understand a team concept? Gone. Rookie of the Year quarterback Clint Stoerner, after a brief taste of the NFL, didn't understand the importance of the AFL game to these people? Gone. Talented FB/LB Ja'Mar Toombs wouldn't monitor his diet well enough to combat his acid-reflux problem that unexpectedly sidelined him on game day several times? Gone.
Then there were the changes Will made.
"Early on, when Joe was here, I was the good cop and he was the bad cop," said McClay of the normal role-playing of the head coach and assistant coach. "It was a hard transition for me."
Sure it was. Will, being such a young coach in this league, was used to hanging with the guys, almost becoming one of the guys while he was coaching. It was always someone else's responsibility to yell, to scream, to turn a cold shoulder, to discipline.
Suddenly, like the week of his head coaching debut when Avezzano bolted for the Raiders, it was his. Joe was big on yelling and screaming. While a long-time assistant himself, at least he had head coaching experience, spending five seasons in charge at Oregon State. Even if he wasn't mad, he knew how to act mad.
"This was a gradual process for me," said McClay of his in-charge transformation, "because you can't change who you are overnight because I had always said I wanted to be the type of coach I'd like to play for. But I realized what I needed."
First, he needed a staff he could trust, and line coach Terry Gray was promoted to assistant head coach, and is somewhat of the team's good cop now. Then he needed a quarterback he could trust. Enter Clint Dolezel, the 11th-year veteran who just so happened to set the AFL's single-season touchdown pass record this year with 105.
Then, well, he just needed to create some distance from his players, set some rules and have the gumption to enforce them, no matter who crossed the line.
He did that, Pettis says, and evidently, very successfully, but still being able to remain the type of coach he'd like to play for. Check this out.
When COO Shy Anderson told the team last week Will was receiving a two-year contract extension, "Guys came up to me, thanking me, hugging me" because they believe so much in what McClay had done for them this year. "I really didn't expect that."
Then there was Tuesday, the day Anderson unveiled the Eastern Division Championship banner in the locker room, along with one made for Colston Weatherington, the former Cowboys defensive end winning AFL Lineman of the Year.
But there was one more, and no one knew about this one since it would not officially be announced until Thursday: Will McClay, AFL Coach of the Year.
"They gave him a standing ovation," Anderson said.
That's all respect - earned respect - from guys normally too macho to let their feelings known.
McClay thanked his players. He was appreciative of the gesture and their effort.
"But Will told them, 'That's not what I'm here for,'" referring to the division championship banner and his for coach of the year, said Anderson. "He said, 'I'm here to win an ArenaBowl.'"
That quest begins in downtown Dallas on Saturday, facing not only a team the Desperados beat by just three on the road nearly a month ago, but last year's defending National Conference champions. Winning regular-season games, divisions and awards are nice. But this is what it's all about, and the pressure intensifies to win two more to reach ArenaBowl XX June 11 in Las Vegas.
This Will McClay knows.
Nice story, huh, and just thought you ought to know a little bit about the guy.