Plank's Long Road May Finally Yield a Championship
NEW ORLEANS -- Last year, the Arizona Rattlers learned a crushing lesson. You can come within just inches of winning a championship, but in the end, even if you fall a few inches short, you've ended your season falling short of your ultimate goal. This year marks their return to the ArenaBowl, but for the coach of the Philadelphia Soul, Doug Plank, falling short of a championship is nothing that is all that new.
And in a story that I had never heard before, I realized just how close Plank came to being a part of a championship team last year. Just prior to that game, Head Coach Kevin Guy brought in Plank, a Phoenix resident, to the locker room to talk to his team about what the moment of playing a championship game is like. Plank referred to it as "a real honor" to be able to get that opportunity to speak to a team on the verge of a title.
We all know what happened on the final play of ArenaBowl XXIV…
The last game that I ever attended as a fan before joining the staff here at ArenaFan was the National Conference Championship Game between the Orlando Predators and the Georgia Force in 2005. In that game, Plank and his Force were up against one of the most storied franchises in the league's history. The clash went back and forth, but in the end, it took a stand on a two-point conversion play to send the team to the ArenaBowl.
After the long drive home, I immediately got on a message board and stated, "I have seen the best team in the league and the best coach in the league, and they are the Georgia Force and Doug Plank." However, I was wrong. Georgia fell just short in ArenaBowl XIX to the Colorado Crush on the final play of the game.
Backtrack to the start of Plank's coaching career in the AFL in 2001, which ironically started right here with the Rattlers. Plank served as an assistant to Danny White, one of the most decorated coaches in league history. As an assistant, Plank saw his Rattlers get to the ArenaBowl in 2002, 2003, and 2004. Unfortunately for him, that championship eluded him at that point as well in those years, as he watched his team get clocked twice (52-14 by the San Jose SaberCats in ArenaBowl XVI and 43-29 by the Tampa Bay Storm in ArenaBowl XVII) and suffer a crippling emotional defeat (69-62 by the SaberCats in ArenaBowl XVIII).
Plank hasn't just had these problems in his arena football career, though. He went to the Atlanta Falcons as an assistant in 2008, the year that they made the playoffs the season after going just 4-12. In 2009, Plank became a defensive assistant for the New York Jets. The Jets led the league in total defense and made the AFC Championship Game in the first year of the tenure of Head Coach Rex Ryan. From there, Plank went to the Ohio State Buckeyes, where he graduated from in 1975. The Bucks won the Sugar Bowl that year, but alas, still no championship.
If you do the math on all of that, that's 10 seasons of coaching at various levels, from an assistant all the way up to the head coach. All told, those teams that worked with Plank from the beginning as an assistant with Arizona in 2002 all the way through the present at all levels, went 122-51, a winning percentage of .705. Every team that he coached made the playoffs regardless of what level he was coaching at, and the Buckeyes made it to a BCS bowl game, just about as close to the professional sports equivalent of the playoffs as you'll get.
Winning 70% of your games is nice, but winning a championship would be a heck of a lot better.
Back when he was a player, Plank had this sort of problem as well. In his Media Day press conference, Plank recalled the fact that he suffered what turned out to be a career-ending injury in 1982 when he was playing with the Chicago Bears. He was thought of so highly by the Bears' defensive coordinator, the great Buddy Ryan, that he named his trademark defense the "46" after the number that Plank wore from 1975 through 1982. Plank also played a season with the USFL's Chicago Blitz. All told, he played in three playoff games, all defeats.
But don't worry, the Bears went on to win Super Bowl XX in 1985.
And if you want to go back to college when Plank played with Ohio State, it's more of the same. In his four campaigns with the Buckeyes, they finished 9-2, 10-0-1, 10-2, and 11-1. Four Big Ten Championships. Four Rose Bowl appearances. Four Top 5 finishes in the AP Poll. Zero National Championships.
So close, and yet so far.
And now, Plank is back in the ArenaBowl for the fifth time in his coaching career, right on the precipice of that elusive first championship. But if indeed the mantra of the season is true for the Soul, Plank will finally be able to say that, "He got this."