The Atlanta Legends: How Not to Build a Franchise

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AAF Atlanta Legends
ORLANDO, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 09: Matt Simms #4 of Atlanta Legends is sacked by Josh Banks Sr. #92 of Orlando Apollos during the second quarter on February 09, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/AAF/Getty Images)

Starting a new football league like the AAF and competing with the titan that is the NFL isn’t easy. Several leagues have come and gone, with none being able to provide continuous entertainment to a wide variety of viewers. Building a franchise requires careful, precise selection of every individual member of the organization. Unfortunately, the Atlanta Legends have made every possible incorrect decision thus far in their young tenure. There’s obviously time to turn it around, but the Legends are a clear guide in how not to build a franchise.

AAF: The Atlanta Legends Are Building a Franchise the Wrong Way

Poor Coaching Decisions

It’s safe to say that the Atlanta Legends made the wrong coaching choices. Initially, the team hired longtime NFL veteran Brad Childress as head coach and Michael Vick as offensive coordinator. Vick was an interesting hire, as the former NFL quarterback had minimal coaching experience. Vick never served as a positional coach, much less an offensive coordinator. Giving him this big role was a strange move to say the least. The understanding was that Vick would serve as a coordinator in name only as the offensive-minded Childress would come up with most of the gameplanning.

However, this plan imploded one month before the season. Brad Childress resigned from his post in January, and the Legends hired defensive-minded Kevin Coyle to take the reigns. Vick, now working with minimal help, simply wasn’t able to coordinate the offense on his own. Coyle took over playcalling duties in the days leading up to the opener as Vick ended up leaving the position to work in an administrative role.

Naturally, losing your offensive-minded head coach and your offensive coordinator is a bad way to start your season. To overcome this, you need one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. In theory, the Legends had a chance to get one of the league’s best quarterbacks with the second overall pick in the quarterback draft.

Missing on the Quarterback

The Legends entered training camp with local collegiate hero Aaron Murray under center. Murray didn’t have much success in the NFL but made a name for himself with the Georgia Bulldogs. Murray had one of the better collegiate tenures in Georgia history, setting the franchise record in passing yards and the SEC record in touchdown passes. In theory, Murray could have been one of the better AAF quarterbacks while also giving the Georgia crowd a good reason to tune in.

Instead, Murray couldn’t even beat out Matt Simms for the starting job. Simms, taken in the second round of the quarterback draft, overcame the odds to earn the Week One gig under center. A career journeyman, Simms showed a surprising lack of vision and composure on the field. His offensive line was doing him no favors, but Simms finished his night with a ghastly 53.7% completion percentage, 126 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions.

Murray finally made his way onto the field in the fourth quarter. Given a chance to secure his spot as the starter, Murray faltered. The one-time Georgia star completed four of his six pass attempts for 38 yards, no touchdowns, and an ugly interception. As of now, nobody knows whether Simms or Murray will start in Week Two. However, neither quarterback inspired confidence at any point during Atlanta’s 40-6 blowout. Without proper offensive coaching to mask these quarterbacks’ clear deficiencies, it’s hard to imagine Atlanta’s offense ever looking close to competent.

Starting in the Wrong Location

Selecting Atlanta as a startup location was a surprise from the start. This isn’t a knock against Georgia, as the state is one of the most football-crazy places in the nation. Rather, it’s questioning why a new franchise would start up in the home of an existing NFL franchise. The Atlanta Falcons and the Legends don’t play the same schedule, but putting two professional football teams in the same city is a risky move. No other AAF team attempted this, as they didn’t feel the need to compete with an existing market.

In order to increase fan interest, the Legends signed local heroes to try to bring fans to their seats. Instead of looking for an experienced offensive coordinator to help these young quarterbacks, they went with fan-favorite Michael Vick. Instead of looking for an upgrade in the “Protect or Pick” portion of the quarterback draft, they stuck with local hero Aaron Murray.

Had these moves worked out, Atlanta might be the most popular team in the AAF. However, these moves fell flat on their face, leaving Atlanta residences with a bad product to watch and nothing to cheer for. Former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is nowhere to be seen, and former Georgia Bulldog Aaron Murray looked overmatched on the field.

Making the “popular” moves is a good way to build up off-season hype, but it’s a short-sighted solution. Ultimately, fans will tune in if ownership can make a competitive winner. Right now, the Legends aren’t remotely competitive and look like the worst team in the league. It doesn’t matter who’s under center, you cannot develop a strong fan base if the on-field product is outclassed on a week-by-week basis.

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