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New Gladiators coach Wilpolt excited about opportunity

Mike Wilpolt, a finalist for the Gladiators’ coaching job three years ago, had his eye on the position for quite some time.

He got his chance Wednesday when he was hired by the Arena Football League team.

Because he was the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Avengers the past three seasons and he and his family have Western ties, he wanted to remain on this side of the country.

He said he had opportunities to go elsewhere since doing an impressive job as interim coach of the now-defunct Indiana Firebirds in 2004, but this position best suited him.

“I’m kind of a West Coast guy anyway, and I’m happy something opened on the West Coast,” Wilpolt said Thursday. “I was happy in my role with Los Angeles.”

Wilpolt, 39, and his wife, Deseree, also have Las Vegas ties. He played for the Las Vegas Sting — the city’s first AFL franchise — in 1994 and 1995, and his wife has a cousin and aunt who live in the valley.

Of course, Gladiators fans are concerned about whether Wilpolt — the fourth coach in the team’s five years — will turn around an organization that has not put together a winning record since going 9-5 in 2002 when it was in New Jersey.

Last season’s team went 2-14, but Wilpolt said the Gladiators have “a good core to win Arena Football League games.”

Even so, he said he was studying the personnel to know how many players to keep. Wilpolt said he has contacted about half of the roughly 20 players under contract for next season, and will get in touch with all of them soon.

He said he also would like to hit the free-agent market for a wide receiver, pass rusher and offensive linemen.

He did not commit to going after a quarterback, and might not need to after Jason Fife was released by the New Orleans Saints after spending last season with them.

Fife showed promise in 2006 as an AFL rookie with Las Vegas before suffering cracked ribs. He passed for 2,221 yards with 41 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

“He can make things happen,” Wilpolt said. “Obviously, he’s a tough guy. He needs experience and polishing.”

Fife said he would be happy to return to the Gladiators should he not receive a call from another NFL team.

As for his assistants, Wilpolt said he has hired an experienced staff, but wanted to wait before announcing the names.

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