Spring Football Making Headlines

As a football fan for over three and a half decades, I can’t recall another time where non-NFL leagues have been in the news, as much as they have been in the last few weeks. There are actually two Spring pro-football Leagues, both making news at the same time. One in the AAF, that has started their inaugural season, and the other in the XFL, which is building towards theirs. These two leagues have been all over the landscape making news, and sometimes sharing in the actual headlines. Not only are both these leagues in the headlines, but they are in every conversation together. Look no further than the recent Johnny Manziel story.

Perhaps it has something to do with the times that we are living in. In 2019, it’s easier to carve out a piece of the headlines, even if it’s just a small piece on social media sites. Unfortunately, the usual headlines surrounding these types of leagues are not always very kind.

The AAF

The AAF is finishing up their 4th week of play and they have already had their fair share of turmoil and critique. It started before their season even began. They lost three offensive coordinators and a head coach in Brad Childress. Their highly marketed Atlanta Offensive Coordinator Mike Vick then left his job just before the season started because he had other things to do.

The season started for the Alliance with decent fanfare and some mainstream sports media support. Almost immediately following week one, news came that the AAF’s main investor bailed on the league after week one, a story that was confirmed by Orlando coach Steve Spurrier in the Orlando Sentinel, only days after widespread denial. The league’s main investor took his money and went home. The reports of the league nearly missing week 2’s payroll are disputed. No definitive word on who the initial money man was, but it’s worth noting that Peter Thiel is no longer listed as one of the AAF’s financial investors.

Billionaire NHL Owner Tom Dundon came in to make the buy in, or bail out, depending on which way you want to look at it. What follows this, is a myriad of reports over how invested Dundon actually is, and whether or not, he is going to fully commit to the league. The AAF struggled at the gate in some of their markets, and their financial model started to take some criticism. Critique starts flying at the AAF in several different directions. From the bare boned app to the lack of TV coverage and marketing. Even a potentially non-related joke by Rod Woodson during a game telecast came off poorly, when he said no one is watching or listening.

This past week, reports came out that Businessman Robert Vanech is now suing the league, because of a claim that his idea of the AAF was stolen from him by Charlie Ebersol, and passed on to Bill Polian. To further cloud things, It’s revealed that the AAF was originally supposed to be XFL 2.0, with an offer of 50 million dollars to buy the XFL, being turned down by Vince McMahon. The idea that these two leagues exist because of the original XFL, has already been documented in previous articles on this site, like The Alliance Between Dick Ebersol and Vince McMahon. A league being sued for controlling interest is not a good thing, but you could argue that there must be value in the league if someone is trying to fight to gain control or profit from it.

Fighting is also what has been taking place on certain corners of the internet. The battle is among AAF loyalists and anyone who isn’t one of them. Despite the silliness of it all, it’s actually refreshing to see an upstart league have some passionate supporters who really want to see the AAF succeed. There is an appetite for spring pro-football. The ratings for the AAF started out as 3 million viewers on their lone network game, and have since settled in at about half a million viewers in prime-time on cable. In today’s television landscape, this is respectable. The public having an appetite for spring football is there, being able to retain it in the future will be key.

Changing the perception of the XFL

The league that is actually the XFL, has also been all over the news of late. They have been sneaking their way into the conversation, despite not having any games to play. The league still hasn’t announced its TV deal or team names/identities, but they are halfway home in hiring all eight of their GM/Head Coaches, with Marc Trestman set to be named as the league’s 4th GM/Head Coach of the XFL’s pro football team in Tampa.

The XFL has been a nuisance for some die-hard supporters of the AAF, and other sports fans and media members every time the league makes news or announces a new head coach. The response has mostly been something to the likes of, “Is that really still a thing?” You get the sense that some people just want the XFL to just go away. There’s still a great amount of ridicule and disbelief in its existence. An issue that I touched upon greatly in the article Changing the perception of the XFL.

It’s worth noting that even in the XFL’s press conferences, their coaches have commented on how strange it initially felt to actually consider joining the XFL. Bob Stoops made mention of dismissing the idea initially, and most recently Jim Zorn admitted that the idea of being in the XFL felt strange to him because of the league’s first run in 2001.

Eyebrows are being raised all over the place, and it has nothing to do with Duane Johnson’s “Rock” character. More eyebrows were raised when the XFL’s pay scale for premiere players was revealed this week of being 400 to 600 thousand per season. The significance of this news was matched by the recent knowledge of the XFL meeting with player agents at the NFL combine, to present a potential package to the players who do not get drafted onto NFL teams in late April.

One of the biggest drawbacks of being an upstart football league in the past, has always been the lack of attention and exposure that they receive. Any attention given has always been of the negative variety. Any non-NFL football league has started out with a decent amount of attention from the mainstream sports media, only to fade away into being relatively invisible on the sports landscape. The leagues end up being treated as if they don’t exist, and they only enter the conversation when there is turmoil or struggles that are fairly commonplace with any upstart business. The conversations are usually about everything but the actual games, or the players/coaches that are involved in them.

The famous poet Oscar Wilde once said, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Getting attention for these leagues is half the battle. Being a part of the conversation is important, but there will be a moment that will be the deciding factor, as to whether or not these leagues are really going to make it… when the conversations become about the players and the games themselves. As soon as sports fans and the media start talking about the chances of Seattle beating Dallas on the road to make the playoffs, or how Houston’s offensive line matches up with New York upfront. That’s when you will officially know that the leagues have officially made it and are a real part of the sports landscape.

Marc Trestman to Coach XFL Tampa Bay

Marc Trestman most recently served as Head Coach of the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.

Thomas Bassinger of the Tampa Bay Times has reported that Marc Trestman will be named as the Head Coach/General Manager of the Tampa Bay XFL franchise.

Trestman’s appointment will be made at a press conference which takes place at Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium at 11:00 AM ET on Tuesday 5 March 2019.  The XFL will be streaming the press conference live via Twitter and YouTube.

Trestman has had mixed success as a head coach in both the NFL and CFL, and most recently worked as the head coach of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. Earlier in his career he also served as the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes (CFL), and Chicago Bears (NFL).

His greatest glory came as a head coach in the Canadian Football League where he led the Alouettes to two consecutive Grey Cup championships and was named CFL Coach of the Year in 2009. Later in 2017, he also lead the Toronto Argonauts to a Grey Cup championship.

A Minnesota native, in college Trestman played as a quarterback for three seasons with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, and one season with Minnesota State University Moorhead.

XFL to announce Tampa Bay Head Coach and General Manager Tuesday

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, Florida. (Source)

The XFL will announce their first Head Coach and General Manager of the Tampa Bay Franchise:

  • When: Tuesday, March 5th at 11:00 AM ET
  • Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, Florida
  • Who:
    • Oliver Luck, XFL Commissioner and CEO,
    • Ken Hagan, Hillsboro County Commissioner,
    • Tony Muniz, Chairman, Board of Directors, Tampa Bay Sports Authority.

This will be the fourth Head Coach/General Manager announcement for the fledgling league. Previously, Head Coaches were announced for Dallas (Bob Stoops), Washington D.C. (Pep Hamilton), and Seattle (Jim Zorn).

Prior to the past Head Coach announcements, there were strong rumors indicating the candidate. In this case, there are no strong rumors as to who the candidate may be.

#XFL #SurpriseUs

Many hurdles before Johnny Football plays in the XFL

Johnny Manziel 2014 Browns training camp (Source)

The Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League released quarterback Johnny Manziel on Wednesday, saying he “contravened the agreement which made him eligible to play.” This dramatic step may also spell out how Johnny Manziel may have many hurdles before he would be signed by the AAF or XFL.

For the Canadian Football League, the Johnny Manziel experiment is over. In Canadian style, the CFL made an effort to give Manziel an additional chance to overcome his personal shortcomings by signing him to an agreement that stipulated certain conditions. Also, in typical Canadian style, those conditions remained private and were never publicly spelled out.

On the day Manziel was released, CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie was quick to point out, “We didn’t release the terms of those conditions then, and we’re not going to do that now.”

Montreal Alouettes General Manager Kavis Reed further remarked on Manziel’s conditions of employment with “3DownNation” :

“Q: Did Manziel want to be released to pursue playing opportunities in the United States?

Reed: Johnny Manziel never gave any indication of that, during that whole process that wasn’t a part of it. Mr. Manziel violated a condition of the agreement with the league. Mr. Manziel was given opportunities to be able to rectify the situation and chose not to. This was not a part of the understanding, the league and our team put a lot of infrastructure in place for Mr. Manziel to be successful and it did not work out.”

We know Manziel was not released because he wanted to play in the AAF or XFL. However, in a tweet Manziel thanked his CFL team and fans, and then claimed he is now exploring new options in the United States.

Recently, on Barstool Sports’ Comeback SZN podcast, Manziel remarked he liked the idea of playing in the AAF or XFL. “It’s great for football, it’s great for the guys who need more opportunity, need more film and time to play,” Manziel said. “I don’t know exactly what my exact steps will be for the next years coming up, but at least there’s a lot of options.”

Will the future hold that Manziel will appear in either the AAF or XFL?

Manziel’s history is his biggest shortcoming, as he has dealt with several off-field issues. In 2016, a domestic assault charge against Manziel in Dallas was dismissed after he took an anger management course and participated in the NFL’s substance abuse program. More recently, Manziel revealed he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, something he has been determined to overcome.

Football-wise, Manziel is a star. Given the nickname ”Johnny Football” he was awarded the prestigious Heisman Trophy as a freshman quarterback with the Texas A&M Aggies. Later, he was taken in the first round, No. 22 overall, in the 2014 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. However, the Browns released Manziel in March 2016 after he posted a 2-6 record as their starter and suffered from several off-field controversies.

Manziel’s potential star quality aside, surely either the AAF or XFL would have to consider Manziel in the same way the CFL did, hiring him under similar strict conditions.

Keep in mind the XFL has already emphatically stated they will not hire players who have legal issues. However, XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck has recently stated the details of this hiring policy are still under review.  Manziel’s history may test this policy, adding another potential hurdle in Johnny Football’s quest to play professional football.

Plenty of positivity for Jim Zorn as he is welcomed into the XFL

XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck welcomes Jim Zorn into the XFL.

Monday saw XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck welcome former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn into the XFL as Head Coach and General Manager of the Seattle franchise, which spawned a torrent of positive messages to be sent in Zorn’s direction.

First from Oliver Luck himself:

Then from ESPN analyst Matt Haselback, a former Quarterback who was coached by Zorn.

Former Seahawks player Walter Jones weighed in,

As did Romeo Crennel from the Kansas City Chiefs,

and, John Harbaugh, Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens.

Lawsuit reveals Ebersol’s initial intention to go with XFL

McMahon may been thinking about resurrecting the XFL all along.

Earlier today, Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell tweeted about a lawsuit filed by investor Robert Vanech against the Alliance of American Football and Charlie Ebersol. He also revealed how Ebersol’s original plan was to restart the XFL by purchasing the league for $50 million from Vince McMahon.

  • Lawsuit details here.

Many observers have made the conclusion this gives evidence McMahon had an offer on the table to sell the remnants of the XFL for a substantial amount, and reacted by quickly turning around and reforming the league himself.  On the other hand, some think McMahon already had plans to resurrect the XFL.

There is ample evidence McMahon desired to revive the XFL all along, especially if you consider remarks he made in the 2016 Charlie Ebersol produced “This Was The XFL” special, an ESPN Films production in their “30 for 30” series.

When Dick Ebersol asked McMahon whether he had any thoughts about trying to restart the football league, Vince answered thoughtfully and quickly, “Yes, and no. I don’t know what it would be, whether it would be another XFL or how different I would make it but somehow it would tie-in with the NFL itself and the owners.” Afterward, the two men discussed the possibility of going back into a partnership, with Vince making the final comment that he was sure, “they could find a way.”

Afterward, in 2017, fans noticed how McMahon began to trademark new football related names, giving additional hints he hadn’t given up on his dream to create his own football league.

As revealed in the lawsuit, when Charlie Ebersol showed considerable interest in the XFL, it did seem to trigger McMahon to restart his pet project.  This left Ebersol to start his own league and attempt to do it quicker and better than the XFL.

We await the verdicts, both in the pending lawsuit, and the seemingly increasing friction between the XFL and AAF.

Oliver Luck announces the hiring of Jim Zorn as the head coach and general manager of XFL Seattle

Jim Zorn introduced as the head coach and general manager of the XFL team in Seattle.

Replay press conference on YouTube:

At the press conference, XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck lauded Zorn. “I watched Jim Zorn play for the Seahawks, an expansion franchise, and I was totally captivated with his style of play. He was innovative. He was creative. He did all those things as a player that we want to do as a league.”

“He’s a great individual, and a man of high caliber,” Luck added.

Zorn is best known as the starting quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks for their first eight seasons. Afterward, he was the quarterbacks coach for the Seahawks before being hired by the Washington Redskins to be their head coach starting in the 2008 season. After leaving Washington, Zorn was hired as quarterbacks coach of the Baltimore Ravens, and later as the quarterbacks’ coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Jim Zorn Named XFL Head Coach in Seattle

SEATTLE, WASH., February 25, 2019 – The XFL today announced that former NFL quarterback and head coach Jim Zorn has been named the head coach and general manager of the new XFL team in Seattle.

“It’s an exciting day when Jim Zorn returns to his professional football roots,” said Oliver Luck, XFL Commissioner & CEO. “Jim comes to the XFL with terrific credentials as an NFL player and coach and a reputation for innovation. As the Seahawks first quarterback, he’s well-known in the Pacific Northwest and he appreciates our vision to reimagine the game.”

“I’m thrilled to be heading back to the sidelines, and I thank Vince McMahon and Oliver Luck for this opportunity,” said Zorn. “It’s not often that on the professional level a head coach also gets to choose his players, so this situation is truly unique. I’m looking forward to working with my coaches and staff to field a competitive, top-flight team for the amazing and loud football fans of the Pacific Northwest.”

Zorn joins Bob Stoops (Dallas) and Pep Hamilton (Washington, D.C.) as XFL head coaches named to date.

Zorn spent 11 years as a quarterback in the NFL, having the distinction of being the expansion Seattle Seahawks’ first signal caller in 1976 and remaining with the team through the 1984 season. He also played for the Green Bay Packers (1985), the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers (1986) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1987). A rare left-handed passer, Zorn threw for more than 21,000 yards during his NFL career with 111 touchdowns and rushed for 1,504 yards scoring 17 touchdowns. He played college football as a quarterback at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, (Cal Poly Pomona) from 1973 to 1974.

Once he left the field, Zorn began a successful college coaching career in 1989 as an offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach at Boise State University. In 1992, he became offensive coordinator at Utah State University for three seasons before moving on to the University of Minnesota as quarterbacks coach from 1995 to 1996.

Zorn became an NFL coach in 1997. He served two stints with the Seahawks, first as an offensive assistant (1997) and then as quarterbacks coach (2001-2007). He also worked as quarterbacks coach for the Detroit Lions (1998-2000), Baltimore Ravens (2010), and Kansas City Chiefs (2011-2012). Quarterbacks benefitting from his expertise include Charlie Batch, Matt Hasselbeck, and Joe Flacco. Zorn was the head coach of the Washington Redskins in 2008 and 2009. He is a member of the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor and recently served as a head coach for the 2019 Polynesian Bowl in Hawaii, an all-star game that annually showcases the nation’s top 100 high school players.

About The XFL The XFL will reimagine football for the 21st century when it kicks off the weekend of February 8-9, 2020. The new league is committed to delivering a fan-centric, innovative experience, including fast-paced games and a family-friendly environment, complemented by cross-platform viewing options and real-time fan engagement.

Football is America’s favorite sport boasting over 85 million fans, but the traditional season is just too short. Seeing a tremendous opportunity to fill the void, Vince McMahon, XFL Founder and Chairman announced on January 25, 2018, the launch of a new league, which he is personally funding. McMahon is building the XFL with the same commitment and resolve that he has demonstrated building WWE into a global media and sports entertainment powerhouse.

Delivering authentic, high energy football for the whole family at an affordable price, the XFL will offer fast-paced games with fewer play stoppages and simpler rules. The league will launch with eight teams, 45-man active rosters, and a 10-week regular season schedule, with a postseason consisting of two semifinal playoff games and a championship game. The XFL will also establish a health, wellness and safety program that meets the needs of today’s athletes.

The XFL will embrace the latest on and off-field technology, providing live game coverage, content and real-time engagement across multiple platforms, giving fans greater access than ever before. The XFL is committed to building grassroots relationships with local organizations in its host cities through social responsibility partnerships, and the XFL will enjoy the support of WWE’s many extraordinary resources and promotional capabilities.

The XFL will launch next year in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington D.C.

Seattle takes an important step toward spring football

Jim Zorn’s name and position on the Seattle Seahawks Ring of Honor. (Source)

If there is a place where spring football may thrive, it’s Seattle. After all, February weather in Seattle can be downright “spring like,” an important consideration for the potential quality of both the game and the fan experience.

Seattle has the weather, the fans, and a fabulous stadium, and on Monday the Emerald City will be given the name of the first Head Coach and General Manager of Seattle’s XFL franchise.

  • Event: Monday February 25th at 1:00PM Pacific Time. CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA

The biggest name rumored to be débuted as Head Coach of XFL Seattle is Jim Zorn.  Zorn will be forever connected to Seattle as he was the first starting quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, a position he filled from 1976 to 1984. If Zorn is the one who is named on Monday, be sure they will talk about his career in Seattle and his name and position on the Seattle Seahawks Ring of Honor.

Zorn’s past coaching career includes a less than successful stint with the Washington Redskins, but don’t think that will dissuade Seattle football fans from embracing him. When it comes to football, Zorn will be a welcome sight for Seattleites when he is seen on the sidelines at CenturyLink Field.

Ever since the venerable Kingdome was imploded in March 2000, Seattle’s new gem has been CenturyLink Field. Home to the Seattle Seahawks it will now host Seattle’s XFL team. CenturyLink is an open-air stadium with a capacity of 68,000 under its overhangs that cover about seventy percent of the seating area. It’s perfect for football.  Will the XFL crowd fill the seats? Doubtful, especially in the first season. However, 25,000 fans in the lower bowl would be more than respectful.

CenturyLink Field is notorious for its crowd noise. It twice held the Guinness World Record for loudest crowd roar at an outdoor stadium, first at 136.6 decibels in 2013, followed by a measurement of 137.6 decibels in 2014. It will be interesting to see how an XFL fan crowd will attempt to match these levels.

Monday is an important step to bring spring football to Seattle next February. Soon, Seattle’s team name, logo and colors should be ready to be revealed. Another important step in the process, especially for fans to begin to rally around their new team.

XFL Seattle Head Coach Announcement Monday

Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, future home to Seattle’s XFL franchise.

The XFL has announced it will reveal the Seattle franchise’s Head Coach on Monday 25 February 2019.

  • Event: Monday February 25th at 1:00PM Pacific Time. CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA

This announcement will come only four days after XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck announced Pep Hamilton as Head Coach/General Manager of the XFL Washington franchise.

Earlier this week, on St. Louis radio, Luck mentioned the upcoming XFL announcements. “We’ve got a cadence going of about one Head Coach announcement per week and we will get all our markets done by the end in March,” Luck explained.

A week ago, SiriusXM NFL Radio host Alex Marvez tweeted the rumor that former Quarterback and and NFL coach Jim Zorn was rumored to join the XFL as a coach.

It is felt Zorn would be a likely candidate for the XFL Seattle Head Coach/GM position, since he has sports ties to that city and currently resides in the local area.

Zorn is best known as the starting quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks for their first eight seasons. Afterward, he was the quarterbacks coach for the Seahawks before being hired by the Washington Redskins to be their head coach starting in the 2008 season. After leaving Washington, Zorn was hired as quarterbacks coach of the Baltimore Ravens, and later as the quarterbacks’ coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.