SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — The news of the Alliance of American Football was a bigger shock to some of the San Antonio Commanders brass than it was to the fans.
Former San Antonio Commanders general manager Daryl Johnston told ESPN San Antonio’s Rob Thompson and Jason Minnix he first learned about the end of the league in the middle of a conference call with Bill Polian.
“We have a weekly conference call we do on Tuesdays with Bill Polian and some of the other executives with the Alliance, with all of the general managers… that’s when we got the word. It’s 12 noon central time… Tuesday, we are in the middle of practice during that conference call. I asked Bill Polian, ‘We’re in practice right now, coach. What do you want me to do?’
‘You’ve got to shut practice down just in case anybody gets hurt. We just don’t know who’s going to be responsible at that point.’
So I literally had to walk off the call and stop our practice and address our team. It was one of the more difficult things I’ve had to do to look in our players’ eyes and tell them that we were suspending business operations at this point in time and more than likely the season was over.”
Even when the rumors were swirling the week before about a possible shut down, Johnston did not think much of it.
“I thought some of that was just trying to strong-arm the NFL Players’ Association in a negotiation phone call,” Johnston told the sports talkers.
The former general manager said there were a few big reasons for him and the other big name people involved who thought there was nothing to be concerned with.
First, he and the coaches who were brought in were assured the league had two years of viability at the least. For many of them, like Orlando coach Steve Spurrier, that confidence was what got them on board.
Second, the top executives in the league were busy making plans for its second season.
“We had discussed plans for season two, areas that we could become more frugal business-wise, what the offseason calendar was going to look like,” Johnston explained. “I was under the impression if we were going to talk about season two, then we are definitely aiming for a season two.”
Third, the AAF had very productive conversations with the NFLPA in the days leading up to the shutdown.
Minnix noted he saw Johnston having a lively, possibly heated discussion with league co-founder Charlie Ebersol about something after what ended up being the Commanders’ last game in the Alamodome. When he asked Johnston in the interview what it was all about, the former general manager said they were planning out their conference call set for the next day with the players’ union and going over points they wanted to discuss.
Johnston said it ended up being the most productive meeting he has ever had with the NFLPA in his professional career. He told ESPN San Antonio he contacted Polian afterward and he was also excited about the future of the league with the union.
That excitement only lasted a day.
Was everyone working for the league lied to?
“That’s a strong word. More like misled,” answered Johnston.
He said he was disappointed with how things turned out because of the great people who had been involved in the venture and the league’s inability to make good on the faith people put into it.
One group he feels bad for: local vendors.
“I know there are multiple businesses in the San Antonio area that are still awaiting payments and will probably have to go into the legal process to get that resolved,” the former Cowboys player stated.
One of the biggest vendors looking for its money is North East Independent School District, which had told KTSA News it is evaluating its legal options.
If there is any good news, Johnston said San Antonio proved that it has the ability to support and sustain a professional football team and by far had the best fan base in the league. The Commanders averaged roughly 27,000 fans at its games in the shortened season. San Diego and Orlando, the two next-best, averaged just under 20,000 fans each.
Johnston said there was a push — and a consideration by the league — to move the championship game, again, from Frisco to the Alamodome.
Every good story has a villain
How could something so well laid out and seemingly legitimate fall flat on its face, well short of its intended initial launch period?
Thompson asked Johnston who the villain is that either brought down the league or misled all-star talent into falling for the ruse.
He was not sure yet, saying league financier Tom Dundon and his team will likely be seen as the villain for a while since they were the last group to operate the league.
However, Johnston said this is all also a business and if the business was not sustainable, the plug would have had to have been pulled at some point. He said they have to find out how and why the league got to the point it did — just over one year after the venture officially began.
Johnston said he spoke with Polian after the fact and said he was still trying to sort out why things went the way they did. It was a similar sentiment with Ebersol, but Johnston said he has not spoken with Dundon.
Why Johnny Football was not a San Antonio Commander
Minnix and Thompson asked Johnson about the decision to not bring in Johnny Manziel — who is now preferring to be called John Manziel.
“Oh, that was easy,” Johnston stated confidently.
First off, he said they had an amazing environment in place with their three quarterbacks who were all working with each other to help each other out. Adding Manziel would have meant one of them would have had to have been cut.
Johnston also said adding Manziel would have disrupted the mix in the locker room and didn’t show much maturity in his first game for Memphis.
Reminder: all of the quarterbacks were mic’d in the AAF and Johnston did not like what he was hearing in the quarterback’s appearance for the Express, which came after he decided to pass on the pigskin tosser.
Johnston said the team had no need to bring Manziel in for an in-person evaluation because “we had plenty of tape to look at.”
He also chuckled at the idea of the new, more mature “John Manziel,” alluding to the fact the new name does not reflect the new John.