NEW YORK -- Chet Simmons, commissioner of the U.S. Football League since its inception, resigned Monday.
No reason was immediately given for the move, A. Alfred Taubman, chairman of the special committee for the commissioner's office, announced in a statement.
The league did not name a replacement and said a search has begun for a successor. The new season begins Feb. 23.
However, Harry Usher, a California attorney who was executive vice president-general manager of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, is said to be the strongest candidate for the commissioner's post. LAOOC spokesman Rich Perlman said Monday night Usher was flying to New York from Los Angeles.
'I know he's talking to the USFL,' Perlman said.
'A successor will be announced shortly,' said Miles Tanenbaum, owner of the Baltimore Stars, from a reception in Annapolis, Md.
Asked if the new commissioner would be from the business or sports world, Tanenbaum said: 'It's peculiar ... but he's from both. When the decision is announced you'll see what I mean.
'I think there are some things Chet wants to do that are personal to him and I wish him the best of luck. He gave our league a good start and we're going to have to take it from there.'
The USFL was formed as a 12-team spring league. Last year, however, it was announced the league would move its schedule to the fall of 1986 so it could compete with the established NFL.
The USFL's television contract with ABC expires after this season but the network has no intention of signing a deal with the league when it switches to the fall.
New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump, the league's strongest and most outspoken owner, sought to compete head-on with the NFL while Simmons opposed the fall format.
With the leadership of the league swinging to such owners as Trump and Joseph Canizaro of the Portland Breakers, it is believed Simmons may have been pressured into resigning so the new faction could choose its own commissioner.
'We're sorry to see Chet resign but it was not unexpected,' said Arizona Outlaws owner and general manager Bill Tatham Jr. 'Believe me, it was expected and was the end result of a long period of work of trying to decide what to do as the league evolves and the requirements of the commissioner change.'
Simmons, former president of ESPN and NBC Sports, was named USFL commissioner in June 1982, one month after the league was formed.
He could not be reached at his Connecticut home and his statement Monday did not outline the reasons for his resignation.
'As we move into our third season, I'm confident the USFL's future has never been brighter,' he said. 'The recent consolidation to 14 teams and an exceptionally strong collegiate draft will further strengthen the league's position.'
Simmons was chosen USFL commissioner primarily because of his background in television. After the league agreed on a two-year contract with ABC, Simmons engineered a two-year deal with ESPN, the nationwide cable network. The contract expired after the 1984 season but a three-year $70 million contract was struck with ESPN through 1987.
Although the league's quality of play has been criticized, under Simmons the USFL generated headlines by signing some of the biggest names in college football.
Heisman Trophy winners Herschel Walker of Georgia and Mike Rozier of Nebraska were secured by the USFL as were quarterbacks Steve Young of Brigham Young and Jim Kelly of Miami.
The Generals currently are pursuing 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie of Boston College.
The league faces serious financial problems, forcing the consolidation of several teams after last season. Attendance, however, has climbed from 2.8 million the first year to 4.5 million last year.
The USFL in October filed a $1.32 billion antitrust suit against the NFL. The lawsuit, seeking actual damages of $440 million, charges the NFL with monopolistic practices.
The USFL claimed antitrust violations concerning player contracts, television, stadium availability, scheduling and media relations.
Under antitrust laws, if the USFL wins the suit the money awarded would be tripled, bringing the figure to $1.32 billion.