CEDAR RAPIDS — Eighty thousand people, give or take a couple thousand.
That’s what Marvin Jones played in front of during his glorious Florida State football career at FSU’s Doak Campbell Stadium. That’s what he played in front of at Giants Stadium during his 11-year career playing linebacker for the New York Jets.
A couple hundred people, give or take a few dozen.
That’s how many saw the Jones-coached Cedar Rapids Titans (1-3) lose 50-41 to the Nebraska Danger Monday night in an Indoor Football League game at the U.S. Cellular Center.
It was quiet at times during the game. As if those who did attend were watching something that was dying.
Titans general manager/co-owner Chris Kokalis announced in January that the seventh-year franchise is for sale. If someone doesn’t buy it and keep it here, this is the end of the line.
Given what the Titans once drew to what they now draw, a reboot and rebranding would be necessary.
“We’ve had a very loyal fan base,” Kokalis said before Monday’s game. “We’ve been very lucky and fortunate having fans like that.”
That looks like a past-tense deal. Minor league pro sports teams in independent leagues often have short shelf-lives. It takes constant promoting and tinkering to extend them, plus a surplus of established goodwill.
The Titans got out of the gates pretty fast at the start of the 2012 season. They look like they’re wheezing to the end.
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“Obviously, our number one goal is to find a group that wants to keep them in Cedar Rapids,” Kokalis said. “We’re looking for someone who has that vision long-term.”
In the meantime, the Titans have a coach with a football pedigree that goes as far beyond the IFL as any the league ever claimed. He’s trying to prove to himself and others that coaching and assembling a competitive team are things he can master.
“My experience alone, that’s something that brings credibility,” Jones said. “A lot of these guys have aspirations and hopes and dreams to get where I’ve been, so who’s better to tell them what it takes to get there?”
Jones has done what his players haven’t, and won’t. He was a two-time All-America linebacker at Florida State in 1991 and 1992. He won the Lombardi (top college lineman/linebacker) and Butkus awards (top linebacker) in 1992, and had his No. 55 jersey number retired three years ago.
Twenty-five years ago this spring, Jones was the No. 4 pick in the NFL draft. He played in 142 games for the New York Jets from 1993 to 2003, racking up over 1,000 tackles. He was an All-Pro in 2000.
Now Jones coaches a roster of players mostly from Division I and Division II college programs. Only a few of them have had as much as an NFL tryout.
“Number one,” Jones said, “I enjoy working with young men trying to get a second opportunity, to hopefully advance themselves and get a workout with NFL, CFL, things like that.
“I teach my players to be coaches, not just players. I prided myself on knowing the game plan. Hell, I’d be telling my coaches what they were going to do before they did it when I was on the field.”
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Last year, Jones was the defensive coordinator for the IFL’s Colorado Crush, and became the interim head coach in midseason. Billy Back was hired last fall to coach the Titans, but left in December to coach a National Arena League team in North Carolina. Jones sought and got the job here after the Crush ceased operations.
“I wanted to have the opportunity to kind of build my own thing from Day One rather than coming in like last season as an interim coach midway through,” said Jones.
“I want to see what I can really do. We’re only into a quarter of the season right now. But I feel real good about a lot of things, and a couple things I don’t feel good about, and those things I’ll obviously take a hard look at tonight and fix some things tomorrow.”
As for long-range plans, 45-year-old Jones said “I have no clue. I may go to a Division II college for 15 years and then retire.”
He laughed, as he often does, while adding “It depends how bad these boys stress me out. They’re doing a good job of it.”
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