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Sudden End a Cruel Blow to AAF Staff, Coaches and Players

by Fran Stuchbury
April 4, 2019 - Alliance of American Football (AAF)

The Alliance of American Football suspended operations on Tuesday, effectively putting a sudden end to the league eight games into its 10-game season. Over 800 players, coaches, and front office staff lost their jobs; a sad day for everyone involved with the Alliance.

Financing proved to be the league's downfall. Reggie Fowler was the AAF's first lead investor but reportedly backed out early in the season after investing $28 million of $170 million he had pledged toward league operations. The Alliance found Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon to take Fowler's place as the lead investor, and Dundon stated he had earmarked $250 million for the league.

According to reports, Dundon ended up spending $70 million before abruptly proclaiming last week the league needed an agreement with the National Football League Players Association to supply players to the Alliance. Just days later, Dundon pulled the plug.

It takes a lot of time and money for any startup sports league, especially in football. Fowler's departure and Dundon's sudden change of heart couldn't be overcome by a last minute attempt to reach an agreement with the NFL and NFLPA.

At this point we don't know why Dundon got involved in AAF only to scuttle the league weeks later. Did he just desire gambling-related technology developed by the league? Were expenses far higher than he projected? Did the Alliance rush itself to market in order to beat the XFL to the field? Vince McMahon's reincarnated league plans a 2020 launch. At the time of this writing, neither Dundon nor league co-founder Charlie Ebersol have addressed the shutdown.

Alliance co-founder Bill Polian laid the blame squarely at Dundon's feet.

"I am extremely disappointed to learn Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all football operations of the Alliance of American Football," said Polian. "When Mr. Dundon took over, it was the belief of my co-founder, Charlie Ebersol, and myself that we would finish the season, pay our creditors, and make the necessary adjustments to move forward in a manner that made economic sense for all.

"The momentum generated by our players, coaches and football staff had us well positioned for future success. Regrettably, we will not have that opportunity."

The sudden collapse overshadowed a lot of positives that developed with the league. The quality of play was very good. The games were competitive. The league successfully implemented rules to speed the game and reduce dangerous play. The telecasts drew solid ratings on CBS, TNT and the NFL Network, good enough that both TNT and CBS added games to their schedules after the season began.

Instead of planning for the final two weeks of the regular season, players, coaches and staffs have all seen their jobs end with one man's decision.

Eastern Conference

Steve Spurrier's Orlando Apollos finished 7-1 and the favorites to win the Alliance championship. They had a fun, exciting offense led by Garret Gilbert who topped the league in passing yards with 2,152. WR Charles Johnson led the league with 687 receiving yards. A big-play defense kept the Apollos' opponents on their heels.

The Birmingham Iron, 5-3, coached by Tim Lewis, featured a stout defense that created takeaways with four fumble recoveries and nine interceptions. Local favorite Trent Richardson compiled 11 rushing touchdowns to lead the Alliance.

Mike Singletary's Memphis Express went 2-6 and didn't get settled at the quarterback position until the end of the season when unheralded Brandon Silvers took over. They even brought in former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel who appeared in two games. The Express had some very competitive games and suffered a heart-breaking 34-31 loss to Orlando, that will be remembered for Mike Singletary and his assistants being flagged for being too far on the field after thinking Orlando deserved a delay of game penalty.

Atlanta Legends coach Kevin Coyle, behind the eight ball from day one, went 2-6 and also had struggles at the quarterback position with Matt Simms and Aaron Murray combining for five touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. The lone bright spot was kicker Younghoe Koo who was a perfect 14-14 on field goals. Both games they won were thanks to his game-winning kicks.

Western Conference

Rick Neuheisel led the Arizona Hotshots to a three-game winning streak to finish the season, and the team was gaining momentum after their big win on the road against San Antonio last week. Quarterback John Wolford paced the league with 14 touchdown passes. Seven of them went to Rashad Ross and that number topped the Alliance.

Mike Riley's San Antonio Commanders went 5-3. The Texas city embraced the Commanders by leading the league in attendance by a wide margin. The team was known for its solid defense. LB Jayrone Elliot led the league with 7.5 sacks and DB De'Vante Bausby was tied for the lead in interceptions with four.

The San Diego Fleet, coached by Mike Martz, went 3-5. Injuries decimated the Fleet, which lose QB Philip Nelson, RB Ja'Quan Gardner and WR Dontez Ford to season-ending injuries. After the city lost the NFL's San Diego Chargers to Los Angeles, fan support for the Fleet appeared to be on the rise.

Dennis Erickson's hard-luck Salt Lake Stallions went 3-5, losing three of its games by a combined nine points. The star of the team was DE Karter Schult who had seven sacks and constantly put pressure on AAF quarterbacks.

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The league already has benefited one coach: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Birmingham Iron defensive line assistant coach Lori (Lo) Locust as an assistant defensive line coach.

Some players undoubtedly will end up on NFL training camp rosters. Others may consider playing in the Canadian Football League or one of the arena leagues. Many could end up playing for XFL teams next season. Expect coaches to get an opportunity as well.

"I sincerely regret that many that believed in this project will see their hopes and efforts unrewarded," added Polian. "They gave their best for which I am deeply grateful. Unfortunately, Mr. Dundon has elected this course of action."


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