned to the college ranks in 2006, taking Idaho to a 4-8 record. In 2007 he took the head coaching job at Arizona State and went 31-31 in five seasons. In 2007 he led Arizona State to a 10-3 record that earned him a Pac-10 Coach of the Year nod for the third time in his career. His overall record as a college football head coach was 179-96-1.

Erickson also has recently established ties to Utah. In 2013 he became the co-offensive coordinator for the Utes and from 2014-2016 he served as the assistant head coach / running backs coach.

During the press conference Erickson mentioned games at Utah could be a big advantage as his team will be used to playing in the altitude. Erickson provides the AAF another experienced coach to join Steve Spurrier in Orlando, Brad Childress in Atlanta and Mike Singletary in Memphis.

Several of his assistant coaches have gone on to be become head coaches in college and the NFL including Sonny Lubick, Jim Mora, Dan Quinn, Randy Shannon, John L. Smith and Tommy Tuberville.

The AAF team will play its games at Rice Eccles Stadium which has a capacity of 45,807 and has hosted Utah Utes football since 1998. MLS's Real Salt Lake played there from 2005 to 2008 as well. The stadium was also host of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics and hosted the first Winter Paralympics held in the United States.

Utah doesn't have much of an outdoor professional football history. The Professional Spring Football League planned to place the Utah Pioneers in the Salt Lake City market in 1992, but the league never played a game. The PSFL intended to be a 10-team league including the Arkansas Miners, Carolina Cougars, Miami Tribe, Nevada Aces, New England Blitz, New Mexico Rattlesnakes, Oregon Lightning Bolts, Tampa Bay Outlaws, Utah Pioneers, and Washington Spirit. Players were in training camp and rosters were cut down to 60 players. The folding of the league was announced on February 19, 1992, 10 days before the season opener.

Salt Lake City has hosted football of the arena variety on a few occasions:

  • Utah Blaze - Arena Football League - 2006-2008 and 2010-2013

    The Utah Blaze joined the Arena Football League in 2006 and games were played at Energy Solutions Arena, home of the Utah Jazz. They were coached by former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White who was named to the AFL Hall of Fame in 2002 after coaching the Arizona Rattlers from 1992 until 2004. The Blaze led the AFL in attendance with 15,498 fans per game during their debut season. The AFL suspended operations after the 2008 seasons.

    In 2010 The Blaze came back in the AFL for another four seasons. In 2012 Ron James led the Blaze to a 12-6 record, earning AFL Head Coach of the Year honors. But attendance declined sharply after the one-year hiatus, and the Blaze folded following the 2013 campaign.

  • Utah Valley Thunder - American Indoor Football Association - 2009

    During the Blaze's break in play in 2009 a team called the Utah Valley Thunder surfaced in the American Indoor Football Association. Playing in Orem, Utah, they went 11-3 that season and lost to the Wyoming Cavalry in the playoffs, 43-31.

  • Salt Lake Screaming Eagles - Indoor Football League - 2017

    The Salt Lake Screaming Eagles joined the IFL as an expansion team in 2017 and played at the Maverick Center in West Valley City, Utah. They were owned by a group call Project FANchise, which announced its intention to create an entirely fan-operated indoor football team. The fans helped call plays for the team on an application. Comedian Norm Macdonald was part owner. They fired head coach William McCarthy during the season due to philosophical difference and Matt Sauk took over. The Screaming Eagles finished 5-11 that season.

    The Salt Lake Screaming Eagles withdrew from the IFL after the 2017 season to start their own leagued called "The Fan Controlled Football League" which has been pushed back to the summer of 2019.


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