Thonn-Dolezel AFL Careers Cross Paths Many Times
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on ArenaFan.com, Saturday, June 2, 2012
Sunday’s game in Cleveland between the Gladiators and the Philadelphia Soul was more than just a battle for control of the American Conference Eastern Division. It was yet another time when the AFL careers of Steve Thonn and Clint Dolezel have crossed paths. Thonn has been the head coach in Cleveland since 2010 and Dolezel is in his first season as the offensive coordinator for Philadelphia.
It all began in 1996 when Thonn became an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Mustangs. Dolezel was in his second season playing quarterback for the team. The two were reunited as coach and player with the Houston Thunderbears in 1998 and 1999. This time, Thonn was the head coach. But the story doesn’t end there.
Dolezel went on to play for the Grand Rapids Rampage from 2001-2003 and won his only Arena Bowl there in 2001. Thonn was the Rampage head coach in 2008 and led that team to the brink of an ArenaBowl berth that year.
Dolezel also played for the Las Vegas Gladiators in 2004 and 2005 before the team moved to Cleveland in 2008. Thonn is currently in his third season as the Gladiator’s head coach.
Cleveland (6-3) had beaten Philadelphia (7-3) earlier this season in Philadelphia 68-62 and was looking to put itself in the diver’s seat over its division rival with another win. But a poor offensive performance by the Gladiators, that included being shut out in the third quarter, gave Philadelphia a 55-33 win and a one and a half game lead in the division standings. The game was played in front of 4,737 disappointed hometown fans in Cleveland.
The two coaches have competed against each other many times over the course of their Arena Football League careers and Sunday’s game was just another opportunity for them to compete once again.
“We’re pretty good friends, Steve and I,” Dolezel said after the game on Sunday. “I’m sure most of my offense has come from his style of offense that I have tinkered over the years. I give him most of the credit when I talk about my offense in regards to what I like to run and what I like to do.”
Thonn was equally complimentary towards his former quarterback. “Whenever we get together we always talk offense and the stuff he is doing,” Thonn said. “He’s really taking his offense and making it his own. He’s done a great job with what he is doing and it’s good to see him having that much success. I always say he was the toughest competitor I ever coached. That’s just the way he was when he played and he’s pretty much the same way when he coaches.”
Dolezel was the head coach of the Dallas Vigilantes in 2011 and hopes to land another head coaching job in the league again. “(Being a head coach) is what I want to do,” said Dolezel. “I know the game well enough but I just got left out in the cold this year when Dallas announced late in the off-season that they would not be coming back. It worked out great though, coming to Philly (as offensive coordinator).”
Even with the loss, Thonn was optimistic about his team’s prospects for the remainder of the season. “We have eight games left,” he said. “It’s still a long season but this one hurts because it was our division foe for first place. We have to put this behind us as fast as we can.”
Perhaps these two friends and competitors will meet again in the playoffs this year and add another chapter in the history of their ongoing rivalry in the AFL.
MORE RAMPAGE-GLADIATORS CONNECTIONS
Current Gladiators Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Scott Woodruff was also the Rampage General Manager from 2005-2008. Prior to that, he was the team’s Executive Director of Development from 1998-2004. Also, current Gladiators Director of Player Personnel Ron Selesky was the Rampage Defensive Coordinator and Director of Player Personnel in 2008 under Coach Thonn. Selesky has been in Cleveland since 2011.