Thursday, June 11, 2009 | 9:20 p.m.
Beyond the Sun:
More details about the upstart United Football League are slowly coming into focus.
UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue formally introduced Jim Fassel as the coach of the Las Vegas franchise at a press conference inside Sam Boyd Stadium Thursday afternoon.
Prior to fielding questions from the media, the two presented Clark County School District Athletic Director Ray Mathis with a check for $25,000 to save the 10th "Hall of Fame" games that were eliminated for the upcoming season due to budget cuts.
Coaches and players from Palo Verde, Green Valley, Bonanza and Desert Pines were on hand to receive the check, too.
"This shows you what this league is going to be about," Fassel said. "… As busy as (Huyghue) is with an incredible amount of things to do, and to think about helping the high school programs that need the money. That's incredible. That's what this league is all about and that's why I'm so excited to be a part of it."
Fassel, who spent 15 years in the NFL, including a six-year stint as the head coach of the New York Giants, was actually tabbed to coach the UFL franchise in New York. But the Southern California native asked to lead the Las Vegas franchise instead.
Three other former NFL coaches will join Fassel in the six-game inaugural season including Dennis Green (Orlando), Jim Haslett (San Francisco) and Ted Cottrell (New York).
Fassel's staff in Las Vegas boasts a significant amount of NFL and college experience with wide receivers coach Michael Wilson, defensive back coach Isaac Carter, offensive line coach Donald Eck, defensive line coach Kevin Wolthausen, defensive assistant San Garnes and defensive coordinator/special teams coach Larry Mac Duff.
Former Drake University, Utah State and University of the Pacific head coach Charles Shelton takes over as Las Vegas' director of football operations and running backs coach.
"These are experienced guys," Fassel said. "They are not babe in the woods guys. These are experienced men who know what they are doing."
Although nearly everyone involved in the UFL does boast deep football backgrounds, that does not guarantee success in an NFL-dominated country.
That is why Huyghue has forged a partnership with the NFL that will allow UFL players to join NFL rosters after the completion of the UFL season in November. He has also divided the NFL by region to allow each UFL team equal access to NFL practice squad players or players cut in training camp.
The Las Vegas franchise will draw from the AFC and NFC North divisions.
The UFL also offers minimum salaries equivalent to an NFL practice squad salary, which is about $5,200 per week.
"I can promise you that in terms of the players that will be in this league, in many cases it will be indistinguishable from what you are used to seeing on Sunday," Huyghue said.
Attracting players does not seem to be a problem for the fledgling league.
Since forming the UFL, coaches have narrowed more than 1,100 prospective players to about 200 potential participants. On Saturday, Fassel will conduct an invitation-only workout for 53 UFL hopefuls at Sam Boyd Stadium.
When the final rosters are set, all players will live and train in Casa Grande, Ariz., and travel to their respective cities for games each week.
But drawing fans is perhaps more important than the players.
With ticket prices expected to average $20, Huyghue said he hopes to reach a 20,000-person attendance mark at Sam Boyd for the primarily Thursday night games. Las Vegas will also host the UFL championship on Nov. 27.
"We have budgeted to have 20,000 fans there, but I think people will come in bigger numbers than that," Huyghue said. "We wanted to be realistic in our planning and we know that these are tough economic times. But entertainment is something that even in tough economic times people want to hold on to … the Las Vegas XFL franchise was one of the attendance leaders, so I wouldn't be surprised by strong turnouts here."
Huyghue confirmed Thursday that the league has already selected team names and uniform designs. The UFL will announce them by the end of the month.
Huyghue also addressed questions regarding the possibility of Michael Vick's presence in the UFL. The commissioner said the UFL would welcome any player as long as he could positively contribute to the team –- not a ringing endorsement, but also not a denial.
"It's not uncommon for guys to run afoul of the law or run into some trouble," Huyghue said. "If I gave you a list of the last five years of the NFL players who have had some problems with the law, you'd have a hard time finding the players that didn't. That doesn't mean everyone is a criminal. But when you are young and have a lot of money and exposure and things can happen … We hold players to a high standard and we will continue to do that in our league. But we also understand that we are a country that forgives and gives people a second chance."
Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or firstname.lastname@example.org.