Intriguing Notre Dame backstories on pro football's newest back road, the AAF

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Their paths crossed serendipitously on professional football’s newest back road.

Rick Minter had texted with Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly enough over the years to know not only who Max Redfield was before he ever reported for an Alliance of American Football minicamp in mid-December, but also who the deposed ND safety was supposed to have become.

In the weeks that followed that three-day, on-field introduction, Minter got a heavy dose of both of Redfield’s personas.

“He’s high energy, is extroverted. He’s self-assured, a smart, intelligent young man,” said Minter, Redfield’s defensive coordinator with the start-up league AAF’s Birmingham Iron. “He started off so strong in training camp. Then it’s been up and down.

“And that’s why he’s here. There are guys on this defense that make you wonder why they’re not on an NFL roster, and there are guys you know exactly why they’re not.

“Our league might help them both develop — whether it’s strength, whether it’s more confidence, whether it’s production, whether it’s playing time. It gives them a chance to be looked at by NFL teams. It’s a little bit of a second-chance league.”

And one with quite a bit of Notre Dame flavor.

AAF CEO and co-founder Charlie Ebersol, whose eight-team league begins play next weekend (Feb. 9-10) with a 10-game regular season, is a 36-year-old ND grad. Co-founder and former NFL general manager Bill Polian is the father of Irish special teams coordinator/recruiting coordinator Brian Polian.

Former ND standout Justin Tuck is on the player engagement board of advisors.

Besides Redfield, there are seven former Irish players who made the final roster cuts earlier this week (from 75 to 52): running back Tarean Folston, linebackers Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan, punter Ben Turk, cornerback Cody Riggs, offensive guard John Montelus and long snapper Scott Daly.

Montelus got his ND degree but finished his playing career at Virginia. Redfield was dismissed from the Irish football team prior to his senior season (2016) after being arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and carrying a handgun without a license.

The former five-star recruit then was expelled from school several weeks later, and finished his playing career the following fall at NCAA Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Redfield earned All-America honors there in 2017.

Minter had two different tours of duty coaching at Notre Dame — as Lou Holtz’s defensive coordinator in 1992 and ’93 before landing the head coaching job at Cincinnati, and as Charlie Weis’ defensive coordinator in 2005 and ’06 before being purged.

Since then the 64-year-old has bounced to Marshall, Indiana State, Kentucky, the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, Georgia State, Division II school Florida Tech and now the AAF.

“The offer to be defensive coordinator for Birmingham really came out of the blue,” Minter said.

And in mid-October, no less.

Birmingham head coach Tim Lewis, whom Minter interviewed for a job on his defensive staff at Ball State decades ago, flipped the script. Minter joined the team in early December once Florida Tech was eliminated in the NCAA Division II playoffs.

Among the coaches on Minter’s defensive staff is Lori Locust, an assistant defensive line coach and one of three females holding coaching jobs in the AAF.

Because Ebersol wants to promote quarterback safety and high scoring, Minter and the other defensive coaches in the league will be hamstrung a bit strategically.

That means no more than five players can rush the quarterback on any given down. Only players in a designated blitzing box can blitz, so no safety or corner blitzes are allowed. And linebackers who line up next to each other can’t both blitz.

Some other wrinkles unrelated to defense:

• There will be no kickoffs or kickoff returns. The ball with be placed on the 25-yard line instead to start drives.

• If teams want to onside kick, they’ll do so by putting their offense on the field on their own 28-yard line, facing a fourth-and-12. If they make it to the 40 or beyond, they play on. If they come up short, the opposition takes over at that yard line. Teams can do the alternative onside kick at any time if they’re down 17 points or more, or if they’re down by any margin in the final five minutes of regulation.

• Teams must go for two after every touchdown scored. There are no PAT kicks.

• Overtimes are similar to college, except teams get the ball on the opposing team’s 10-yard line instead of the 25.

• The play clock intervals, halftime and other breaks have been shortened in the hopes of producing games that last 2 ½ hours.

“This league is a real cool concept,” Minter said. “For the players there are a lot of pluses, Charlie takes care of them on and off the field. One of the things he’s doing is giving them a scholarship to further their education for each year the player is in the league.

“The league isn’t driven by salaries and agents. All players make the same amount of money (reportedly three-year, non-guaranteed contracts worth $250,000). I mean, Charlie really put a lot of thought into his vision.”

And while there aren’t big-name players, Ebersol did get a handful of big-name head coaches to encore in the new league, including Steve Spurrier, Dennis Erickson, Mike Martz and Rick Neuheisel.

“It’s going to be an interesting league to follow, because Charlie is all technology-driven,” Minter said. “His father is Dick Ebersol. He’s been raised in the media business. He’s got that whiz kid-like background. He’s got a Notre Dame degree and he’s got big visions. It’ll be interesting to see what this all looks like two or three years down the road.”

If all goes well, Redfield will be long gone from the league by then.

“We’re really like the minor leagues for the NFL — triple-A if you will,” Minter said. “The goal is to get these guys to the big leagues.

“Max has that chance. It’s going to be interesting how the dust settles by the time we play Memphis in a week and a half. Whether he starts or not, he’s going to play a lot. This could be a new beginning for him.”

Former Irish safety Max Redfield (10) is in the new AAF pro league after a turbulent college career at Notre Dame.
Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Rick Minter has landed in the new AAF with the Birmingham Iron.

The following are players with Notre Dame ties who will be on opening-day rosters when the AAF begins play next weekend (Feb. 9-10):

Arizona Hotshots

Nyles Morgan LB

Atlanta Legends

Tarean Folston RB

Birmingham Iron

Max Redfield# S

Orlando Apollos

Cody Riggs CB

Ben Turk P

Salt Lake Stallions

Greer Martini LB

San Antonio Commanders

Scott Daly LS

San Diego Fleet

John Montelus^ OT

# Finished at Indiana (Pa.) University

^ Finished at the University of Virginia