CEDAR RAPIDS - When the Cedar Rapids Titans lost in the playoffs to the Sioux Falls Storm last weekend, head coach Mark Stoute took note of something: Most of the Storm’s roster carried over from last season.
Continuity has helped Sioux Falls win two straight Indoor Football League championships. And it’s something the Titans are looking for after they reached the playoffs in their second season in Cedar Rapids.
“There’s something to be said for gelling, and getting guys into the system,” Stoute said two days after the Titans’ season ended with a 44-20 loss in Sioux Falls. “Now these guys have been here for a year, and we’ve built a platform… I’d like to think that next year at this time, we’ll be getting ready to play in the United Bowl.”
The IFL is a developmental league meant to help its players move on to the Arena Football League, the Canadian Football League, or even to the NFL. The Titans know some of their players will have opportunities to play elsewhere next season — in fact, Stoute said he’d already received some calls from AFL teams asking about Titans players.
But the team hopes to keep a core group of players, and its coaching staff, in place next season. Stoute turned around a 4-10 team in his first season in Cedar Rapids, boosting its record to 9-5. Assistant head coach Sean Ponder helped the team’s offense improve to second in the league.
“We anticipate coach Stoute coming back,” team co-owner and general manager Chris Kokalis said. “We have two guys [Stoute and Ponder] with 19-plus years of coaching experience who work well together. One of my main goals is to keep the coaching nucleus in place.”
Stoute came to the Titans on a one-year contract, but said he hopes to work out a long-term deal with the team soon.
He said he and Kokalis will look to “add some pieces to the puzzle” with the goal of hosting a playoff game next season, rather than travelling for one. Stoute said the team has most of the talent in place to do that.
Running back Laron Council ran for 612 yards and 21 touchdowns before suffering a season-ending injury with two games left in the season. He made the All-IFL first team, and Kokalis said he thinks Council would have been named league MVP if not for the injury.
Wide receiver Carl Sims caught 22 touchdowns and made the All-IFL first team, and receiver Bryan Pray scored 17 times and made the league’s second team.
“None of the receivers were here last year,” Stoute said. “We dramatically upgraded the level of talent of our weapons on offense.”
Defensive lineman Xzavie Jackson made the All-IFL first team. Center Maurice Robinson and defensive back Ricky Johnson made the second team.
The Titans finished the season third out of 16 teams in attendance, averaging 4,182 fans per game. Both teams ahead of Cedar Rapids in the rankings have larger seating capacities than the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
“Our fans are second to none,” Kokalis said. “The city has welcomed the team with open arms, and we look forward to being here for many years to come.”
“That’s huge for getting players to come in here,” Stoute said. “Players are going to watch film of the Titans and think, is the stadium empty or is it packed? They want to play in front of fans.“I’ve been in the business for 19 years, and not every year has there been a situation where the fans and the community are excited to have the team here. Not every team has that, and it’s a great situation for a coach.”