There will be no indoor football in Fort Wayne in 2019.
The Indiana Blue Bombers of the National Gridiron League were set to begin play May 5 at Memorial Coliseum, but the NGL will not be taking the field in 2019, multiple sources, including former St. Louis Stampede head coach Patrick Pimmel, confirmed to The Journal Gazette.
League president and owner Joe McClendon broke the news on a conference call to the league's coaches and arena managers late Monday, according to Pimmel. McClendon reportedly told those on the call that the league will shortly have new ownership and will try to play in 2020. He declined to name the new owners when asked, according to an email Pimmel provided to the Journal Gazette.
McClendon did not answer a phone call from The Journal Gazette. He responded to a text sent at 7:02 p.m. requesting comment by saying, “It's late maybe we can discuss tomorrow.”
When The Journal Gazette sent a follow-up text again requesting comment, he did not respond.
Memorial Coliseum general manager Randy Brown did not answer multiple phone calls.
Blue Bombers head coach Kelvin Kinney reportedly sent a letter to players informing them of the cancellation and letting them know they'd been released. WANE.com published the letter, which also said, “It is with great regret we are delivering this news. On behalf of the Indiana Blue Bombers staff, we apologize deeply for the inconvenience this has caused.”
On a phone call, Kinney advised The Journal Gazette to contact McClendon for information because “(McClendon) makes the decisions on whether this league goes or not." Asked for his reaction to the news of the season's cancellation, Kinney hung up.
The Blue Bombers have had a somewhat rocky time in Fort Wayne. The cancellation of the 2019 season comes on top of revelations that the Bombers had signed a player who had been falsely representing himself as a member of the Miami Dolphins on social media before March 2017. The player was subsequently removed from the roster.
The Journal Gazette also reported that Kinney, a former NFL player, has a felony for workplace compensation fraud and several additional misdemeanors on his record.
The Blue Bombers are not the only NGL team to have had problems. The St. Louis Stampede saw its head coach, Pimmel, and team president, Kallie Klein, both resign after several months of unpaid salary.
“I never received a nickel,” said Pimmel, who was head coach of the team more than four months. “They were real transparent. Sponsorship money wasn't coming in, they always had a reason why.”
Pimmel said when he resigned, the league's ownership never responded to him. He spoke highly of McClendon personally at the time of his resignation in March, but after learning the league would not play in 2019, he had a different reaction.
“I feel bad for all the players,” Pimmel said. “I would like to know where all the money that was put into this league from all these players ends up. ... Where'd all the money go from all the combines and all the tryouts?
“We had tryouts in St. Louis (that the players paid to attend). We never (saw) the money, that went right to Joe (McClendon).”
Klein, who was hired at an annual salary of $65,000, also says she did not receive payment for more than three months of work. Klein was networking as part of her job as president and resigned because she wasn't being paid.
“I had to sever my connection with (the NGL),” Klein said. “Because if I wasn't getting a check, how was I supposed to ask other people for money?”
Klein said the league actually owes her $700 on top of her salary because she paid out of pocket for team T-shirts and graphic design services. She said McClendon always said her paychecks would be coming “next week.”
“It's unfortunate,” said Klein, whose background is in technology sales. “Anyone that would ever want to do business with Joe McClendon is not well-informed.”
The league was originally scheduled to open its season Saturday but pushed the date back and shortened the intended season schedule from 16 games to 12.
When the league made that announcement, in mid-March, McClendon said he wanted to ensure the product was up to par. “The worst thing we could do is rush it and operationally, it wasn't the right presentation,” McClendon told the Evansville Courier and Press at the time. (Evansville also had a team, the Indiana Firebirds).