ST. PETERSBURG — He is a coach without a team. Without a league. And, as of this week, without a job.
Tim Marcum drove to his office at the St. Pete Times Forum on Tuesday afternoon, just as he has most weekdays for the past several months. The Arena Football League suspended the 2009 season back in December, but Marcum had continued to maintain the appearance of a coach at work.
He was still being paid. He was still the face of the Tampa Bay Storm. He still had the illusion of a 2010 season.
That illusion, like his job, has quietly vanished. Marcum said he was informed that Tuesday was his last day of work as Storm head coach. So does this mean there will be no Arena Football League in 2010?
"Don't ask me any trick questions," Marcum said, laughing.
Arena Football League officials have been largely quiet for the past two months, but the clues are not promising. Teams have folded. An owner of the Chicago Rush recently told a newspaper that it's too late to plan a 2010 season and the league should focus on 2011.
And Marcum, a charter member of the league's Hall of Fame, wonders how things could have fallen apart so abruptly.
"I've put 20 years of my life in this thing. I've turned down opportunities for other jobs. I left Steve Spurrier's staff after one year at Florida to return to this game," Marcum said. "I love this game. I love the players. In the old days they played for $500 a game because they loved it. Kurt Warner probably never played for more than $1,500 a game in Iowa because he loved it.
"We started this thing with four teams in 1987, and today there are 120 teams playing some form of indoor football. To have been a part of the beginnings of all of that is great. It really is. But that doesn't pay the bills."
Marcum, 64, is not real clear about his future. It's probably too late in the year to look at college or other pro jobs. He said Storm owner Dr. Bob Nucci has talked about the possibility of using him as a consultant for various projects. Nucci could not be reached for comment.
For now, Marcum will bide his time while waiting for a league to make a comeback. It is, unfortunately, a familiar predicament. A little more than 20 years ago he was an assistant coach in the United States Football League when it decided to take a year off.
"I'm still waiting for that year to end," Marcum said.
At least he does not have to wait alone. While biding his time in the Storm offices the past few months, Marcum has run a halfway house of sorts for displaced coaches. He offered some office space to Jon Gruden when Gruden was fired by the Bucs in January. Soon, Gruden's brother Jay, a former Bucs assistant and arena league head coach, was stopping by. And former Colts interim head coach Rick Venturi. And former Saints head coach Jim Haslett, who is the new coach of the Orlando team in the United Football League.
"That was the only respite I've had since the league voted to suspend the season," Marcum said. "We were talking football, installing plays. It was all very interesting. It was good for me to work on 11-man football again. And Jon Gruden? You want to talk about an offensive innovator, that guy is incredible."
Through it all, Marcum has tried not to dwell on the mess that has become the Arena Football League. The irony is the product is still viable. Just not the league. The AFL2 continues to operate in 24 smaller cities with lower paychecks and a lower profile. It is much like the model of the original arena league before it got too big (i.e. too expensive) for its own good.
"After (the Storm) won the 2003 championship, I lost six guys on that team. Four signed free-agent contracts of over $100,000, and the other two got over $60,000. That's crazy. You can't put enough people in the seats to pay for that," Marcum said. "I'm not belittling a man's right to earn a paycheck. He should get whatever the market dictates.
"But this got so far out of whack. The economic model made no sense. It's got to get back to $1,000 a game. We've got to get back to a business plan that's going to work."
In the meantime, the man with seven ArenaBowl championship rings and more victories than any coach in league history is unemployed.
"I may need to get me a paper route," Marcum said.
Told that newspapers are having economic problems of their own, Marcum laughed wearily.
"Yeah, I've heard that," he said. "I guess I better hurry."
John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.