Vigilantes wrap up difficult season
Interim coach wonders if arena league can survive with current pay structure
PLANO, Texas -- With one game left this season and Clint Dolezel announced as the future of the franchise, this year's Dallas Vigilantes are thinking about the offseason ahead and the uncertainties that come with life in the AFL.
Interim coach James Fuller said Saturday's 7:05 p.m. CT game at Bossier-Shreveport (3-12) will likely be his last game for some time as an arena league coach.
"The way [the AFL] is now is a lot different from when I originally got in it," Fuller said. "[What I do next year] really depends. I haven't been contacted by anybody, but I have some college [coaching] options."
He said he and the Vigilantes have "worn their relationship out."
Dallas (2-13) is 1-8 since Fuller took over as head coach in late May. The team announced last weekend former Dallas Desperados quarterback Dolezel would be the coach of the team next season.
Fuller said it was hard to coach players whom he feels are underpaid, and until that is rectified he doesn't have high hopes for the league. In fact, Fuller said, the AFL will need to make some considerable changes before next season if it hopes to survive.
"The difference from before is they [used to be able to] make a living with the six months that they were playing, and still go back and teach and do construction and all that in the offseason," Fuller said. "But now, you can't afford to do it."
The AFL suspended operations indefinitely in 2008 before a new league with many of the same team names formed in 2009. The league allows each team to designate three players who are paid $1,000 a week, while all other players receive $400 a week before taxes.
Fuller said the Vigilantes tried to do small things to help the players' meager salaries go further, such as sharing rides to practice and giving the players meals and movie coupons. He did not expect the league to set up a salary cap system, but has said the AFL is considering paying players more.
However, Vigilantes receiver Kenny Henderson said unless the league can pay players more, it could find most of its veterans looking for other options. Fuller said players are starting to pass out cards to form a players union, but he worried that such a move would kill the AFL.
"If the league wants some of the marquee names back, they're going to have to [pay more]," Henderson said.
Players complained Wednesday about a lack of communication from the league office, even on something as simple as the first day of free agency. The date is extremely important this year, as all players were on single-season contracts and every player will be a free agent.
"Usually a lot of guys would've made enough money to be able to have a true offseason," Henderson said. "Now guys are going back to regular life, hopefully waiting on a call from the CFL or UFL, or else just going back to their 9-to-5."
Henderson is moving in the offseason to be closer to family in Atlanta, where he hopes the league adds a team. He has been the most productive member of the Vigilantes, totaling 3,035 all-purpose yards through 15 games this season.
Fuller and Henderson both made it clear they weren't condemning the AFL, but each wanted to see the league they've devoted so much time to prosper.
"I love the league," Fuller said. "I think the league is fun. The guys have fun, they love to travel, they love to see and play against their buddies. I just would like to see a little more compensation for the players, and I'd like to see a union for the coaches."
Josh Davis is an ESPNDallas.com intern and a writer for TCU's student newspaper, the Daily Skiff.