New QB's arrival switched on the Power

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After a second consecutive futility-filled season in 2013, the three highest-ranking officials in the Power organization -- owners Matt Shaner and Lynn Swann and team president Peter Hill -- decided it was time to call a meeting.

The first order of business -- deciding whether or not to continue the franchise.

The next question, though, was more complex, one not answered with a simple shake or nod of the head -- how do you turn one of the Arena Football League's worst teams, one that won just nine of its previous 36 games, into a championship contender?

Not even a year later, the team is beyond even where that group could possibly have hoped it would be. The Power is 11-3 and its first playoff berth already secured.

How did a perennial loser become one of the league's best teams in the span of 10 months?

For those at the top of the organization, it began with identifying weaknesses. Almost immediately, it became clear the Power needed more veteran players, particularly ones with a proven record of AFL success. The team's roster at the beginning of last season had a combined 35 years of AFL experience between 28 players. Of those players, just three that had been in the league for at least two years.

In the franchise's early years, it admittedly relied too heavily on local talent and players who came in for tryouts. That had to change.

"It turned from more of a regional campaign in the first three seasons to a national campaign to get the very best, regardless of where they were from," Shaner said.

Furthermore, the Power was in desperate need of a franchise quarterback. The most important position was a carousel in the team's first three seasons, rotating through 11 starters. If the team were to become a winner, its transformation would have to begin there. Meanwhile, the Utah Blaze was in the process of folding, and its quarterback, Tommy Grady, soon became the Power's primary target.

After an intensive pitch, the 2012 AFL Most Valuable Player signed in the offseason, giving the franchise the face it had so long desired. "He was the key," Shaner said. "Because in our league what happens is when you get an elite quarterback, other elite players want to come to that franchise because there are only a few of them. In my opinion, Tommy Grady is the best quarterback in the Arena Football League."

With a decorated passer in a quarterback-driven league, other impact players were eager to follow. Standout receivers Aaron Lesue and Shawn Kauleinamoku came with Grady from Utah, and the Power started to stockpile players in other key positions like defensive back Virgil Gray.

"Players want to win, and, if they see you've got guys who have won, who are all-Arena-type guys, they're not dumb -- they can see, and a lot of guys did see, what we were trying to build," Power director of player personnel Brad Wittke said. "They wanted to be a part of it."

In stark contrast to the 4-14 team of last season, the Power's current active roster has an average of 2.5 years of AFL experience. Twelve of 26 players are in at least their fourth season in the league.

The talent was in place, but there was still the matter of finding the right coach, something Shaner aimed to do when he fired Derek Stingley, 7-20 with the Power, one game into the season.

While Stingley played a role in recruiting talented players, his replacement, former Blaze coach Ron James, has proven he can win with it as his 11-2 record suggests.

The contributions of people like Grady and James, though, presents an interesting wrinkle to the Power's transformation this season. In short, would this franchise be where it is now had Utah not folded?

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.


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