Through AFL bankruptcy, league change, COVID, Kevin Guy never stopped building

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When Ron Shurts came in as majority owner of the Rattlers in 2011, he sat down with coach Kevin Guy and talked about what they were going to do for the next 10 years.

I wanted to build the Rattlers brand and build the Guy brand.

Both have been achieved in a partnership rarely seen in professional sports.

Shurts gave Guy his blessing when he became involved in the property in Tucson to start the Sugar Skulls franchise with his wife Cathy in 2019 to help the Futsal League grow in the West.

“He could have shut that down completely, if he hadn’t wanted that to happen,” Guy said.

The Rattlers had been on their own in the West after parting ways with the failed Arena Football League to the IFL in 2017. Most of the IFL teams were located in the Midwest with Sioux Falls, the team facing the Rattlers on Sunday at Footprint Center at 3 pm, to open the playoffs, dominating the league.

That move led San Diego, Albuquerque, and northern Arizona to start franchises. Next year, the East Bay (San Jose) Panthers will begin playing in the IFL, along with the Las Vegas Knight Hawks.

As if he didn’t have enough to do anymore, Guy got a chance to be the team president, while the Rattlers were coming out of 2020 when the IFL closed early due to COVID-19.

Guy goes back to that first conversation with Shurts, about being a partnership.

“He talked about it being a partnership and building these brands together,” Guy said. “It was amazing. I don’t know of any other owner who would have allowed his employees to spread their wings and grow like him.

“I am very grateful. He has done so much for me and my family. It is not just trust. There is loyalty there. For any business to be successful, you have to have trust and communication. We have that. He is 100% believer.”

This is year 10 of the Shurts / Guy partnership with Guy running the ship. They have been to the playoffs every year. They have won four championships together, three in a row in the AFL and in their first IFL season in 2017.

Even before Shurts reached the middle of the 2011 season, the Rattlers made the playoffs in the 12 seasons that Guy has been head coach.

The Rattlers enter the eight-team IFL playoffs as the No. 1 seed with the best record at 12-2. They can host all the rounds of the playoffs, up to the United Bowl. And this time they will be able to play in downtown Phoenix.

Out of their element for the 2016 ArenaBowl and 2019 United Bowl, playing both games in Glendale because downtown stadium was unavailable, the Rattlers lost both championship games.

June 12, 2021;  Phoenix, Arizona, United States;  Rattlers head coach Kevin Guy announces plays during a game against the Sugar Skulls at the Phoenix Suns Arena.  Patrick Breen-Republic of Arizona

Together, Guy and Shurts have been in seven championship games between the AFL and IFL. They lost at the ArenaBowl in their first year together in 2011 on the last play of the game, a touchdown pass from Aaron Garcia that gave the Jacksonville Sharks a 73-70 victory at Phoenix.

They nearly reached the Arena Bowl for the fifth straight season in 2015, but lost in San Jose on a late and controversial play in the semifinals.

They returned to the Arena Bowl in 2016, losing 21-0 early to the Philadelphia Soul in a 56-42 loss played at Glendale.

“We certainly have a great professional and personal relationship,” Shurts said. “Kevin has taken more responsibility in the past year to help us get through the time of COVID, linking new partnerships and other relationships in advertising.”

Now, with legislation approving sports betting in Arizona, the Rattlers were able to partner with Rush Street Interactive, Inc., to bring online sportsbook BetRivers to Arizona, what Shurts calls “a game changer.” .

It shows how great the Rattlers brand is.

And it’s the Shurts-Guy relationship that made her grow, even in the darkest days of the AFL and IFL.

A year after Guy was hired to rebuild the Rattlers in 2008, the Arena League went bankrupt and did not have a 2009 season. It looked bleak with rising player salaries and no television revenue to ruin the league.

A new economic model brought the AFL back, but it was hard to prevent faltering franchises from quickly closing down. Even Orlando and Tampa Bay, both starting in the league before the Rattlers, couldn’t keep up with the changes and left the AFL.

The Rattlers didn’t want to be the only team left in the West playing in the AFL, and they decided to go to the IFL and grow that league, a more career-oriented, defensive-minded league, in the West.

The AFL retired a couple of years ago, and now the IFL has 11 teams and maybe four more next season.

Rattlers head coach Kevin Guy looks forward to taking the field to play the Titans at the Talking Stick Resort Arena on March 31, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Shurts had no doubt that Guy would cultivate it in the west.

“Kevin was instrumental in all of that,” Shurts said.

Guy says that the day Shurts ends up with the Rattlers, he’s gone. So to keep Shurts and Guy together, the Rattlers can look forward to more playoffs, more titles, more milestones.

“I know that as a coach I have been very lucky to be able to work for him,” Guy said. “There is a lot of trust there. I am grateful for that. It is not that way in a lot of ways in many sports organizations. At the same time, I feel that I, my team, my staff here, have won. That’s right. But I still call it all the time, bouncing things off of him. He has a great vision for this organization.

“There’s no way, no way, if I was working for any other organization, I don’t think I’d be anywhere near being successful if I hadn’t been working for Ron. It sure has changed the rules of the game.”

To suggest human interest stories and other news, contact Obert at [email protected] or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter @azc_obert.

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