Mark Craig: Upstart UFL sees opening if NFL lockout continues

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 22, 2011 - 10:29 PM

The United Football League hasn't generated much interest in its first two years, but that could change if the NFL doesn't return on time.

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Jerry Glanville's coaching career has landed him back in pro football, but with the United Football League.

Photo: Don Ryan, Associated Press

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Jerry Glanville isn't necessarily rooting against the NFL's billionaires and millionaires. However ...

"I know the longer this lockout goes," said Glanville, "the better it is for United Football League."

Once upon a time, Glanville was one of the most colorful coaches in NFL history. He dressed like Johnny Cash, swaggered like a gunslinger and left tickets at will-call for the late Elvis Presley, just in case, you know, the King ever made a comeback. Today, Glanville has been resurrected professionally as the 69-year-old coach and general manager of the Hartford Colonials.

"The UFL is awesome, baby," Glanville said. "And it's very, very close to capturing the national interest."

That will sound less crazy the longer NFL owners, players and lawyers squabble in front of federal judges over the league's $9 billion-a-year pie. If this mess isn't mopped up by Aug. 7, more eyes than ever imagined could be on the UFL as it kicks off its eight-game season.

Yes, it's a fledgling third-year league that reportedly lost $80 million in its first two seasons. Yes, there are only five teams. And, yes, there's no national television deal in place.

But an ongoing NFL lockout could be quite the boost for the UFL's ability to attract better talent. And better talent plus no NFL games could result in a national TV contract and UFL games being played on Sundays.

The NFL will draft 255 players next week. However, per lockout rules, teams will not be able to sign or contact undrafted players.

"What's left over is 400 players who ordinarily would have gone to the NFL," Glanville said. "Eleven percent of NFL starters are undrafted free agents. And I can't tell you how long I've studied that 11 percent. We're going to jump all over those kids."

NFL teams build roster depth with rookie free agents. Many times, they strike gold, too. Texans running back Arian Foster, the NFL's leading rusher last year, was a rookie free agent in 2009. Steelers linebacker James Harrison, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, was a rookie free agent in 2002. John Randle made it from rookie free agent with the Vikings in 1990 to Pro Football Hall of Famer in 2010.

"The UFL is exactly what some of these guys need," Glanville said. "They need to be seen on film and get some good coaching this year."

The UFL has four former NFL head coaches. Besides Glanville, who coached the Houston Oilers (1986-89) and Atlanta Falcons (1990-93), there's former Vikings coach Dennis Green in Sacramento, Jim Fassel in Las Vegas and Marty Schottenheimer in his first season with the Virginia Destroyers.

Last year, most UFL players made about $50,000, with quarterbacks making six figures. Former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who was reunited with Green in Sacramento, reportedly made more than $200,000 as one of the league's marquee names.

Each UFL team was allowed to secure the rights to 10 street free agents last week. Former University of Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, a sixth-round pick of the Redskins in 2008, was among the players Glanville picked.

Brennan hasn't decided whether to wait for another NFL opportunity or jump to the UFL. It's a decision many borderline NFL players are facing. Even if U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson grants an injunction next week, the lockout would remain in place while the NFL completes the appeals process.

"These players have got to be careful how long they wait on the NFL," Glanville said. "If this thing is like the strikes in the past, they'll end this thing and then they'll start playing 10 days later. If you're a guy they don't have any money invested in, an NFL team isn't going to have time to evaluate you."

The UFL's 10-round draft will be held May 2. Training camps open July 11.

"I know New England fans who say if the Patriots aren't playing, they're driving down to our games," Glanville said. "What they'll find out when they get here is we're not some gimmick league. This is good football. There are 60 former UFL players in the NFL right now. Hartford has lost 18 players and six coaches to the NFL. Even Alabama and Auburn can't match that."

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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