After retiring from the University of Utah and walking away from football last year, Dennis Erickson moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, started playing golf and soon realized something about himself.
“I got tired of hooking it out of bounds and hitting it right all the time, so I thought I better get back in coaching and have a little bit of fun,” he said. “Golf gets old after a while.”
Erickson, who spent four seasons on the Utes’ coaching staff, will be back on the sideline at Rice-Eccles Stadium — this time as the head coach of Alliance Salt Lake, one of the eight teams in the start-up Alliance of American Football league.
The league has announced franchises in Memphis, Orlando, Atlanta and Phoenix and a television deal with CBS. The 10-week schedule is set to begin Feb. 9, 2019, the weekend after the Super Bowl, and officials hope to be a springtime complement to the NFL for years to come.
“I’ve had opportunities to coach in leagues like this, but this is, by far, the best and most organized,” Erickson said.
The league’s leadership includes former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and former Indianapolis Colts executive Bill Polian. J.K. McKay, head of the league’s football operations, declined to discuss specifics of the start-up’s financial backing during a news conference on Wednesday.
“I can tell you it’s impressive,” he said. “It’s people that are in it for the long haul. We’ve been very realistic in our budgetary projections in terms of how many tickets we think we can sell and how much the cost is going to be. Our investors are looking at this as a long-term investment.”
All of the league’s games will be broadcast on television or streamed online, and McKay hinted at possible in-game wagering in light of this week’s Supreme Court ruling allowing states to decide whether to allow sports betting.
League officials have yet to finalize the player pool or even how rosters will be assembled. McKay said, in some cases, players will be allocated based on their alma maters, meaning former Utes and BYU Cougars would suit up for Alliance Salt Lake. But not all schools will be allocated, and there will be some type of selection process to distribute the remaining players throughout the league.
Erickson said he was attracted by the league’s commitment to players, including a scholarship and jobs program.
“There are a lot of good players out there that don’t make it in the NFL who are very close to making it,” the coach said. “We’ll give them another chance.”
But Erickson was also intrigued by the opportunity to return to Utah.
“I’m really excited about being here in Salt Lake City,” he said. “The four years I worked here for [Utah coach Kyle Whittingham] were four great years for me. I know this league will be very successful here. Being out in that stadium and seeing those fans, there’s no better place than this football stadium.”