VOL. 133 | NO. 96 | Monday, May 14, 2018
Former Bears Legend Mike Singletary to Lead Memphis Football Franchise
By Don Wade
If Memphis is going to have another pro football league that won’t be confused with the NFL – and it is – it can’t hurt for the first head coach to be a pro football Hall-of-Famer, a feared former linebacker who made the Chicago Bears proud.
Mike Singletary (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
Mike Singletary, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl champion, is the first head coach for the Memphis Alliance of American Football (AAF) franchise that starts play in February of 2019 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. So at least on the sideline, there will be some star power.
How much star power suits up and plays the games remains an open question. Memphis joined Atlanta and Orlando as entries into the league with five more cities to be announced soon. The eight teams will play no less than a 10-game schedule in the first season and the AAF will have some notable rule changes, including no kickoffs, which will make it different from the NFL.
The league sent its head of football operations, J.K. McKay, and Hines Ward, a former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and now an AAF executive, to Memphis for the formal announcement of Singletary as coach and former University of Memphis player Kosha Irby as the franchise’s team president.
Ward predicted success here as he called Memphis “America’s largest small town.” The town’s mayor, Jim Strickland, was also optimistic and called the AAF franchise more evidence of the city’s “momentum.” A United Soccer League franchise will begin play at AutoZone Park just weeks after the AAF season starts.
Steve Ehrhart, executive director of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, also attended the press event held on Thursday, May 10, at the football stadium that is also home to the Memphis Tigers. His perspective was different than most in that he has traveled this secondary pro football league road in the past as team president of the Memphis USFL team, its Canadian League team, and its XFL team: the Memphis Maniax.
Being a football guy, Ehrhart remembers the wins and losses on the field pretty well. But more important, he recalls that “as far as financial performance, Memphis was right at or near the top in all three leagues. Memphis has proven itself.”
Singletary was last working in the NFL as an assistant coach in 2016. He was head coach of the San Francisco 49ers the second half of the 2008 season and all of 2009 and 2010 and compiled an 18-22 record.
“I jumped at this opportunity,” said Singletary, who is also expected to coach a high school football team in Texas this fall; training camp for the AAF won’t begin until January.
McKay says players probably won’t be signed until September and there are logistics to be worked out. He didn’t reveal a salary structure but said the league would have a minimum as part of its framework. The league also will have some provisions for what amounts to territorial rights that, for example, would give the Memphis franchise first right of refusal on U of M and University of Tennessee players.
“We want to recruit talent the community is familiar with, faces that you know, names that you know,” Singletary said. “That’s going to be a critical part of having success here.”
Players, however, will not just come from colleges or be those that have never set foot in the NFL.
“We’re gonna take the best players,” McKay said. “We don’t view it as being a developmental situation at all. There will be a lot of youth, but there will be some guys who have been in the NFL but are out for one reason or another and maybe deserve a second chance.”
The AAF, which was co-founded by former NFL executive Bill Polian and producer/director Charlie Ebersol, will begin play on Feb. 9 with one of that week’s games being televised on CBS. After week one, CBS Network will televise one game weekly and the rest will be live streamed and the platform will integrate fantasy football into the experience.
Ebersol is the son of renowned TV executive Dick Ebersol, who co-founded the XFL with Vince McMahon. The league lasted but one season, in 2001, and lost a reported $50 million. It was less than conventional, with a wild scramble for the ball in place on kickoffs at the start of the game and players allowed to put whatever they wanted on the backs of their jerseys. This gave birth to Rod Smart’s “He Hate Me” on the back of his jersey. McMahon plans an XFL reboot in 2020.
How does the AAF avoid such a short lifespan?
“We have a budget and we think it’s very conservative with ticket sales, sponsorship revenue and the like,” McKay said. “We have a television deal with CBS that we’re very excited about.
“One thing we’ve learned is you’ve got to watch where you spend your money. Spend it on players, spend it on coaches. Don’t spend it on fireworks; that’s kind of the mantra I’m going by.”