"Outside the NFL" had a chance to chat with RIck Mueller, general manager of the United Football League's four franchises. Besides confirming plans for the league's exp
PFW: You're in a position that you don't see too often in sports. What are the benefits of having a single GM?
Mueller: It sure makes trades a lot easier (laughing). We've got four good head coaches that are pretty easy to work with so it makes it a little more efficient for me and I got a great staff working for me too. It's different. You're dealing with four different squads and you just got to put on four different hats. When you're dealing with each team it's each team independently but it's also got to keep the league in perspective. Like this morning, we're talking about a couple of guys from New York on injured reserve, we're talking about injured players in California. You've kind of got to look at those rosters and you've got to try to replace those injured guys and you're looking for guys out there at different positions. It just depends. You've got to talk to four different coaches during the day and get their perspective on things which is different. Then you've got ownership groups and those types of things that you're dealing with and team travel and all that. When we've got four teams in the air as opposed to just one it gets difficult. But again, I've got a great staff and they do a good job and these coaches all understand how it works and they make it possible.
PFW: So do coaches have a lot of input as far as personnel decisions and things like that?
Mueller: Yeah they do. We give them as much information as we have, we try to lead them in the right direction, we give them evaluations ... we let them make the final decision on what they want to do but certainly we try to help them as much as we can and from that standpoint, once that decision is made ... we bring the players in.
PFW: So do they make the football decisions on a day-to-day basis while you deal with the business side of things?
Mueller: No, from a football standpoint I have my hand in just about everything day-to-day. Obviously I can't be at all four practices, but I pretty much do talk to every coach on a daily basis if not every other day - or at least some coach from every staff - and then I have a member of my staff that really is at every practice and at every location so I get feedback from them. But from a film standpoint and an evaluation standpoint it's no different from the NFL - I've just got a few more teams to watch. But, you know, we look at all the film each week. We keep our ready list up to date from a player personnel standpoint just as we would if we were in the NFL. And it seems big, but we've had some teams that have stayed pretty healthy. Florida has been pretty healthy; Las Vegas hasn't had too many transactions, but it's no different from the NFL. There are a few teams like New York and California that have had some injuries and lost some players and had to replace some players but we've also had some teams that have been fortunate and stayed healthy so we haven't had a lot of transactions on that end either.
PFW: What is your ultimate goal as the GM of each team? Are you trying to create a level playing field?
Mueller: In my mind, it's just to get the best players we can out on the field and to give our coaches the ability to make personnel decisions; give them all the information, help them from that standpoint, gather information on players, locate players, evaluate players just to get the best players for them and then let them make the decisions. Every team in our league has the same evaluations from our standpoint on every player and the same information available to them and basically the same players available to them. So we give them that information, we try to help them as much as possible and then at the end of the day, the coaches - no different from a lot of places - they decide which players they want to go with and we're here to support them in any way that we can.
PFW: Have you had any cases of the bidding war-type thing where you've had to get involved?
Mueller: No we really haven't because in our league one thing that allows us to do this, other than the quarterbacks, players all make the same amount of money. We kind of take that bidding-war aspect out of it, and it's been great. We haven't had a lot of conflicts between the teams ... but if it is we usually work it out. These coaches have been good about that and we've found a way to work it out and I think everybody feels good about it at the end of the day of what they have and where we came from. And I think we've learned a lot of things over the past year that we'll be able to build on next year from a personnel standpoint and a stocking standpoint, but I feel pretty good about what we were able to do just in putting the product on the field. I feel good about the football talent level. Our goal is next year to add two more teams and I think there are plenty of players out there to be able to field six quality football teams.
PFW: That actually leads right into my next question. I've obviously heard these talks about expanding. Where are these talks at? Anything you can tell me in particular?
Mueller: Not necessarily. We've talked to a lot of different groups and I know there are a lot of cities that are involved. Primarily the cities that don't have NFL football: the Hartfords, the Memphises, the Birminghams, the Portland Oregons, the Salt Lake Cities, those types of cities. Los Angeles obviously. So I think what we want to do is build the right way - not get crazy but go to six teams next year in a ten-week season and keep building incrementally so we can kind of manage our costs and do it the right way and not dilute the talent pool out there.
PFW: I've heard mentions of Mexico and I think at some point Michael Huyghue mentioned possibly expanding to London. Is that plausible at this point?
Mueller: You know, I think it's plausible. I think maybe Mexico City would be more plausible from a travel standpoint, but I think that we would consider anything. I think that Europe is down the road a little further, only because of from a travel standpoint you've got to build in a bye kind of like they do in the NFL to be able to facilitate that, although we did it in NFL Europe and back in the old NFL Europe - the World Football League - I coached in Sacramento and we played London and Montreal and Frankfurt and Barcelona. It can be done, it's just a little difficult form a logistics and travel standpoint. I wouldn't eliminate it but I would say it's probably farther down the road than probably next year.
PFW: You mentioned a 10-game season. Would the season start a little earlier to give the players a chance to try and jump into the NFL?
Mueller: Yes, that would be our goal. We would probably start them off earlier and then still our goal is always to end on Thanksgiving weekend with a championship game so hopefully we can work that out. That way, the players that we have still have the ability to show what they have and still have the ability to make the most of the NFL once our season is over.
PFW: Have you noticed any scouts at the games or have you been in contact with any NFL teams in regards to that?
Mueller: On a weekly basis, I probably talk to about half the teams in the league one week - at some point in time I've probably talked to a member of every NFL team throughout the past month or so. We have had scouts at our games. We've had scouts at our practices. We make our film available to them. We want our players to get this exposure. They are here for a reason. They're here to make a career out of it. Obviously, it helps our league if that happens, so we have an open-door policy and we've been very accessible to anyone in the NFL that wants to come and look at our players or talk about our players or evaluate our players in games or practice. And our coaches are all on board with that and they've been great about it too. We've had a lot of interest from the NFL. Like I've said, between me and my staff, we've spoken to every NFL team at some point in time and there's guys I talk to on a weekly basis wanting to know what's going on with this league and who's playing well and who's not.
PFW: Anybody in particular that has drawn a lot of interest?
Mueller: You know, there have been a lot of guys. If you just look at it, a guy like Brooks Bollinger has come in and played lights-out. I mean, he's a guy that is looking for a chance to be a starter for a season and prove that he's a winner, I think he's done that. His team hasn't lost a game and he's played outstanding. A guy like Taye Biddle, I mean he's been awesome for Orlando. I mean, there's a guy that nobody had probably ever heard of and he's come in and done a great job. I know some people know about DeDe Dorsey, the running back from Las Vegas, but he's been awesome. Willie Andrews, the safety for Orlando. Even Cory Ross, the running back for California. Those are all guys that have come in and kind of earned themselves a job hopefully. They've been great.
PFW: Is the quality of play what you expected?
Mueller: Honestly, it's been better than I expected. I thought we'd be able to field four teams and I've been very hesitant to say we'd go in and work beyond that, but after going through the process, the agent community has been very receptive and been awesome and so have the players. They're obviously playing to get exposure and play because they love the game and want to compete. They're not playing in our league for the money. We've gotten a great response. We've gotten players that I didn't know we'd be able to attract and they've all been here and enjoyed it, so I've been really pleased with the level of play. There's players out there, even like the guys we just talked about, that not everybody has heard of that will be players and have shown that they're players and deserve a look from the National Football League. It's been awesome to see. It's been fun
It's a little different - getting back to GM for four teams - on game day because you're really not rooting for anybody. I was talking to somebody the other day, I said "It's just kind of hard for me to get over that .500 mark. I'm having a hard time getting over that .500 mark."
PFW: What about the fan response? What have you thought of that?
Mueller: I think that fans have been great. We've got some loyal fans and built it up. Especially in cities like Orlando and Las Vegas. Those cities have been great. And I think everybody that comes, I think our crowd's probably been a little disappointing in the number of people that we've had out, but I think the people that do come see that it's great football on that field that you can bring a family of four or five for under $100 to one of our games and really enjoy it and have a good time and enjoy some good football; see some players that are really talented. So, although our crowds haven't been great, I think if you watch it on TV, anything that Versus has done has been outstanding, HDNet has done a great job, so the TV production has been great. And I think that those fans that come back and bring a friend the next time because I know the second time around our crowds have been good everywhere. I know that's going to come. We've got to build that fan base. We've got to put a good product out there. Maybe everyone was hesitant, didn't know what it was going to be, but I think once they see the quality of football out there, I think the fans will come and hopefully we can get the word out there.
PFW: So it's kind of a word-of-mouth marketing campaign?
Mueller: (Laughs) You know, a little bit. We put our focus on the field and want to do it the right way from a talent-procurement standpoint. That's really what our big concern is and hopefully those people that do come out and see it will come back and we can continue to build on our fan base. But yeah, from a marketing standpoint, it's been a challenge, but I think they've done a good job with what they've worked with in the short time-frame we had to put this whole thing together.
PFW: What do you have planned to improve the league for next year?
Mueller: Well, I think obviously there are some small things. I think that the second time around, we've got a base of players, we've got a system in place for getting those players involved. Always the challenges will come up now because we'll have more time with our coaching staff, we'll have more time to prepare, we'll have more time to evaluate these players and so I think there are some small things that we can do from that standpoint just because we have the time to be able to do it. It'll help us do an even better job of evaluating players for next year. I think we'd obviously like to grow the fan base in each market a little bit better than we did this year, and I think now that we'll have time to do that, hopefully we'll have teams in their markets, we'll get names out there, we'll have a whole year to our players and coaches so we'll be able to hopefully grow that fan base is our focus and just to continue to try to build on everything that we did this year. I think with six teams, you get even more people involved, there's more cities involved and hopefully that'll bring us some more attention.
PFW: Why do you think the league has a chance to succeed long term?
Mueller: Just like Bill Hambrecht, our founder, told me when I met with him for the first time, he's in it for the long haul. But also, I think the way we've structured it, even the fact that at some point we're going to move away from the single GM for four teams. Even next year if we six teams, we're going to have more of a presence at the club level as opposed to everything being run through the league office. But it'll still kind of be done that way, and that's to manage costs. That's to manage costs from a travel standpoint, from a day-to-day expenses standpoint. And the way we run our salary cap. I think we have a chance to keep the salaries where they're at - to keep the salaries in control - and then at the end of the day, the players that play and produce will be the guys that make a little more than everybody else. But if you can kind of keep that steady and keep those salaries - not at an unreasonable level, but at a level where it's fair and I think everybody's happy - then I think you're going to have a chance. If we do those things and continue to put a good product out there I think we can stay because I think these cities that don't have NFL football have been great and are excited to have some type of professional football, especially at the ticket-price point that we're offering, hopefully those fans will come enjoy it.
PFW: I was talking to Quinn Gray the other day and he was telling me that he's heard a positive response from players that originally maybe were not interested in playing in the UFL. Have players been contacting you?
Mueller: There's been a lot. Everybody was probably a little skeptical, but I think the way it's been run - we don't pay the players a lot - but we do pay for their housing [during the season] and they're staying in great places and they've got great facilities to practice at. We've done that, and from that standpoint, everything is first class. So I think once the players get here, I think they're impressed and I think they're happy. ... I think it'll pay off for some of these guys. Some of these guys that without the UFL wouldn't have this exposure and this opportunity.
PFW: I've heard a lot of different figures. Off the top of your head, do you know the average salary?
Mueller: The average player makes $35 thousand per year and that breaks [down to] six games. Quarterbacks make a little more, punters and kickers make a little less, and then there's a pool of money left over at the end of the year for those that [excel] in playing time and a production standpoint. Where you sit on that scale, you'll get a little more. And that's basically it.