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Ex-coach set surging Power on current course

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 11:00 p.m.
Pittsburgh Power's Virgil Gray makes his third interception of the night against the New Orleans VooDoo at the Consol Energy Center on Friday April 11, 2014. The Power beat the VooDoo, 56-14.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Power's Virgil Gray makes his third interception of the night against the New Orleans VooDoo at the Consol Energy Center on Friday April 11, 2014. The Power beat the VooDoo, 56-14.

If the Power earn the first playoff berth in franchise history this season, owner Matt Shaner knows who to thank — fired coach Derek Stingley. “I told him when I let him go, ‘We owe a debt of gratitude to you,' ” Shaner said. Stingley was at the forefront of the Power's offseason makeover that has left only four players from last year's team on the active roster. He was fired after the first game, a 63-53 home loss to the still-undefeated Cleveland Gladiators, and replaced by Ron James.

“I appreciate him saying that,” Stingley said when contacted at his home in Baton Rouge, La. “That was my job. It was difficult, but at the same time I was able to put together a better team.”

Shaner said James is a better fit, “coaching-wise.”

So far, he has been proven correct. James has earned the players' unanimous acclaim while winning all three games since he was hired, going into the showdown Saturday in Phoenix against the two-time defending champion Arizona Rattlers (4-0).

“I wasn't nervous about making the choice I did,” Shaner said. “I had James on the radar screen as a possibility. But (in the offseason), I was more focused on recruiting, and Stingley is a great recruiter.”

After a 9-27 record the past two seasons, the Power (3-1) are ranked third in this week's Arena Football League coaches poll.

Stingley said he has not followed the Power closely since he left the team.

“It's too fresh for me to stay plugged in,” he said.

But before the season, he orchestrated a tricky mix of free-agent acquisitions and trades (including luring defensive back Virgil Gray from the Rattlers and getting wide receiver Prechae Rodriguez from Orlando). He also got lucky.

Literally, the Power pulled quarterback Tommy Grady “out of a hat,” according to AFL commissioner Jerry Kurz.

After the Utah Blaze and Chicago Rush folded last year, Kurz conducted a dispersal draft. He said the Power were awarded the first choice at random. With it, they chose Grady, who has turned into the best player the franchise has employed at the game's most important position. He is fifth in the league with 20 touchdown passes.

With their second choice, the Power selected wide receiver Aaron Lesue, who was Grady's favorite target in Utah and currently is tied for third in the AFL in average receptions per game (8.75).

Many teams decided not to draft Lesue because they knew he wanted to join Grady in Pittsburgh. Plus, he left the Blaze and its shaky management situation in midseason last year to pursue his dream of playing Olympic rugby. This year, he said he is committed to the Power.

Gray, who chose Pittsburgh because he wanted to be closer to his family in Atlanta, leads the league with six interceptions. He said he talked to nearly every team before settling on the Power.

Orlando and Jacksonville, which are closer to Atlanta, were interested, but the Predators were going through a coaching change and the Sharks already had a solid secondary.

“I wanted to go somewhere I could help,” Gray said.

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