Commentary

San Jose makes building a dynasty look easy

There's no big secret for San Jose's success, but the SaberCats sure make building a dynasty look easy.

Originally Published: July 23, 2008
By Jack McCarthy | Special to ESPN.com

There's no great secret to success for the San Jose SaberCats.

Stable management and front-office staff, stars who stick around, effective marketing and a rabid fan base are among the ingredients that make for an organization that's the envy of the Arena Football League.

"They do a real good job with their fan base," said David Alioto, executive vice president of business operations for the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer. "They have a strong marketing program, including consistent newspaper ads, consistent billboards. They keep themselves visible in a very tough market.

"You have three really good franchises here [the SaberCats, Earthquakes and NHL Sharks] and you have three committed owners. I think the secret is consistency. The franchises that have had consistency across the board have had a lot of success."

Darren Arbet
Andy Lopusnak/AFL /Getty ImagesSan Jose coach and GM Darren Arbet is a big reason why the SaberCats are a budding dynasty.
Since their 1995 inaugural year, the SaberCats have reached the playoffs nine straight times, own three Arena Bowl trophies since 2002 and have a 101-37 regular-season record in the same span.

They could make it four titles with a victory over Philadelphia in Sunday's Arena Bowl (ABC, 3 p.m. ET).

It may be premature to call San Jose an AFL dynasty. But the Cats do compare favorably with elite teams in other sports during the past two decades.

The New York Yankees, a perennial Major League Baseball playoff qualifier, captured four World Series between 1996 and 2000; the NBA's Chicago Bulls claimed a pair of three-peat championships in eight seasons in the 1990s; and the NFL's New England Patriots won three Super Bowls in four seasons (2002-05) plus a 2007 AFC title.

The SaberCats have plenty of admirers in both their hometown and around the league.

The San Jose Mercury News called them a "model franchise." Mike Polisky, general manager of the 2006 ArenaBowl champion Chicago Rush, knows what it takes to build a successful franchise.

"The biggest priority is committed ownership," he said. "From there, you are able to hire and maintain and nurture a talented front-office staff. If you have ownership support, you do the right things on and off the field and that has huge payoffs.

"They have to be leaders. They're going for their fourth championship in seven years," Polisky said. "They've kept their core players on the field and they have an avid fan base.

"And I'm jealous of the rings they've won," added Polisky with a laugh.

SaberCats owner John Fry rarely talks to the press, but people who work for him praise his commitment and involvement.

"I love our ownership," said Darren Arbet, the 10th-year SaberCats head coach who added general manager duties three years ago. "[Fry] has given us what we need to be a successful football team. He was heavily involved in the first 11 years. The last two years he's still involved -- calling me and checking in -- but he's been more hands off."

Arbet, the first African-American head coach to win a pro football championship, has been with the team since its inception. And many of his staff also have lengthy tenures.

"We have the best coaching staff in the league," said Arbet, who started as a SaberCats assistant and was elevated to head coach in 1999. "Dave Witthun, my player personnel director, works his tail off in the offseason trying to find players. I have [defensive coordinator] Jeff Jarnigan, [special teams coach] Lou Patrone and [offensive coordinator] Terry Malley; they're in there every day looking at film after film, trying to find guys to make this team better."

San Jose also has some of the league's best and longest-serving players.

Seven SaberCats have been with the team a collective 48 years. Quarterback Mark Grieb leads the pack with a decade of service while wide receiver James Roe and defensive back Omarr Smith have eight years each. Defensive back Clevan Thomas, offensive lineman Dan Loney and defensive lineman George Williams are six-year SaberCats veterans while fullback Mark Johnson has been there four seasons.

Nor is San Jose afraid to refresh its roster. The SaberCats' Arena Bowl roster features nine rookies.

"Two years ago, we [also] made a lot of changes and had a lot of new guys who hadn't played Arena Football before," said Arbet. "When we went into that season, we felt that early on we were going to take our lumps but that we [would] be pretty good."

Sounds familiar. That 2006 team reached the conference finals before losing to eventual champion Chicago. This year's team started 3-4 before winning 10 of 11 games and now sits one win away from becoming the first team to win back-to-back titles since 1996.

It might not be a secret how the SaberCats have built their budding dynasty, but they definitely make it look easy.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE AFL HEADLINES

MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM