The Columbus Lions had a rough 2013 season, finishing 4-8 -- losing six of their last seven games -- and missing the postseason for the first time in franchise history.
Now, as the Lions head into the offseason, coach Jason Gibson took time for an interview in which he addressed issues such as whether he feels the franchise has taken a step backward, what bright spots there were this season and what he and his staff will be doing this offseason to ensure Columbus is back contending for a league title in 2014.
You've qualified for the playoffs every season you've been head coach of the Lions. How does it feel to miss out on the postsea
son this year?
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It's different because we've never experienced not making the playoffs before. It makes you work harder and you're disappointed to not be in the playoffs. This franchise has a great fan base, great history and a great record. However, sometimes you just have to think, 'You can't win it every single year' and you just move on.
Given the success the franchise has had in the past, do you feel that the franchise has taken a step back the past two seasons (The Lions finished 6-7 in 2012 and 4-8 in 2013)? If so, why do you feel that it has taken a step back?
If you go by wins and losses, yes, we've taken a step back. But we had to overhaul our roster the last two seasons. Last year, we started with 17 or 18 rookies and this year, we had a lot of roster turnover. Through the years when we were winning all the games, we had players move up. We've sent a lot of people to the next level. Other teams, they keep getting same guys back year after year. The selfish part of me could say that I don't want these guys to move up. The wins and loses the past couple of years have been disappointing. But if people have a question about it, they can go watch the Arena League and see all the guys we've put there. I still feel like we've been successful.
If you could sum up this season in a word or phrase, what would it be?
Turnovers. 34 to be exact. (The Lions led the PIFL with 34 turnovers, eight more than the next-highest total)
Why do you feel like the team struggled offensively and on special team this season?
When it comes to special teams, I don't have an answer. The kickers we used were good kickers, but they got here and didn't kick very well. Craig (Camay) finally stabilized things for us, but the other three guys (Geoff Boyer, Joshua Smith and Chandler Brooks) all had a great history, but they got here and didn't do the job. (Camay) was great and we had the best returner in the league (in LeRoy Vann). As for the offrnse, you can't just blame the quarterback. We had issues all the way around the board and we had a lack of leadership. We didn't replace the guys who moved up (to the AFL) and it showed.
What were some of the bright spots for you from this season?
To be honest, there weren't many. Not too many are coming to me off the top of my head, but I got to meet some great guys. Having Duke Liberatore and Peachtree Natural Foods involved as owners now is big for us. Having them for a full season next year will be big. That was definitely a bright spot.
What was the toughest moment for you this season?
The missed field goal at Richmond (May 25, a game the Lions lost 48-42 in overtime). That two-game span where we lost at Lehigh Valley (60-51 on May 5) and Richmond was just a backbreaker for us, I think. At Lehigh Valley, we missed a field goal and ended up losing late, but at Richmond, we missed a field goal from their 1-yard line that would've won the game. That just broke our back. That was tough to take.
What are you and the coaching staff going to be focusing on this offseason to try and get the Lions back into the playoffs and contending for a league championship?
Personnel, all the way. I'm going to get the right people at every position that I need to win and get some leadership back on this team. As coaches, we can only lead so far. At some point, they have to step up and do it and we have to find those people.
You've said that several players have already committed to returning to Columbus next season. Who can Lions fans expect to see in a Columbus uniform in 2014?
I think we found something with Marcus Jones at wide receiver and Maurice Dupree has said he'll be back. (Linebacker Ryan) Babb, Vann and (offensive lineman Dion) Small have all said if they're not playing in a bigger league next year, they'd be playing here. That's a good nucleus and that's a start toward building next year's team.
The Professional Indoor Football League added a franchise this season, the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, but also had a team -- the Louisiana Swashbucklers -- have ownership issues. How do you feel about the stability of the Lions franchise and the league as a whole?
I'm not looking for other jobs right now, so I feel like the team is pretty stable. Our ownership is in it for the long haul and the league has some expansion franchises coming in that people will be excited about. The league is doing it the right way.