The Columbus Lions finished their season last week with a 43-39 loss to the Nashville (Tenn.) Venom in the American Conference Championship game of the Professional Indoor Football League playoffs, putting a cap on a 7-6 season.
Columbus returned to the playoffs after missing out last season for the first time in franchise history and posted a 5-1 home record, losing only to Nashville in its last home game of the season. Now, as the Lions head into the offseason, head coach Jason Gibson took time for an interview in which he addresses issues such as whether he feels this season was a success, what bright spots there were this season and his thoughts on the stability and future of the PIFL.
After missing the playoffs last season, your team rebounded to make the playoffs and finish with a 7-6 record. Do you feel like this season was a success?
"We didn't win the championship, so it was a failure."
Since you don't feel like the season was a success, what kept it from being one?
"I can't say. We were 48 seconds away from doing what we wanted to do, which play for the league championship. We had Nashville on the ropes. They made plays on fourth down and we didn't. At the end of the season, we had personnel issues on offense and we still finished with the seond-highest scoring offense in the league. We just stalled out on offense (against Nashville). We were trying to run our offense with a rookie quarterback and we had receiver issues the last five or six games.
We had a lot of people not at practice and people get hurt. Still, this season was a failure. For us, it's a championship or nothing. I'm not trying to be brutal, but I told the guys that after the game and the guys in the locker room felt the same way. They understood where I was coming from."
How much of an effect, if any, did the late-season dismissal of quarterback Chris McCoy have on the team in terms of team chemistry and overall attitude?
"What kind of a question is that? (Luke) Halpin started the last four games for us and we averaged almost 70 points per game and he threw 12 touchdowns and one interception. That ratio is as good as anybody in the league. He solidified us where we needed to be and did a great job. I think that answers the question."
What do you feel like some of the bright spots were from this season?
"We were 5-1 at home and should have been 6-0. I thought we played well at home. We brought back an attitude that if playing you're playing us here, you're going to lose. It really sets us up going into next year. Also, (fullback) Kendrick Perry was a big factor for us this year. He was awesome."
How soon will you begin evaluating which players will return to the team next season and what players would you like to bring back in 2015?
"That's a process. We have to sit down and watch a lot of film. There are a lot of veterans who won't be back because they're just going to hang it up. We'd like to have a lot of guys back, but we have guys get called up and people who have to take jobs to where they can't play next year. We had seven guys who were all-league and when you have that many players on a squad who are all-league, you're going to lose guys. We lose guys every year."
With eight teams spread over the East Coast and Southeast, the PIFL appears to have gained a solid foothold in its third season. What kind of future do you see for the PIFL and would you like for the league to expand?
"I'm not big on expansion, no. A lot of people want to expand and it's a mistake. Expansion causes people to lose focus on what they have. I like all the owners and coaches that we have in the league right now. There isn't a huge turnover with the coaches and owners and that's a good thing. Except for the ownership screwup in Albany - which was their fault, not the league or anybody else's - the league is solid. The league stepped in and did a good job running (the Georgia Fire, based in Rome after leaving Albany during the offseason). The league ran that team professionally, but I wouldn't want to see more than 10 teams in the league. People are starting to know teams like Lehigh Valley and Richmond and are looking forward to them coming here. They're starting to get a familiarity. Every game this season was a compeotitive game and you have to prepare or else you're going to get beat. That's a good league."
Talk about the future of the Columbus Lions. What would you like to see improvements in, both on and off the field, for the 2015 season?
"We increased attendance by 1,000 people over last year, so we improved in that area. For us to be able to come back next year and possibly be in the black is big. There are things we can do better, but that's always going to be the case. Some people here in town know the Lions and others have no clue about us. We have to get the word out more. A lot of people are paying their personal money to help keep the team here and I can't say enough about them. They come to every game -- home and away -- and have supported us. The owners of this franchise are here to stay and are good people. I couldn't as for better people to work for."