Since moving to Las Vegas before the 2003 Arena Football League season, the Gladiators have developed a reputation as an organization that does not spend enough money to win.
Las Vegas declined to offer championship coach Danny White the extra $90,000 or so a year he sought to take over as coach in 2004, and the team has shown a lack of aggressiveness when it comes to signing players off the waiver wire.
The Gladiators have gone from three consecutive 8-8 seasons to posting back-to-back losing records, including a franchise-worst 2-14 this season.
But owner Jim Ferraro disputes he is tight with the checkbook. He said he has spent more than $20 million since buying the club in December 2000 and has lost money year after year, including $2.5 million this season.
“Any time those guys asked for anything, they got it,” Ferraro said last week. “For anyone to sit there and say that I’m not spending money on it, that’s ludicrous, it’s insane, it’s a total … cop-out, that’s what that is.”
Ferraro, who lives in South Florida, said no one in the organization made him aware of any existing needs, such as a goal post on the practice field.
He said he expects to spend between $300,000 and $500,000 this offseason on facility improvements, such as a new field, goal post and net, and recently moving the organization into new offices near The Orleans.
Ferraro promised to be financially competitive in hiring a new coach and staff after firing Danton Barto and his assistants.
If the investments produce a winner, Ferraro said he doesn’t mind losing up to $1 million a year.
“This team could easily be breaking even or making a profit if (the football part) was run properly, but it’s not,” Ferraro said.
While Ferraro defends his spending practices, he hasn’t been able to shake the perception that he isn’t making the financial commitment necessary to be competitive.
That stigma developed three years ago when White, who had won two ArenaBowls with the Arizona Rattlers, wanted to come to Las Vegas but Ferraro failed to meet his asking price of more than $200,000.
Instead, the club promoted assistant Ron James, paying him about $110,000 a year.
James, now the line coach for the Utah Blaze under White, coached Las Vegas for two seasons. He said there were significant cutbacks in 2006, including more than $50,000 to the housing budget.
“We were under budget with travel, under budget with player salaries,” James said. “That’s really what it’s all about, if you can’t attract strong free agents. It will be difficult for them to attract strong free agents because the word is out about the organization.”
James said he was told by a players union representative that the Gladiators were $100,000 under the salary cap for the 2006 season. General manager Sam Jankovich said this year’s team was $60,000 shy of the $1.82 million cap.
James said he was further handcuffed by not being able to sign players off the waiver wire, a complaint that Barto echoed this season.
“Usually, the more successful teams are busier,” James said. “We were the least active. That’s the case again this year.”
Ferraro said he has no problem spending money but will not simply throw around cash. He said the more successful franchises bring 37 talented players to training camp each year knowing that the players who are cut will be available later if needed.
“You can’t have a nonstop revolving door through the season,” Ferraro said. “Through the offseason, (the coaches) need to pick 37 players that they would like to have on their team. When they come out of camp, they should be making very, very tough decisions on the 20 guys that they’ve got.
“When I see coaches like Ron James and Danton and Frank (Haege) … these guys go to camp, they’ve got 20 boys that they love. Then they’ve got 17 guys that are cannon fodder for camp. It’s not the way the good coaches in the AFL do it.”
Of course, the good AFL franchises also have stability on their staff. Ferraro is looking for his fourth coach in five years.
“I think this is as big a hire as this organization will ever have, and there’s no way in the world that we can make a mistake on it,” Jankovich said.
Ferraro said he won’t hire another af2 coach, after luring Barto from that league’s Memphis Xplorers.
Ferraro criticized the fired coach for a number of issues, such as retaining only three players from the previous season.
He also blamed Barto for allowing a rift to develop within the team among the seven Gladiators players whom he had coached with Memphis and the rest of the team.
“There’s no discipline,” Ferraro said. “One of the reports we got from the players, these guys were out on the town. There’s no curfew the night before games. It was a big disappointment.
“Personally, he’s a nice guy, but from talking to the players, he spent a good portion of his time just complaining. When you start complaining all the time, it rubs off on everybody else. So now you have a whole team full of complainers.”
Barto said in a released statement, “I did the best job that I possibly could with the parameters that were established.”
Ferraro blamed himself for making the hire, saying, “that was the biggest mistake in the history of the franchise.”Las Vegas Gladiators