One day after the announcement that San Antonio would become home to a professional football team, league executives announced the incoming team’s coaching and management staff.
Officials with the Alliance of American Football on Thursday named Daryl Johnston, former Dallas Cowboys fullback and NFL analyst, as general manager. Mike Riley, who worked as Oregon State University’s assistant head coach before joining the league, will serve as head coach for the San Antonio team.
“I’m really excited to see the city of San Antonio and the relationship that we’re going to create,” Johnston said. “We know how much the game of football means here in the state of Texas and the city of San Antonio.”
This is Riley’s second stint coaching football in San Antonio. In the early 1990s, he led the San Antonio Riders, a World League of American Football team that played at Alamo Stadium and Bobcat Stadium in San Marcos.
“We had great fans while we were here,” Riley said.
The AAF was unveiled in March as a complement to the NFL with its season kicking off in early February 2019 six days after the Super Bowl and finishing in April with a championship around the time of the NFL draft. It aims to put a quality product on the field made up of former college players and pros trying to make it back to the NFL and coached by names fans will recognize.
The local team’s home turf will be laid out at the Alamodome.
San Antonio was the eighth and final city to be unveiled as a charter member of the new league joining Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; Memphis, Tennessee; Orlando, Florida; Phoenix; Salt Lake City; and San Diego.
The AAF has significant NFL experience in its leadership and coaching. Numerous former NFL players as investors, advisers, and employees are helping to get it up and running.
Coaches such as Steve Spurrier in Orlando, Mike Singletary in Memphis, Rick Neuheisel in Phoenix, and Mike Martz in San Diego give the league credibility. Add to that a television contract with CBS, and the league already appears to be on more stable footing than other professional football league startups of the past.
“Spring football forever has been thought of as a money grab,” league co-founder and CEO Charlie Ebersol said during a Facebook Live event after announcing the league in March. “It has been thought of as somebody just going in and building a business very quickly and making money right out of the gate because people love football.
“But what we tried to build here was something bigger. We tried to put together a team, an alliance of people that were committed to what we could do if we actually started from scratch with a professional sports league.”
The AAF is funded by private investors but there are no individual owners for each team. It is what the league’s name suggests – an alliance aimed at building a strong product in each city.
CBS Sports Net will be the primary television source, but the inaugural game and the first championship game will air on CBS. The league also has an app in the works that will allow fans to watch games live and continue their love of fantasy football beyond the NFL season.
Though it has no direct affiliation with the NFL, it could be a minor league of sorts for the most popular professional sports league in the United States. It is that popularity that co-founders Ebersol and Bill Polian, a Pro Football Hall of Fame executive, are counting on to help the league succeed.
After talking with San Antonio officials, including Mayor Ron Nirenberg, the league and the City came to an agreement in which the team will play its home games at the Alamodome, which recently underwent a $41 million renovation prior to hosting the NCAA men’s Final Four earlier this year.
“After talking to Charlie Ebersol, I knew the Alliance of American Football was right for San Antonio, and that San Antonio was right for the Alliance,” Nirenberg said. “The Alliance is offering serious football for serious football fans. I like their approach, and this league brings the experience and commitment to the sport needed to make spring football an institution.”
The City also was considering another option for spring football which was believed to be the second coming of the XFL, the league co-owned by Vince McMahon and former NBC excutive Dick Ebersol, Charlie’s father.
Teams will draw players from colleges and NFL teams in their region to further build familiarity for fans. So San Antonio is likely to have players on its roster from the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor University, Texas Tech, University of Houston, University of Texas at San Antonio, and other schools in the region.
The AAF founders have been working for more than a year to identify the cities in which they wanted to place the first eight teams. They also have been laying the groundwork for the league in talking with potential coaches, general managers, and considering ways in which they might want to make their brand of football different from the NFL.
Some of those differences will include no kickoffs, no extra points, no television timeouts, and a 30-second play clock instead of the 40-second clock in the NFL. The differences are rooted in player safety and shortening the length of games.
San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the nation, has had numerous versions of professional football in the past, including hosting the New Orleans Saints during most of the 2005 season when Hurricane Katrina devastated that city.
The most recent flirtation between the city and the NFL came in 2015 and 2016 when Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis considered moving his team here only to eventually choose Las Vegas instead.
The city also once cheered for the Gunslingers of the United States Football League in the mid-1980s and the San Antonio Talons of the Arena Football League earlier this decade. Both of those teams were disbanded when private ownership ran into financial problems.
Jeffrey Sullivan and Hanna Oberhofer contributed to this report. This story was originally published on June 20, 2018.