Monday, July 25, 2011

The value of imports

OK So I am not so much reviving the blog as I am responding to a post and querry of another blogger about American football in Europe.

Below is my response that I was unable to post in his comments for some reason. Figured I might as well throw it up on here for the world to see.

Great article Joey. Love hearing different guys thoughts on the value of imports.

In my opinion, the biggest value of the import is at the QB position. With an American QB, it raises the sophistication of the passing game immensely. When I explained what European football is like to friends in the states, I would tell them that it is junior high run schemes and college level passing schemes. Without an American QB, 95% of teams would have both run and pass schemes that were junior high level. That significantly waters down the product, excitement, and fan experience.

The other area where imports have a great impact is an example for national players. The imports can show them what it takes to compete at a high level as well as the necessary skills and techniques. Quite frankly this is also where having skilled American coaches is a huge asset too. That is something that is often overlooked. Great teams have a great staff of coaches as well.

Imports also have great value in that they can also carry out the American coaches vision. Imports typically know what to expect from an American coach and how they want things done. As an American in Europe, the guys who have success over there are the ones that remember that they are just visitors. At the end of the day, we are all going to head back home to the states. It is the national players who are going to continue with the team and build the legacy.

Ultimately, the great teams in Europe are great because of the national players. The Americans usually end up cancelling each other out. That is one of the great things about football is that no one or two guys can take over a team. As long as the majority of players on the field are national players, they will be the ones who decides who wins and losses every week.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The midnight train to Serbia

I am going to start off by saying that I consider myself pretty well traveled and have encountered a number of things in my travels. Not a whole lot surprises me and I am pretty much able to make anything work. I have driven 20+ hours by myself on multiple occasions. I have driven non stop to both Utah and Louisville. I have been snowed in for 3 days while trying to get home from Christmas. I have flown home at midnight and gotten on another plane the following morning headed overseas. Even with all of those experiences, nothing prepared me for our travels this weekend.

We had our game on Sunday in Belgrade Serbia against the Vukovi Wolves. For a number of reasons that I don't quite understand our travel arrangements were as follows. Drive 5 hours to Villach on the Austrian/Slovakian border, hop on the overnight train for 12 hours, arrive in the morning, play the game, eat dinner, hop on the midnight train back, drive back home. So all in all, it is about 40 hours of travel in a 55 hour period.

Our driving experience was the least problematic, although stuffing 8 grown men and all of their bags doesn't leave a lot of room for creature comforts. We got to Villach just fine and grabbed a little dinner before we boarded the train. Before we got on our train we had to take a bus 30 minutes up the track because they were working on the track. When we got to our train it was at this little podunk outpost and when I saw our "sleeping" car all I could do was laugh to keep from crying. This thing might as well have been built in the 1940's and last updated in the 1970's. There were six bunks per cabin and the cabin was 6x6x8. So we stuffed 6 grown men in this cabin and proceeded to hang out until it was time for bed.

Bedtime came and we turned out the lights, locked the door, and tried to get maybe 6 hours of sleep. At about 1 o'clock the train attendent came rapping on the door yelling "Passports! Passports!" We were at the border and had to do a passport check. So we got up, turned on the lights, unlocked the door, fished out our passports, and waited for border patrol to come check. This happened another 3 times throughout the night. Suffice it to say I didn't sleep well. Plus I was a little concerned about getting my stuff stolen during the night since Coach Roman had his computer stolen the last time he was on the night train.

On top of that, at our stop in Zagreb Croatia about 200-300 drunken soccer hooligans jumped on our train and were coming up and down the aisles baning on cabin windows. I was half asleep at the time, but I have a vivid memory of the train stopping, looking out the window, seeing all of these soccer hooligans and immediately checking to make sure the door was locked. I don't want to say that I was afraid, but I was concerned. I felt pretty safe knowing that I was traveling with a bunch of football guys who are some of the toughest men that I have ever met. If I were to ever get into a fight, these are the guys who I would want with me. That being said, I wasn't really in the mood to throw down with some soccer hooligans. Plus, I am more of a lover and not a fighter.

Once we finally arrived in Belgrade at 7 am with approximately 2 hours of sleep max we were picked up at the train station by a bus that had been arranged to take us to a restaurant for breakfast. The breakfast left a little something to be desired as it was what ammounted to a hot dog and 2 fried eggs. We then got back on the bus and arrived at the stadium at 8:30. Kickoff was at 1. Without exception, the whole team including coaches slept on the locker room floor and benches until 11. Let me say that again, a whole football team slept on a cold, locker room floor the morning of their game because they were so exhausted.

As one might imagine, we were a little sluggish come game time. We managed to move the ball pretty well though and were able to pick on their corners a bit. It was a good day for the passing game and we must have thrown for over 300 yards. The game ended up being a seesaw battle back and forth with one team making a play and the other team answering.
It ended up going into double overtime. We scored to make the game 48-49 and decided to go for two. We ran a sweep around the right end and their was a big collision at the pylon. From my vantage point, there was no doubt that he got in. The referee didn't see it the same way. He ruled him out short of the goal line. In watching the video, it is clear that he did get in. You can watch it for yourself at and go to 2nd half highlights.
To make matters worse, the referee who called him out was so out of position it was ridiculous. On the goal line the official is supposed to back straight away from the goal line so he maintains a true visual on the goal line. Well this beloved official backed away up the field. Consequently he make the call from the sideline at the 7 yard line. He was in absolutely no position to make the call. I am not one to bag on officials because it is a tough, thankless job. That being said, at least be in the right position to make the call. If the wrong call is made and the official is in the correct spot I can live with that. When the chips are down and the game is on the line the official needs to be in the correct position to make the call.
Losing that way made everything that we went through just to get there that much harder to swallow. I really could not be any more proud of this team and the players. We traveled through hell just to get there and the 22 players that we had gave it absolutely everything that they had. Those guys truly hung it all out there and held nothing back. I couldn't ask for anything more from those guys. We had guys playing hurt and by the time it was all said and done we looked like the walking wounded. I hate to use the term "warrior" because of its military context, but in this situation we truly had guys who were warriors.
Our travel back home was much the same just in reverse order. And without the hooligans. We got back home at 5:00 PM. I slept from 6:00 to midnight and then from 3 AM to noon. And I was still tired the whole day. There have been moments and times where I have grinded it out and gone on little sleep. Nothing compares to this experience though. I said it when I first signed on for this that if nothing else it would be an adventure. Well this past weekend I got an adventure and then some.
On the 10th my parents are flying in and will be here and doing some traveling themselves at the same time. I am really excited for them to come and show them where I have been and what I have been doing. If everything works out right we will be able to do some sightseeing together as well. Should be a good time.
That is all I have for now. Hope all is well back home. Take care

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hanging it all out

This past Saturday we traveled to Vienna for our game against the Dragons. The Dragons are an AFL team and one of the better teams we will see all year. For a number of different reasons, we went there with only 20 players. To say that made things a little difficult would be an understatement. Our guys battled it out and hung it in there for 3 quarters. Eventually they just wore us down. It was 17-28 at the beginning of the 4th quarter and we were driving when there was a controversial fumble. They scored on the next play and that was the beginning of the end. We just could not sustain the effort and focus for the whole game with so few players. I am really proud of the players and have no doubt that they hung it all out there and gave everything they had.

Last week on one of our off days I took the opportunity to go down to the local pool/park that everyone had been raving about. It is only a 10 minute walk from my place. When I got there I was quite impressed. It is right along the Rhine river that separates the Swiss Austrian border. The best way to describe it is as a city park with 3 nice pools, a restaurant, an area for beach volleyball and soccer, a couple of slides and a river flowing through as well. All in all a great place. If a person can't have a good time there they can't have a good time anywhere. Next time I go I will be sure to take pictures as well as apply sunscreen all over. I made the mistake of thinking that we wouldn't be there for that long so I need not apply all over. Well we spent the whole day there and I was that guy with streaks all over my back.

That is all I have for now. Hope all is well back home. Take care


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A win, a loss, a win

The title pretty much sums it up. We went to Linz and played the Steelsharks and got a win 49-14, came back home and got hammered by the Innsbruck Raiders 3-41, and then won this past weekend against the CNC Gladiators 33-0. It is kind of hard to know exactly where we are when we go from handling a team to getting hammered to completely controlling another game. I guess we will find out more when we play this weekend against the Danube Dragons. The Dragons are one of the top teams in the league and are tied for 1st place at the moment. I feel good about our chances. The thing is that I also would have said that before the Raiders. Time will tell.

That is all I have to report right now. I just wanted to get a quick update in before practice. Hope all is well back home. Take care


Thursday, April 30, 2009

A win and injuries

We played the Ljubljana Silverhawks in a CEFL game this past weekend and came away with a win 47-8. It was one of those games where offensively we could do whatever we wanted. The running game was working well so we just kept with it and our starting running back ended up with over 200 yards. All in all, a pretty good showing. That is the good news. The bad news is that the injury bug has started to creep up again. Two of our American players Zach Howard and Joe Sturdivant are injured and will miss this weeks game and possibly the next as well. This makes our already thin secondary and receiving corps even thinner. We will trot out there for this Saturdays game with 3 receivers and 3 defensive backs and pray that no one gets hurt. That could be said about every game we play, but especially this week. These injuries faciliated some drastic measures this week.

I went through the necessary step to be eligible to play! Both Zach and Joe were backup QB's and we have an Austrian kid who can kind of play QB, but it would be a struggle. If nothing else, I would at least know the offense and be able to hand the ball of to the right guy. It is a lot of paperwork and BS to be honest in order to become certified. The kicker was that I had to get a physical before I could be certified. Now a routine physical is no big deal. I have had one of those before and while I am not in tip top shape I am as healthy as most 24 year olds. The only problem was that this was not a routine physical. This was an athletic performance physical. So along with all of the usual things they test and ask, I had to be hooked up to a machine that monitored my heart rate while riding a bike. Now the best part about this little bike ride was that I had to pedal at a certain speed while every minute it becomes more and more difficult until I could no longer maintain that speed.

Let me rephrase that in athletic performance terms. THEY MADE ME GO TO FAILURE! Now there is nothing wrong with that, except for that fact that I haven't pushed myself to failure while exercising since high school. Suffice it to say that my performance and subsequent heart rate was sub par. I had to explain to them that I came over here in "coach shape" and not playing shape. There is a vast difference. All in all, it was a cool thing and I am now quite aware of my current physical fitness state. I would have paid good money for something like that in the states. If I had only known ahead of time I maybe could have done some running so my performance would have been less embarassing.

Here is the best part. After I went through all of the hoops in order to be certified to play, I won't be able to play because I am classified as an "A" player. My understanding of an "A" player is that it is anyone who has played NCAA or professional in the U.S. Since I do not fall into that category, we all assumed that I would be certified without any problems. I just learned today though that since I am paid by the team for coaching that I would have to be classified as an "A." Long story short, it is BS. What the written rules say and what actually happens here tends to be different. There are those who in power in this league who often pull power plays. No matter where one goes in the world, there is always political games involved.

This week marks the unofficial halfway point for my time here in Austria. The strange thing is that it means that I am starting to think about what I will do when I get back home to the states. There is not a day that goes by that I do not check the coaching job board. I would be lying if I said that it has been encouraging. At this point in time, I am looking for a full time coaching job with a good program. To say that those are hard to come by would be an understatement. If I am unable to secure a full time college coaching job, I am going to explore any and all options including getting out of coaching entirely.

I love the game, I love coaching, and I truly believe that it is the best job in the world. All that being said, I have come to learn that coaching itself just simply is no longer enough. This is my 5th season coaching and I have poured an inordinate amount of time and energy into coaching. I love it, but I know 15 years from now I do not want to be that coach who is 40 years old, single, has been at 7 or so different colleges waiting for that big break, and sits in the bar all the time chasing skirts. That just isn't me nor do I want it to be. It may come to fruition that I will get out of coaching, move to the Twin Cities, and get a regular 9-5 like everyone else. Right now, I just don't know what the right move is and I am keeping all of my options open. If anyone knows of any job opportunities available don't hesitate to let me know.

That is all I have for now. Hope all is well back home. Take care


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Less is more

Forgive me for my gap in postings. I would like to say that it is purely due to being so busy all of the time, but that is not necessarily the case. I feel as though I have really started to settle in here and am beginning to enjoy things despite some of the challenges. The weather has been beautiful for the past couple of weeks and I have taken the opportunity to enjoy it. A lot has happened in the last 3 weeks so let me start at the beginning.

We played the St Polten Invaders 2 weeks ago and were able to come away with a win 49-10. It was a good day for the offense as we scored 49 points. The bad news was that we were not as sharp as I would have liked. We did not turn the ball over so that was a positive thing. When we hang onto the football, we are a good football team. One of the more interesting things that happened was that the game was played with only 2 officials. Apparently, the rest of the officiating crew didn't get the memo. What ended up happening was that 2 officials refereed the game and 2 of our injured players were used as side judges. All things considered, the officiating was quite good and everything went off without a hitch. I will just chalk it up as another experience of European football.

The following week was a bye week due to the Easter holiday and it could not have come at a better time. To be perfectly honest, the grind of football all the time was starting to get to me. We had a practice on that Tuesday and we were football free until the following Tuesday. I didn't know where I wanted to go for the Easter holiday, but I was certain that it was going to be A. Somewhere warm B. Somewhere with a beach and C. Somewhere where they don't speak German.

The plan was for myself, 3 of our American players, Brad, Joe, and Zach, along with Joes friend Kirk, who was visiting from the states, to go to the travel agency and find a last minute deal to anyplace with the above criteria. We got up early and went to the travel agency as it opened. There was only one slight problem. There was not a single flight to any destination with those prerequisites. That left us without a plan or a destination.

We then decided that our only option was to head to the train station and see what and where we could go on the train. Someone said that we should go to Cinque Terra Italy and I figured why not. I had no idea where it was or what was there, but I wanted to get out of Austria and I knew either way it would be an adventure. We were going to be heading out of Austria with no real plan and only backpacks on our backs.

We got our tickets to arrive in Genova Italy, which is about 2 hours from Cinque Terra, and jumped on the train. As would become custom, our travel was far from smooth. Our train was late getting to Innsbruck and we missed our connecting train. Therefore we had to wait for the next train out and more importantly we would not be getting to Genova that evening. Instead, we got into Milan at 11:30 with no place to stay or no idea where we could get a place. We walked around for a good half hour to hour before finding reasonable accommodations for the night. On a side note. the Milan train station is very impressive. It is what you would expect a major European train station to look like. Utterly massive with fantastic architecture.

On Thursday morning we got to the train station and jumped on the next train to Genova. We arrived in Genova mid afternoon and made our way to the only hostel in town. It was at the top of the mountain, while the main part of the city was near the harbor. That made for some interesting bus rides going up and down the mountain. Nothing like standing on a bus going up and down switchback roads. We spend the better part of the afternoon and evening walking around Genova. It is a neat harbor city that has some cool architecture along with some interesting museums. It is also the birthplace of explorer Christopher Columbus.

Finally, on friday we boarded a train headed for Cinque Terra. (Wikipedia Cinque Terra so that the rest of what I am going to talk about makes more sense) By that point in time, I had my fill of trains and was ready to just be somewhere and stay. We got off the train in the first city of Monterroso and it was absolutely breath taking. You get off the train, take some stairs, walk out into the city and you see the Mediterranean staring you in the face with mountains to your left and right and a warm breeze against your body. Minnesota may be Gods country, but Cinque Terra is right up there with it.

We spent the next 3 and a half days there and what an amazing experience it was. I can't say enough good things about the place. It is a touristy place, but not commercial touristy. It is very local and authentic. I had some of the best pizza of my life there as well as some great pasta. The region there is known for its pesto and it did not disappoint. I had a pesto lasagna that was worth all 7 Euros that I paid for it and then some.

Every single afternoon was spent at the beach soaking up the rays. Sadly, I didn't get too much color. It was sunny and 75 everyday, but the water was a bit too cold to really swim in. I did jump in for a minute though just to say that I had swam in the Mediterranean. One of the other interesting things was that there were American students everywhere. I can't even count the number of American students that we ran into. They aren't exactly hard to pick out. Americans stick out like sore thumbs there. All of them were studying abroad in Italy and on Easter break like us. The only difference was that we got to say that we were playing/coaching football. In some ways, it was kind of like being on spring break. Although on a much smaller scale.

If I had not needed to get back for football, I may have just stayed there another week. Eventually, it was time to go because we had practice on Tuesday and maybe more importantly, we were out of money. Thus, we embarked on the train trip from hell. I will spare you the details, but it took far too long in my opinion. We left Monday at 1:00 PM and got back to Hohenems at 7:00 AM Tuesday morning.

Once I had gotten back and taken a little nap, it was back to the grind preparing for the Graz Giants, the league favorite and #1 ranked team in Europe. We developed a very good game plan and I felt very confident going into the game. In the end, we lost 23-13. It was a game of missed opportunities and key mistakes. We turned the ball over 4 times and missed some touchdown opportunities.. After watching the film, we left points on the field. that was probably the most disappointing thing. Knowing that we should have won and failing to capitalize on a great opportunity. After the game, there were some fans and people involved with the team who were shall I say surprised that we had played them so close. I made sure that everyone here knew that I don't care what has happened in the past with this team. I didn't come here for moral victories or to keep the score close. I came here to win!

That is all that I have for now. For those that don't have facebook, I have my pictures in a Kodak Gallery and you can view them from there.

Hope all is well back home. Take care


Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring has sprung?

As I write this, it is absolutely beautiful outside. It is the type of spring day that makes getting through the winter worthwhile. I can only hope and pray that this is not an aberation, but the beginning of some great weather. Technically, it is our day off with a home game on Friday, but I am here at the office making some last minute preparations.

Let me go on record right now. I long for the day when no one asks me to do video exchange or seeks my advice for computer or video related matters. My knowledge is very basic and standard for someone my age, but being that I have always been the only coach to have grown up with computers I have a better understanding and knowledge base. That doesn't mean I always know what is going, it is just that I am the most familiar. Quite frankly, it is one of the reasons I am slightly apprehensive to be a GA once I get back to the states. I can certainly do the job, but it is a thankless job being a video guy. Everyone understands the importance, but no one really wants to put the time and energy into learning all of it. I can't wait until all I am asked to do is to coach and recruit. The reasons we become coaches is to coach, not to spend hours on computers or video rooms downloading, uploading, making cutups, or entering data.

As I have mentioned before, there hasn't been a whole lot of activity outside of football. That being said, I have spent a good amount of my free time reading and watching movies. On our trip to Vienna I finally cracked open the book "The Dirt" which is the story of Motley Crue with help by Neil Strauss. Each member kind of tells his story and they are intertwined in a fantastic way. Let me say that I have about zero interest in Motley Crue. I don't have a single song of theirs on my Ipod nor could I name one of the top of my head. That being said, I found it to be a great book and I could not put it down. They tell their story in a very real, honest, raw, and flawed way. Those guys all know that they are messed up and far from perfect. They have issues and are very upfront and forward about it. Part of that is what is probably what I find fascinating. I always love hearing and reading stories about people who are deeply flawed and yet they still rise to the top on the back of their tremendous talent and passion.

Our first home game is this Sunday against the St Polten Invaders. Preparations are nearly complete to get everything in order. I am kind of curious to see how everything unfolds. Not just with the game, but everything that goes into it. As anyone who is involved in athletics knows, sometimes home games are worse than road games. For a road game, you just show up and play. For a home game, there are a million and one things that need to be in order and taken care of just to be able to play the game. We don't know a whole lot about the St Polten team other than that they have 2 Americans and the rest of the team is Austria. Other than that everything will be a mystery.

That is all for now. Hope all is well back home. Take care