Coach: Kevin Coyle
Home Stadium: Georgia State Stadium
When Atlanta was named as a host city of the AAF on April 25th, 2018 I think the collective reaction was one large yawn. It wasn’t really an inspired pick, but it made sense because the league needed anchor cities that had large TV audiences (- as archaic as that sounds now in the era of the internet). The coaches associated with the franchise though- that was another matter. Named along with Atlanta, was head coach Brad Childress, and his offensive coordinator Mike Vick.
Childress has been viewed as sort of a coaching mercenary over the past few years. -He basically is just seen as a guy who gets jobs so that he can quit them for another one.
Vick on the other hand, has had a long and controversial history, but he is still beloved in Atlanta where he played ball with the Falcons. From a standpoint of trying to get attention, it made sense. From a standpoint of getting butts in seats and developing an innovative offense- well that can be debated.
-More on these two later.
The team also made some interesting hires, bringing in Jen Welter as a defensive assistant, and Kevin Coyle as defensive coordinator. Former Arena defensive lineman Leroy Thompson coached the defensive line while former Bills TE Pete Metzelaars coached the offensive line.
On September 20th the Atlanta franchise was christened ‘The Legends’. The name stuck because of the city’s rich heritage, stories, and tradition. Many great people have come from Atlanta, and the city is home to great landmarks and events that have been important to the tapestry that makes up the nation.
On January 9th, 2019, during training camp, Brad Childress abruptly resigned as head coach. It was a curious move in retrospect. Although he was jockeying for another gig in the NFL, it came shortly after cash flow issues began with Reggie Fowler. (Regardless though it is pure speculation.) Kevin Coyle was named as head coach to replace him.
Then two days before the first game in league history, Coyle announced that Mike Vick was no longer offensive coordinator. He’d function as a consultant (and make a token appearance at a game later in the season). In his place was playcaller Rich Bartel, who two days before the third game also resigned. Venerable Ken Zampese was brought in to fix things, but in general, the mess was viewed from the outside as being created by the hiring of Brad Childress in the first place.
It goes without saying that the Legends experienced the highest coaching turnover during the AAF’s short existence.
Aaron Murray was definitely the marquee name of Atlanta’s originally courted players. The franchise protected him with the second overall pick of the Pick or Protect Draft.
As this is only a viewpoint of what occurred over the regular season -and a harsh one at that, I would be remiss not to include the account from perhaps the greatest Legend of them all: The Legendary Knight.
Verily, the tale of the noble kingdom of the Atlanta Legends is one of daunting hardship, epic valor in shadow of perilous odds, and – at the endeth – completeth and utter devastation and obliteration. At the hour whenst the realm of the legends wast formed, twas met with high hopes and most wondrous fanfare. Within a fortnight, the realm hath drawn the services of gridiron warriors and noblemen renowned far and wide in the lands ’round Atlanta. Wast said the nobel Brad Childress wouldst commandeth our army, the legendary Sir Michael Vick wouldst leadeth our offensive forces, and the brave Sir Aaron Murray wouldst leadeth our warriors on the field. The presence of such most wondrous and epic heroes of the lands rallied many to the banner of the Legends.
Alas, cruel fate cutteth the heady days short. Practically on the eve of battle, lord Childress forswore us. Sir Vick didst prove unable to leadeth our forces. And our new generals didst putteth Sir Murray upon pine.
– The Legendary Knight
Not a clue what was going on here, and I am not sure that the Legends knew either as whatever results that were put out there was pretty questionable in spurts. Touchdowns were few and far between for Atlanta as all opposing teams had to typically do was put 24+ points on the board against the Legends. In those games opponents were
5-0. The Legends scored only 88 points the entire season. (Obviously the league worst.) By comparison the next closest team was Salt Lake at 135. But just saying, “They didn’t score enough points,” Is a lazy way out of getting to the bottom of the Legends offensive woes. They ranked 4th in total yardage (308.4) and were third in overall passing yardage (218.2) So what was the real problem? It was turnover differential and red zone efficiency. The Legends had 14 interceptions, and lost 7 fumbles. Their kicker had 14 field goals inside the 40 yards line- which accounted for more than half the team’s points. So the fact that Atlanta won two games should come as an even bigger shock than expected.
For some reason, Atlanta came out with Matt Simms instead of Aaron Murray at quarterback. Simms proceeded to throw for 842 yards, on 79 of 132 passing, with 2 TDs to 7 interceptions. He also got crushed in the pocket 14 times. When Murray stepped in during Week 3 he came out firing with a 300+ yard game to kick things off, but by Week 5 he got absolutely punished against the Commanders. Aaron was slightly better guiding the Frankenstein offense of the Legends however. He finished with 3 TDs to 7 picks- 1,048 yards and a solid 64.8 completion rating- which was actually- the best in the league. Combined Simms and Murray threw for the most interceptions in the league.
Tarean Folston arguably was the bright spot for the team at runningback. In 7 games he did it all, managing 56 carries for 223 yards and 1 TD. He also led the team in receptions posting 28 catches for 163 yards and 2 TDs. Brandon Radcliff came in relief of Folston. He had 41 carries for 156 yards and 11 receptions in 5 games. Aaron Murray running for his life had 96, Lawrence Pittman had 81 yards, and Denard Robinson- had the only other rushing TD on 24 carries. Akrum Wadley played in two games and had 7 carries for 21 yards and 11 catches for 99 yards before he was injured against the Iron.
At WR it was a duo of Seantavius Jones (24 catches, 298 yards), and respected AFL alum Malachi Jones (22 catches, 312 yards, and 2 TDs.) Bug Howard had 17 for 220, and Justin Thomas clocked in with 16 for 172, including the team long reception of 49 yards. James Quick had 10 catches for 98 yards, while Ervin Philips started 2 games (playing in 5) and had 9 catches for 96 yards. Montay Crockett rounded out the board with 10 receptions for 130 yards.
Keith Towbridge attracted some attention at TE from NFL scouts and was a solid starter. The Louisville product snagged 17 catches for 196 yards and was a pretty decent blocker at 6-5. 262. He teamed up with fellow Cardinals alum Charles Standberry- who caught 3 passes. Jake Sutherland was more of an inline blocker at 6-5, 261 and caught a pass against Birmingham for the season.
The offensive line was pretty bad for the Legends- but that’s OK because they finished in a 4 way tie for last, yielding 23 sacks on the season- and allowing over 100 pressures on the season (2nd worst). It should be noted that both Avery Gennesy and Trae Moxley popped up on the PFF Team of the Week during the season. The Legends rushed for 90.1 yards a game- good for 6th place.
(3-4) The Legends defense just had 3 interceptions and 4 fumble recoveries on the season and allowed a league high 213 points
(-nearly 20 more than 7th place). This was due in part to the Legends’ propensity to turn the ball over and set up a short field for opposing offenses.
Their third down defense wasn’t terrible, allowing just 34%, but their rush defense was pretty porous allowing 117.9 yards a game (6th). In a strange twist, the Legends’ pass defense was first overall at 158.4 per game. This gave them technically the odd accomplishment of being the #1 ranked defense in the league as Atlanta ‘just gave up’ 276.2 yards per game which was a bit over 30 yards better than the second ranked Orlando Apollos (who stomped the Legends in their two meetings by a combined score of 76-12).
Veteran DB Ed Reynolds tied DB Tyson Graham for the team lead with 55 total tackles (and 1 sack). Reynolds also scored the first safety in league history. (The 2 points proved to be the needed margin that the Legends needed to beat the Hotshots.) Reynolds ran around in that secondary like his hair was on fire, but there was only so much he could do. Tyson Graham had .5 sacks and a one of the team’s 3 interceptions, and a forced fumble. It was no wonder they earned the name ‘The Bash Bros.’ Carlos Merritt led the team in interceptions. Playing in all 8 games, but only starting 1 he had 2 interceptions for 17 yards, a forced fumble and 13 total tackles. Des Lawrence had 13 tackles in 6 starts, and so did Damian Swann and wrapping up the major DBs Louis Young had 12.
On the defensive line JT Jones played formidably from defensive end with 23 tackles and 4 sacks. Tracy Sprinkle lined up at NT and in 6 starts had 22 tackes and 5 sacks. Big bodied TJ Barnes pushed his way around for 18 tackles, while Tavaris Barnes logged 8 tackles and a sack in 6 contests. David Dean came off the bench to start 2 contests and had 14 tackles and .5 sacks while former Jet Dylan Donahue came off the bench in 6 games to inject 10 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
At linebacker Jeff Luc led the way for the group with 50 tackles and 3 sacks and a forced fumble. Khalil Bass popped in with 41 tackles and Brandon Watts had 24.
Younghoe Koo provided to be a bright spot for the Legends. He nailed every field goal he attempted on the season- all 14 of them and finished in a 4 way tie for first. Now bear in mind in the oddest football statistic ever- they were all under 40 yards, but still… He also was the team leader in points with slightly over half the team points (42) and nailed a game winner against the Express.
Cameron Nizialek was a booming punter. He punted 34 times for 1612 yards which amounted to a near unheard of 47.41 yards per kick. He also dropped 8 kicks inside the 20 and had 4 touchbacks. The problem is he frequently out kicked his coverage. The Legends coverage crew had a 10 yard negative difference (37.0), allowing a league worst 16 returns for 274 yards and a TD.
Three guys tried their hands on punt returns. James Quick, Justin Thomas, and Dwayne Hollis- all with very similar results. As a group they finished with 14 returns for 96 yards and 7 fair catches.
Despite being the largest anchor city, being the second team announced, and having a bit of star power in Mike Vick, the Legends failed to capitalize off of this at the ticket office. Within days of being announced as the final franchise, San Antonio already had a larger online fan presence than the Legends.
It was a cluster, on top of everything else, as the Legends had a disastrous schedule to kick things off. 3 of their first 4 home games were on the road. The Legends didn’t even see their first home game until Week 3 and by then at 0-2 they were playing against the Iron. At that game Atlanta posted only attendance of 10,717. It seemed that the Legends really couldn’t inject any sort of enthusiasm into the city initially. In Week 5 the Legends posted 10,829 (Express), and a low of 10,619 against the Commanders in Week 6.
The Legends however went out on a high note- saving their best attendance numbers for Week 7 with 11,416. As the league was suspended after Week 8 the Legends were unable to play their final home game against the Stallions.
Atlanta averaged 10.895 fans a game thanks to that Week 7 contest. You could say fans were finally starting to warm up to the gold and purple. Although numbers were consistent and at about half capacity of the stadium, the overall numbers were considered below the league average (15,292) and 6th overall.
This loyal vassal of the legends didst faithfully rally his fiefdom of sec 122 and leadeth those motley folk in unyielding cries of support for our Legendary warriors. Other loyal and wondrous vassals didst the same, most notably the lesser, yet wise and noble, Kings of the South Endzone. Through many defeats and too few victories, the loyal Legends fans did turn out and uplift our warriors. Never once didst fewer than 10,000 turneth out to support our brave, but beleaguered warriors.
-The Legendary Knight
Nonetheless, bravely forward our palmy warriors did stride into hurlyburly upon the field of the Apollos. Our inexperienc’d generals put the valorous intentioned, but overly cautious, Matt the Young’r of family Simms to leadeth our warriors upon the field. Oh woe and lament. Never since the Battle of Hastings hadst such a butt-whooping been lay down upon an unfortunate lot as was what the Apollos didst do to the Legends yond day.
– The Legendary Knight
Anoth’r defeat cameth at the hands of Fleet in p’rt of San Diego before our bloodied and battered warriors wendeth their way home. – The Legendary Knight
With humiliating defeats and being renounced by our heroes, the enthusiasm of some fair-weather fans amongst the people of Atlanta didst wain. Still, at the hour the Iron warriors from Birmingham didst appeared at our gates, over 10,000 loyal vassals rallied to supp’rt our warriors in their scrap – thy very own Legendary Knight amongst those good folk. -The Legendary Knight
Our greatest hour wast on our second home game. The Express legions of Memphis did sally forth upon our lands to square with our Legends. Poor Matt Simms wast with injury, so Sir Murray’s day to leadeth us into battleth hadst arrived. A mighty contest didst ensue, with the Express ahead 20-14 at the end of the 3rd. Our legends didst rally, and upon the mighty arm of the valiant Sir Murray and the golden foot of the intrepid Younghoe Koo, didst score 9 points in the 4th to winneth the day! There wast much merriment and feasting upon yond day!
– The Legendary Knight
Atlanta traded LS Colton Taylor to Salt Lake City for TE Steve Donatell to mark the first trade in league history.
Former Jets WR Stephen Hill was attempting to make a comeback with the Legends but did not make the final cut.
The Legends finished with a whopping 10 guys on IR.
At the season opener for the Commanders I overheard fans who said that they knew guys who were testing out camera systems at the preseason games in SA the previous week. They mentioned that Atlanta was so terrible offensively that they could be an embarrassment to the league.
The Legends scored 3 points the ENTIRE season in the 3rd quarter. Those 3 points came in the final game against the Birmingham Iron.
In case you are wondering, you can find The Legendary Knight on Twitter at @LegendaryKnig4 – and no, he has never speaketh in any other manner than Ye’ Olde English to me.
The glimmer of hope from yond victory upon the field too soon gaveth way to a series of painful defeats. Even with the sting of those defeats and all hope hath being lost for the playoffs, the loyal Legends fans did stay true. Preparations were being made by the faithful for an epic celebration to welcometh our Legends home for their final home squaring against the Salty Stallions.
Many a faithful son and daughter of the Kingdom of Legends did look wistfully forward to that day and madeth ready for feasts, tournaments, festiveness, and most wondrous merriment.
But dark and nefarious schemes were afoot by dastardly blaggards who for a few pieces of silver wouldst rip the heart out of the faithful and dealeth a steely bitter cold death to it all. Of all the world’s treacherous schemes. Of all the worm-riddled betrayals of the most greedy and vile snakes. Of all the malevolent murders by the vile upon the heroic and valorous. All of these be whey-face in comparison to the treachery, betrayal, and evisceration of Eight Realms of the Alliance through skuldugg’ry at the very hands of those who hadst sworn to protecteth and groweth the alliance.
Yond story, however, is for another day and is a yarn for another to spin. -The Legendary Knight