Just prior to the Gladiator's final game, a playoff loss to the Philadelphia Soul, Lane Adkins spoke to team owner Bernie Kosar about his first year as a CEO of a new Cleveland football team...
Q: Bernie, in your first season as a part-owner and CEO of the AFL's Cleveland Gladiators, what has surprised you the most about the arena game? And how difficult was it for you coming from a successful NFL career to interact with a different type game?
BK: As I told you when I got involved in bringing an arena team to Cleveland, this wasn't about my ego or it being a token type position thing. There is a lot of work involved running an arena league team and I have immersed myself into this feet first.
When we started here my first reaction was to get directly involved with the team itself, but I didn't, I wanted to sit back a bit and take in all the intricacies of the game. I talked with the players and coaches. Players are players and coaches are coaches, that part of the game doesn't change. Once I knew the game, I got much more involved, but not in the meddling type of way, though Mike Wilpolt (head coach) and Brian Partlow (offensive coordinator) may disagree, Kosar said laughingly.
I don't know if anything really surprised me, but the level of expertise and commitment from the team owners to the coaches to the players is extraordinary. I have been around teams that were a family, and it is no different here with us, the Cleveland Gladiators are a family. Head coach Mike Wilpolt has done a great job in his first season as head coach of the team and we are in the hunt.
The atmosphere at an arena league game is phenomenal, the pace of the game is fast, the rules are a little different, but football is football and we are proud of the way the team has played and how the fans have come out to support us.
Q: Making the playoffs and on the verge of something as special, as in fighting for the AFL Championship has to be rewarding to you as an owner to watch this team develop as quickly as it has. What were your realistic thoughts as the season started for this team as it moved from Las Vegas to Cleveland?
BK: We've had our ups and downs as the season has progressed. What we struggled with most was consistency, we are a team with many new faces, but quality people and players. You have to give credit to the job (Mike) Wilpolt and the staff has done, from top to bottom this has been a team effort.
After moving the team from Las Vegas, we knew we could be competitive if we made the right moves with personnel. We made a couple deals to get players we targeted in the draft and we went hard after Raymond Philyaw (starting QB). Ray is one of the best in the game, he is experienced and has been successful in the arena game. It is his experience and leadership that has played a major role in where we are, he is very bright and competitive and knows how to get the job done out there.
From the start we believed this was going to be a good team. We expected to be competitive, and I am not going to sit here and tell you I expected us to be a playoff team, but I did believe it was possible if everything came together. As the season progressed, we began to have aspirations about possibly making the playoffs, we saw the possibilities.The night we clinched a playoff berth at home against Columbus was special for me, the organization and the fans of Cleveland. Without all the hard work of the people in this organization and backing of the fans, I don't know if we could have made it this far this quickly.
Q: In light of the Gladiators quick rise in the AFL, this proves that teams can turn it around in a hurry with solid coaching and talent. Getting ready to face the Philadelphia Soul in the Western Division Championship game this Saturday, what can this team do differently to beat the Soul, a team which defeated the Gladiators twice in the regular season?
BK: We played them twice in the regular season, winning at home and losing on the road. Both were tough, hard-fought games and we feel we should have won both games. We were in position to win that game in Philadelphia but things didn't go our way and we missed a two-point conversion at the end which would have won the game for us.
I feel we match up pretty well with them, they are a very, very good team. They're well coached and very explosive and play defense.. There defense is one of the best we faced during the season and expect to see the very best from them come Saturday in Philadelphia.
If we can play solid defense, not make numerous mental mistakes and capitalize on opportunities, we will be in it. Offensively, we feel good about where we are, but need to play better if we are going to get past them. They pretty much know what we do as a team and we have a feel for them as a team, it is going to boil down to who makes plays and which team doesn't turn the ball over. In this game, a turnover or two can put a team in a deep rut due to the offensive prowess of these teams.
It all comes down to execution.