After two seasons, the Piranhas of the Arena Football League are folding. Coach Mike Hohensee, who had one year remaining on a two-year contract, said he was told on Monday by majority owner Robert Zinngrabe to “start looking for another job.”
“I don’t think the Piranhas are going to be playing next year as the Piranhas,” Hohensee said Wednesday night. “I think it was a combination of things. They have good people here. This could have been successful. It’s unfortunate for a lot of people. But we have to move on with our lives.”
The 1998 Arena League schedule was released this week and the Piranhas were not on it. The Piranhas reached the playoffs in their first year and averaged more than 10,000 fans at the Pond. But the team went 2-12 last year and lost more than half of its season-ticket base of 3,000 in its second season.
Once the season ended, Zinngrabe, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, laid off almost all of his front-office staff and began searching for new investors. Last month, Ian Welsh, director of football operations, resigned to take a job outside of football.
Three weeks ago, Zinngrabe hired a management team, led by Bill Waite, to take over operations of the team from Roy Englebrecht, senior vice president.
“As late as six days ago, it looked like we had turned the thing around,” Hohensee said.
But after returning from a scouting trip on the East Coast, Hohensee said he was told by Waite that the future of the franchise was in doubt.
Hohensee was hired away from a successful franchise in Albany, N.Y., last year to replace Babe Parilli, who led the Piranhas to a 9-5 record in 1996. Hohensee said he has no regrets about leaving Albany.
“The Anaheim Piranhas were not the main reason I came out here,” he said. “I came out here for my son. No matter what happens from here on out, it was worth it. We took a chance. Football-wise it didn’t work out.
“They were good to me here. They were as honest as they could be. They never blamed the financial woes of the franchise on our record.”
Tim Ryan, assistant general manager of the Pond, said he had not been notified by the Piranhas’ owners that the team had folded.
“We had heard they were making a last-ditch effort to make it here in Anaheim,” Ryan said. “If in fact it’s true, it’s a shame. They had a tremendous impact in Orange County. They did a lot of things right. We never like to see events leave our building. That’s not good news.”
Hohensee, who has been involved in the AFL as a player and a coach since 1987, said he has already begun looking for another job within the league.
“At this late date, all the head coaching jobs are filled,” he said. “I’m probably looking at being an assistant for a year.”
Ryan said he wonders about the future of the league when a franchise can’t survive in a major market such as Orange County.
“If you were to draw up a perfect environment for an Arena Football team, this would be it,” Ryan said. “The fact that we don’t have an NFL team here and we’ve got a great building like the Pond. It’s a recipe for success.”