Mr. CFB/Tony Barnhart: The HBC excited to get another chance in the AAF

Steve Spurrier is one of only four men in the College Football Hall of Fame as a player and a coach.JOSHUA S. KELLY/USATODAY

At 73, Steve Spurrier returns as the head coach of the Orlando Apollos of the new Alliance of American Football

On April 20, Steve Spurrier will turn 74 years old.

As a football player, he won the Heisman Trophy in 1966.

As a football coach Spurrier has won 228 games, seven conference championships (1 ACC, 6 SEC), and one national championship (1996, Florida).

He is one of only four men in history to be named to the College Football Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.

But the voice on the other end of the phone Tuesday morning was not that of a grizzled veteran who’s not easily impressed. It was the excited voice of a man who will soon be back in the element he loves.

Fish gotta swim.

Birds gotta fly.

And Spurrier, the man still known as “The Head Ball Coach,” has gotta coach.

Spurrier will be wearing his trademark visor on Saturday when his Orlando Apollos host the Atlanta Legends (8 p.m., CBS) in the inaugural game of the new Alliance of American Football (AAF).

“He is so excited,” said Jerri Spurrier his wife of 52 years. “This is what he loves to do.”

“This is about having fun and enjoying your life,” who was Florida’s coach for 12 years (1990-2001) and South Carolina’s coach for 11 years (2005-2015). “That’s what we’re going to do.”

“He has missed it. I have missed it,” said Jerri Spurrier.

The AAF was created to keep fans from going through immediate football withdrawal after the Super Bowl. There are eight teams split into two divisions (Eastern and Western). Each team plays a 10-game schedule. There will be a four-team playoff on April 20-21 and the championship game will be on April 27 in Las Vegas. Salaries are capped at $250,000 for a three-year (non-guaranteed) contract which includes health benefits and an educational stipend for life after football.

Spurrier, who stepped away from coaching mid-way through the 2015 season at South Carolina, said the AAF came along at the perfect time in his life. It’s basically a four-month job with no recruiting. Each team has a general manager in charge of player acquisition. Teams get the right of first refusal for players from colleges in their state.

“It’s going to be a lot more fun than sitting up in the press box and watching,” said Spurrier who, for the past two years has been an “ambassador” for the athletic department at Florida. “I think we’ve got a pretty decent team and if we play well some of these guys might get another shot to make an NFL roster.”

And that’s the hook. Unlike previous leagues that have tried and failed, the AAF is not meant to compete with the NFL. It’s a developmental league for former college players who may have come up just short of making a roster or those who are trying to get back in the league after getting cut.

“These guys are hungry,” said former Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, who is the defensive coordinator for the San Antonio franchise. “They want to get better.”

“Hopefully we’ll have good weather and we’ll draw about 20-25,000,” said Spurrier. “I think people will like this brand of football. It’s going to be exciting.”

The rules employed by the AAF were designed to make the game safer, faster, and more fun. Here is a quick summary:

**--No kickoffs. The team on offense will be given ball on its own 25-yard line.

**--No on-sides kicks. A team wishing to maintain possession after a score must be down by 17 points or inside the final five minutes to exercise this option. The ball will be given to that team at its own 28-yard line and will face a fourth down and 12. If the offense converts it maintains possession. If it doesn’t the opponent gets possession.

**--The play clock will be reduced from 40 seconds to 35 seconds.

**--No extra points. Teams must go for two-point conversion after every touchdown.

**--Limited overtime: It will consist of each team getting the ball once on its 10-yard line. Teams on offense must score touchdown and attempt two-point conversion. If the game is not decided after one overtime it is declared a tie.

**--With no TV timeouts, the goal is to have all games last 2 hours and 30 minutes or less.

Spurrier is not the only veteran coach who has decided the AAF is a good place to stay involved in the game while avoiding the 12-month grind of college football or the NFL:

**--Rick Neuheisel, who was the head coach at UCLA, Colorado, and Washington before embarking on a media career, is the head coach of the Arizona Hotshots.

**--Dennis Erickson, who was a head coach at Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, Miami, Arizona State, Oregon State, and the San Francisco 49ers, is the head coach of the Salt Lake Stallions.

**--Grobe, who won an ACC championship at Wake Forest (2006) and was the head coach at Baylor for one year (2017), called San Antonio head coach Mike Riley to recommend one of his former assistants. That’s when Riley said: “How would you like to come help me out on defense? Would you like to have fun again?”

Grobe first had to convince his wife, Holly, to leave their comfortable existence at Lake Oconee (about 90 minutes east of Atlanta) and move to San Antonio for four months.

“The good news is that we had fallen in love with Texas when we were at Baylor,” he said. “Finally, she said, ‘let’s go.’”

**--Mike Singletary, a Hall of Fame player with the Bears and former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, is the head coach of the Memphis Express.

Spurrier’s staff looks like he put the band back together from Florida with guys like DC Bob Sanders, linebackers coach Jim Collins, running backs coach David Reaves, son Scottie Spurrier, and OL coach Jimmy Ray Stephens.

He also hired two of his former Florida players, Lito Sheppard and Willie Jackson.

“I wanted to do that because I would probably have had no coaching career at all if Doug Dickey (Florida) and Pepper Rodgers (Georgia Tech) had not given me a chance,” said Spurrier.

Nobody knows if this will work. But the AAF was founded by a proven TV mind (Charlie Ebersol) and a Hall of Fame general manager (Bill Polian). Proven NFL people like Phil Savage (GM at Arizona) are scattered throughout the AAF. They have five television partners (Turner Sports, CBS Sports, CBS Sports Network, The NFL Network, and B/R Live, Turner’s streaming service) so every game can be seen somewhere. The big network, CBS, will show the first two games Saturday night.

Hey, the fantasy football guys need something to do after the Super Bowl. This could be it.



Atlanta at Orlando, 8 p.m., CBS

San Diego at San Antonio, 8 p.m., CBS


Memphis at Birmingham, 4 p.m., The CBS Sports Network

Salt Lake at Arizona, 8 p.m., The NFL Network