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Ex-NFL head coach Jeff Fisher becomes interim commissioner of Arena Football League

In Sports
May 15, 2024
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - OCTOBER 29: Former Head Coach Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans before the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Nissan Stadium on October 29, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans defeated the Falcons 28-23. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

The new Arena Football League is turning to Jeff Fisher as it faces significant headwinds. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Needing a replacement commissioner amid a tumultuous debut, the new Arena Football League did something you often see from spring football leagues: pursue faded NFL talent.

In this case, Jeff Fisher.

The former Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans head coach confirmed to reporters Tuesday that he is taking over as interim commissioner of the recently rebuilt AFL, according to WSMV’s Lauren Walsh. Fisher will replace current commissioner Lee Hutton III, reportedly at the behest of a group of the league’s owners.

Fisher has been involved in spring football for years, first as head coach of the USFL’s Michigan Panthers and recently as a member of the Nashville Kats ownership group in the AFL.

“This league is good. We’re looking forward to continuing and finishing the season,” Fisher said, via WSMV.

While Fisher projects optimism, the nature of his midseason, owner-engineered hire reflects the AFL’s dire situation in its third life. The second incarnation of the AFL ended when it went bankrupt in 2019, with new investors relaunching the league with 16 teams for this season.

That number of teams is now down to 12, after three weeks of play. The Minnesota Myth, Philadelphia Soul, Iowa Rampage and Georgia Force have all folded, with the Myth and Soul calling it quits last week. The exits have not been graceful, judging from this story from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Tristen Burnett, a certified sports agent based in Fredericksburg, Va., who represents Joe Mancuso, the Soul’s scheduled starting quarterback, said in a phone interview Friday that his client had a demoralizing experience at the Super 8. Burnett said the Soul players were kicked out of the motel and into the street early Friday morning, that the motel bill wasn’t paid, and that the players’ luggage was taken from them and locked in a motel room.

“Law enforcement got their stuff from Super 8,” Burnett said. “Joe is just down. He left a good situation in the IFL [Indoor Football League] with the Vegas Knight Hawks. He took a bet on himself in a new league. He had a nice apartment for his young son and wife in Henderson [Nev.], and he comes to this? The [Soul] players were promised apartments. There were drugs and prostitution coming in and out of this motel. It’s been a disgrace. Joe was like, ‘I haven’t gotten a W-2 yet to get paid.’ With no players association, nobody is going to stick up for these guys.”

The economics around spring football are harsh without help from the NFL, which the AFL was actually supposed to get by having its games televised on the NFL Network. Those plans fell through before the season, and we’re seeing the aftermath here.

It’s hard to see Fisher significantly changing the numbers at play here, but at this point the league might just want a stabilizing presence as it figures out how to bounce back for a second season, or prepare for another bankruptcy.

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