Maniax Executive Talks Football 

An interview with director of player personnel Steve Ortmayer.

Walking into the Memphis Maniax main office is like walking into an abandoned building. However, the squatters here wear suits and work for juggernaut media companies. The only sign that suggests that they work for the XFL are two helmets placed together near the wall. The sleek blue-green seems out of place with a facility that doesn’t even have phone lines completely installed. It is not enough to say that Memphis’ newest sporting franchise has yet to put on the finishing touches. It would hardly be adequate to say that they have even moved in. Fold-out chairs replace desk chairs, fold-out tables replace desks. The old Armory building, snugged between the Children’s museum and Liberty Bowl Stadium on Southern (and formerly home to both the USFL Showboats and Mad Dogs of the CFL) doesn’t seem a likely focal point for Maniax operations. But this is just the beginning of a long burrowing-in process, and all the key components are there to make the Maniax big in Memphis. One reason is the explicit support of both NBC and the WWF and the promise of ample national television coverage rife with fireworks, Vaughneresque spectacles, and other forms of sports-entertainment. Another reason is the personnel already on board with the team, such as director of player personnel Steve Ortmayer. He is directly responsible for all transactions concerning players and their contracts. This is nothing new to the 25-year NFL veteran who has two world championship rings (from his days with the Oakland/L.A. Raiders). Ortmayer has also worked in key positions for the San Diego Chargers and the L.A. Rams and oversaw the transition of the Rams to St. Louis. He is credited with a big role in that organization’s recent Super Bowl success. His goal is to put together an XFL championship team. Ortmayer says that two factors brought him over from the NFL. “I was contacted by NBC,” he says. “They told me that I should look [at the new league]” The partnership with the media giant added a great deal of credibility to the XFL, according to Ortmayer. But he wasn’t convinced until Steve Ehrhart, GM of the Maniax and a good friend of Ortmayer’s, gave him a call. Ortmayer recalls, “Steve pushed me over. He added a lot of credibility. There were questions that people had about [the XFL’s] connection with the WWF . . . but Vince McMahon wants a credible football league.” Ortmayer goes on to say that the XFL’s connections with the WWF are a positive for him. “The WWF is the most successful and brightest promotional machine in sports today.” Ortmayer believes that the XFL will bring back a more traditional form of football -- one that will also benefit families. He says, “The NFL, in its growth and direction over the past 10 years, has become very corporate. There’s a lot of emphasis on things that have taken blue-collar family of four out of the game.” According to Ortmayer, the XFL will concentrate on bringing that family back. He says, “We want to create some civic pride in this team so that we won’t have to take a back-seat to [the Tennessee Titans] in Nashville. We have to make it happen.” In a city noted for its poverty, Ortmayer believes that ticket price is a key factor in a community’s involvement with a team. “We’re making it very affordable to families.” According to recent ticket information, XFL tickets will be priced from $20 to $40 a game, a far cry from NFL ticket prices. In addition, Ortmayer would like for the Maniax to become a contributing member of the Memphis community. “We want to create a fan-base from the local city,” instead of generating support through corporate interests. In addition, the team is looking into a number of community-related activities such as supporting schools and local groups. Ortmayer says, “In conjunction to making this a family friendly event, we want to make this a community friendly organization ... help community schools and organizations.” It will be a better product on the field, at least in terms of rules. “What the XFL has done is borrow rules from college, professional, arena, and Canadian football. We’re going to make the game more exciting,” he says. Though Ortmayer doesn’t think the XFL will feature anything “exotic like the Canadian and arena leagues,” there will be some key differences from the type of football that most Mid-Southerners see in Nashville or in the SEC. The XFL will feature “live” kicks. In the new league, once a ball is kicked, either team is able to chase it down, pick it up, and run. Fair catches will not be allowed either. This should elevate special-teams to a more important place. Three changes on offense should spice things up. First, receivers only need one foot in bounds for the catch to be legal. This will increase the number of receptions and put more pressure on the defensive backs. Second, quarterbacks will be treated more like regular players on the field. In the NFL, QB’s are allowed to slide untouched after they cross the line of scrimmage. In the XFL, defenses will be able to tackle the QB no matter where he is. Finally, the XFL will offer a variation of an NFL rule that does not allow forward movement by players in the backfield, prior to the snap. In the XFL, one player will be allowed forward motion, creating more offensive opportunities for teams and again putting more pressure on defenses who will now have to cope with a receiver who has an extra step on them. Ortmayer believes that all these factors will make the XFL “The Game” in Memphis, to borrow from one of the WWF’s super-stars. But he also believes that the XFL will add a significant facet to professional football on the whole. Ortmayer expects the new league will give unprecedented choices for rookies and veteran alike. The XFL will pay the second most lucrative salaries in football, with salaries averaging $60,000 to $70,000. Giving this edge, Ortmayer is confident of the league will be able to build a good base of talent. Ortmayer will focus on local talent in the first year. Each XFL team has territorial rights for the recruitment of players and the Maniax can draw from alumni of such programs as the University of Memphis, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Tennessee. Starting next year, Ortmayer hopes to draw players from the NFL draft as well. He reasons that the XFL will be an equivalent for the players who would spend most of their time after the end of the college season in draft camps displaying their wares for free. The XFL will give these same players a football team ready to take them a month after the end of the college season, pay them to play, and give them nationally-televised coverage. The Maniax exec also believes that the XFL will allow those players who have been buried in depth charts or have been released because of NFL salary cap restrictions, to come to their full potential with the new league. “NFL football people, the coaches, the players, the GM’s, seem to be very supportive of this league,” he says. The corporate offices have been less receptive. “They want to protect their franchise,” he says, though he says that the only competition will be in “contractual restraints” coming from the NFL side. “The XFL is not going to prevent any player from playing in the NFL. We’re going to allow players to play football.” The Maniax begin the season at Birmingham on February 4th. On Monday, October 16th, the Maniax will unveil the team’s uniforms at the Fox and Hound on Sanderlin. The party starts at 5:30 p.m. (You can write Chris Przybyszewski at chris@memphisflyer.com)

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