Speros has coach, name for team

February 03, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

Don Matthews, a highly successful Canadian Football League coach who produced seven playoff teams in nine years, has agreed to coach an expansion team in Baltimore next season.

Matthews, 54, will fly to Baltimore tomorrow to sign a contract with Jim Speros, the prospective owner of the CFL team.

"I want to come very badly and I think he wants me to come," Matthews said from his home in Saskatchewan yesterday. "I have been offered the job and verbally accepted. We just have to finalize the details."

That means Speros has a head coach and a nickname for his would-be team, but still doesn't have a lease to play in Memorial Stadium next summer. He said he expects to get the lease by Feb. 15, the deadline on Baltimore's bid to bring an NFL team here and the CFL's deadline to award an expansion team to Speros.

Not surprisingly, the nickname will be the Colts, the name of Baltimore's NFL team that relocated in Indianapolis 10 years ago. Whether that brings a lawsuit from NFL Properties, which holds trademark rights, is uncertain, but Speros said he was convinced by his attorneys of his legal right to the name.

"I'm comfortable with the situation," said Speros, 34, a native of Potomac. "I want to play football with the name the fans wanted."

Team colors will be blue, white, silver and black, and the logo will be a horse's head resembling a knight chess piece.

Speros and two members of his management team, former Colt Tom Matte and former CBS broadcaster Irv Cross, will meet with Gov. William Donald Schaefer today.

"It's time the governor gets a good feel for who we are and what we've done," Speros said.

Even as the Maryland Stadium Authority stages a last-ditch attempt to bring an NFL team to Baltimore, Speros talked of co-existing with that team in Memorial Stadium, which he would operate under terms of his proposed five-year lease.

"I am not concerned with what the NFL is doing," he said. "Our position is, if the state legislature wants to keep money in the till for the NFL, I think that's fine. That does not affect me one bit. I'm taking all the risk. I feel we can co-exist. Our product is different."

In Matthews, Speros is getting a proven winner. Matthews won the 1985 Grey Cup with the British Columbia Lions, and has a nine-year head coaching record of 91-53-1. He resigned as coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in early January after a three-year run produced two playoff teams. He also was head coach of the Toronto Argonauts in 1990, and of the Orlando Thunder in the World League of American Football in 1991.

The lure of building a team from scratch is what attracted Matthews.

"Every coach would like to have a chance to build a team from the ground up in an established league," he said. "I wasn't sure that was what I wanted to do until I met Jim Speros. I looked at some other opportunities. When I met Jim, his commitment to do it right was what struck me."

Speros will operate the business side and Matthews will control the football side. Matthews will hold the title of head coach and director of football operations.

"The only thing I don't have control over or want control over is the purse strings," he said. "My job is to find the players, and Jim and the personnel people will sign them."

Matthews hasn't formally selected his coaching staff, although he said it will be comprised of American coaches with CFL experience. He also said he expects to win right away. "I haven't thought of not going to the playoffs," he said.

As for the nickname, Speros said he will file trademark rights in Canada as well as the United States. He decided on Colts when his attorneys discovered NFL Properties had not renewed the trademark license.

"I do not expect a lawsuit," he said. "I'm not doing this to rub the NFL's face in it. I'm doing it because it's the right thing to do.

At least one local lawyer thinks Speros faces "an uphill battle" if NFL Properties challenges him.

"In trademark law, the test is, is there a likelihood of consumer confusion?" said Ned Himmelrich, a lawyer with Gordon and Feinblatt and chairman of the Maryland Bar Association's Intellectual Property Committee, which deals with trademarks, patents and copyrights.

"Who is the consumer? And is that consumer likely to be confused that the NFL is in some way connected with this team? Take a consumer in Baltimore. There is no confusion here because everyone in Baltimore knows the NFL has scorned us. A better analysis, though, is that consumers are not confined to Baltimore.

"My view is NFL Properties has the better side of the argument because the geographic preface doesn't matter. The more important feature is Colts."

In November 1992, Himmelrich's firm won the Camden Yards trademark case against an individual who had trademarked the ballpark name before the Maryland Stadium Authority.

"He [Speros] may be benefitting from the goodwill NFL Properties developed," Himmelrich said. "This could be a case for usurping the goodwill that has been developed. It could lead to damages."

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