Steve Spurrier was on the practice field when he got the word that his new league was going belly-up.
“I told them there was no point in practicing then,” he said.
The Alliance of American Football folded Tuesday only eight games into its first season because of financial issues.
Spurrier’s Orlando Apollos team had the league’s best record at 7-1.
“I feel bad for the players, a bunch of guys only getting $70,000 a year and playing their hardest,” he said. “It was a second chance for me and for those players.
“I guess I’ll get back to the ambassadorship sooner than I thought.”
Spurrier took a leave of absence from his job as ambassador at UF to coach in the league and said he’d be back in Gainesville in a couple of days.
AAF co-founder Bill Polian said he’s been told that football operations have been suspended and that virtually everyone involved with the fledgling spring league will be terminated within 24 to 48 hours.
Polian declined to say where he got that information. He said Tuesday that he was waiting for official word from majority owner Tom Dundon, who also owns the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.
The former NFL executive, who built a Super Bowl winner with Indianapolis, said he was “extremely disappointed” with the apparent demise of the latest spring league.
“On the one hand it was kind of our wildest fantasies come true,” Polian told The Associated Press. “It all came true and now it’s all come crashing down.”
Asked why the league was shutting down, Polian said he’s heard “only that it’s about the money. That’s all.”
He said the only people who will be kept on will be equipment managers and others who will shut down operations.
Earlier Tuesday, two people with knowledge of the situation told the AP that the league is suspending operations eight games into its first season. The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because league officials were still working through details of the suspension. An announcement from the league is expected later Tuesday.
The San Diego Fleet canceled practiced about a half hour before it was scheduled to start.
The AAF seemed to have a better chance of surviving than other alternative leagues, such as the USFL and the World League, because of the people and philosophies involved.
Polian and co-founder Charlie Ebersol, a television and film producer, envisioned it as a development league for the NFL with several rules tweaks designed to speed up play and make it safer. There were no kickoffs or PATs. Teams had to go for a two-point conversion after touchdowns.
“We were headed to a tremendous run of success, beginning with Saturday’s game leading into the Final Four on CBS,” Polian told the AP. “Our league on the field has prospered and grown. The football’s gotten better, and that’s a tremendous tribute to the coaches and players and GMs and front office staff and all the other people who have done a phenomenal job.”
Polian later said in a statement that when Dundon took over, it was his and Ebersol’s belief “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.”
Memphis quarterback Johnny Manziel tweeted : “If you’re an AAF player and the league does dissolve. The last check you got will be the last one that you get. No lawsuit or anything else will get you your bread. Save your money and keep your head up. It’s the only choice at this point unless something drastic happens.”
Manziel said in another tweet: “Just the reality of this unfortunate situation.. great concept, good football on the field and fun for fans to watch. Just not enough money to go around which has been the main problem with “other” leagues for a long time.”
Among the league’s coaches were Spurrier, Dennis Erickson, Mike Martz and Mike Riley. The league included teams in Orlando, Atlanta, San Diego, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Birmingham and Memphis.
While it clearly wasn’t NFL-caliber football, it was entertaining and helped fill the post-Super Bowl void.
However, there were signs of trouble in a league put together in less than one year.
Dundon invested $250 million in the AAF shortly after play began. At the time, Ebersol said reports the Alliance was short on cash and needed a bailout from Dundon in order to make payroll were untrue. He said the league had a technical glitch in its payroll system that was fixed.
The AAF aspired to be a league for players with NFL hopes, but it could not reach agreement with the NFLPA to use players at the end of NFL rosters.
Staff writer Pat Dooley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.