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2018 Regular Season Comes to an End

Straubing 2

 

With the thirteenth game of our season, the Ravensburg Razorback clinched the GFL2 championship with a convincing victory against the Saarland Hurricanes. We celebrated on our home field in front of several thousand fans, raising the trophy and enjoying the moment. This would have been a storybook finish to an incredible season…except for one thing. Our season is fourteen games long.

Our championship secured the opportunity to move to Germany’s top league, the GFL, by winning a playoff series against the Stuttgart Scorpions. But first, we’d have to travel to Straubing for a rematch against the 9-4 Spiders in a game that meant nothing, at least on paper.

Fourteen games is an insanely long season. The demands football makes on 20 & 30 something-year-old amateurs are serious. Players routinely sacrifice family time and health to be a part of the Razorbacks.

This season has seen plenty of turnover. On the offensive side, we lost three players during the first three weeks to ugly season-ending knee injuries. Various other head, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle injuries spread themselves over the long season. We also dealt with business trips, family vacations and school commitments. On the defensive side, the attrition was even more severe. Exactly TWO offensive players started every game this season. That we overcame so many challenges to win a championship and compile a 11-1-1 record through thirteen games is a remarkable story of our season.

However this resilience would be put to the test in Straubing.  We’d gone all in to be as deep and healthy as possible for the Saarland game. Some played hurt, others postponed trips and everything came together beautifully. But after a big party, expect a hangover.

We would travel to Straubing missing four offensive starters including two playmakers.  Of the eleven who lined up for our offense, only four had been starters when the season started. Two of our starting linemen had begun the season on our developmental team. Two others had played full seasons in other countries, before joining the Razorbacks. Two defensive players would be pressed into service at running back. The unit we cobbled together included citizens from the US, Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

As an offensive coordinator, I love the challenge of overcoming problems. This is probably my favorite part of the job. Game planning and strategizing about how to overcome setbacks and exploit weaknesses is interesting. Every week presents a new set of issues. But while I enjoy this detached part of my job, I don’t always like the result. On game day, the planning is only rewarding if it pays off. It isn’t fun to lose.

The game in Straubing wouldn’t matter in the standings, but I was apprehensive. I felt like I had a good plan, but would we be able to overcome our inexperience at certain position? Would we execute well enough? Could our makeshift offensive line protect our quarterback?  Would we stay healthy enough to give us a chance in the upcoming playoffs? Would our players come to play for nothing but pride?

Things happen in Europe that I’ve never seen in 30 years of coaching. Through some mix up, both teams showed up in white jerseys. The officials’ solution?…We would be forced into wearing STRAUBING’S dark jerseys for the game. So, five minutes before kickoff, we had to strip out of our tops and put on our opponents colors…Only in Europe.Straubing 4

I needn’t have worried if our guys would come to play, once the whistle blew, everybody forgot that the game didn’t matter. Straubing fought for their 10th win and we fought to show that we were a true champion, who would give everything we had until the finish.

My game plan relied on letting my quarterback take advantage of the Spiders’ soft coverage by hitting many short, high percentage passes.

Yes, we were limited, but Garrett DellaChiaie is the best quarterback in the league with over 4000 passing yards and a 67% passing rate.  I was thrilled with the first half, the plan was working perfectly. In five possessions we scored four touchdowns and led 28-21.

Two touchdown were thrown to deep threat, Christian Steffani , a late addition and former Razorback who returned after a season in Austria.  The other two were caught by Javonte Alexander. He’s our American DB, but early on we learned how explosive he was with the ball, regularly turning short gains into huge plays. The top receiver in our league, Michi Mayer hadn’t even factored in yet, but I was confident he would come open over the middle as we continued to pound the flats.

The Spiders tied the game at 28 during the first possession of the second half, but I wasn’t concerned. The plan was working…and then it wasn’t.

It’s probably not a good idea to say too much about injuries…you never know who is reading this, but our three weapons quickly became two. We had been marching down the field, ready to retake the lead when a key player had to leave the game.

Straubing is a good team. They didn’t have an answer for our three pronged attack, but they were effective against the two we had remaining.

Garrett, the o-line, the defensive fill-in running backs and the remaining receivers, fought to the finish. I flailed around for a new gimmick that would overcome our new limitation, but in the end, I never found the answer. We didn’t score a point during the 2nd half and lost 31-28.

As disappointing as it was, I’m proud of our guys. They never quit, they didn’t lose focus, make excuses or start freelancing… all things less disciplined teams might have done. It’s been an amazing season for the Razorbacks and even this loss is a story I’m proud to be a part of.

Now comes the breakdown of what went wrong, how to fix it and what should be done going forward. Our season is not over, we still have two playoff games against Stuttgart and a loss is only a LOSS if you don’t learn anything from it.Straubing 3

 

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Strange Days in Germany

 

Javonte

Weird things happen in Euro football. I’ve been coaching this game for 30 years and think I have a pretty good feel for how things are SUPPOSED to go.  Logic dictates that hard work pays off, poor practices lead to poor games and losing multiple starters from an already shallow talent pool SHOULD be a major problem. But, my third season in Germany has shown me that the normal rules of football don’t always apply in Europe.

I’ll be honest. My expectations weren’t especially high when I arrived in Ravensburg in March. Sure, we had some solid returning talent, but we had lost three starting o-linemen to retirement as well as several promising receivers. The defense had their own issues with some key players retiring or playing in other countries. I’d love to say that our success was all by design…Yeah, I understood that my run-heavy offense would have to become more balanced with a rebuilding offensive line. Yes, we revamped our passing offense by bringing over a receiver coach to build a passing system that complemented my run game philosophy… but I didn’t expect this.

After we limped to an unconvincing 24-21 win, at home, against the Straubing Spiders, a newly promoted team, my worry seemed correct. Then weird things began to happen.

During our second game, we scored 54 points before the half, and added another touchdown during our first drive of the third quarter before a thunderstorm ended the game.  As the OC, I should have been thrilled. I’ve never coached a 50+ game…and in only a half. But, I didn’t feel we played especially well. The opponents’ defense was often misaligned, creating huge openings. We simply took advantage of poor coverage and an over pursuing defense. Even worse, we lost two starting receivers for the season to knee injuries.

Preparations for Nuremberg the following week did nothing to ease my pessimism. Practices were awful that week. Wednesday, I had to scrap inside run and team because only three offensive linemen and three receivers showed up. Friday and Saturday’s practices were also poor.

When I got on the bus on Sunday, I was sure we were going to lose. We’d never won in Nuremburg. I had two developmental receivers starting and playing their first GFL game…as well as a 45-year-old guard starting…who hadn’t played in five years.

I had my post game speech all planned. “…you didn’t deserve to win. It isn’t enough to want it on game day, we have to prepare during the week”  Much of my game plan consisted of ways to run clock and shorten the game in case we were getting blown out…but strange things happen in Europe.

We played outstanding football. Our quarterback Garrett DellaChiaie made almost perfect reads, our running back Malik Norman ran for 240 yards. The receivers caught everything and the line opened holes. We executed much better than we deserved to and dominated the game, winning 49- 29.

The game woke me to the fact that we were a good team. Not overpowering, but balanced and efficient. Numbers would be an issue though. My 45-year-old guard was lost for the season, Running back, Malik came out beat up and gimpy and another receiver would miss the next two games for his wedding. We were almost out of back up players, at every position.

We’d go to Wiesbaden the next week with just two experienced receivers, a banged up RB and six offensive linemen. We’d have to put our American safety, Javonte Alexander and RB Malik at receiver…meaning we’d have to find a German RB. Probably a good idea anyway, as it would give Malik some rest. Hopefully, we could limp past a decent Phantom team.

Strange things continued to happen. Our offense never touched the ball the entire 1st quarter. Javonte ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. The Phantoms responded with a ten play drive, tying the game at seven. Wiesbaden kicked off to our other deep back, Michi Meyer. Same result, Michi went the distance for another touchdown. Another long drive for the Phantoms followed, but they lost possession on downs, and our offense finally took the field as the 2nd quarter began. Not for long though. The Phantoms loaded the box, focusing on stopping our running game and Malik.  But Malik was at wideout, as I needed to mix personnel. A pass to the flat and Malik is gone, we’re up 21-7… We only ran 8 plays during the first half on the way to a 48-28 win.

Next came a 49-21 win at Montabaur. During our first three games we leaned heavily on our running game and Malik. Out of necessity, our focus became more pass heavy and spotlighted our other explosive American, Javonte Alexander, who was simply too fast for one opponent to cover and too shifty for one man to bring down in open field. In football, low numbers either usually makes you weaker, but strange things happen in Europe.

Our low numbers actually made us stronger. Without an explosive back, we had to throw more…announcing to the GFL2 that we could put up big numbers both on the ground and through the air. Once we got all our weapons back, we’d be a nightmare to stop.  Our home rematch with Nuremberg would show this dramatically.

The Nuremberg game was the strangest, longest and most mentally exhausting game I’ve ever coached in my career. True dual threat teams are rare in the GFL 2 and with both a powerful ground and passing game, the Rams couldn’t stop our offense. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop theirs either. Back and forth it went, more like basketball than a football game. We were up 35-34 at the half.

We’d have the ball first after the break and I was confident that we’d be able to score and give ourselves some breathing room. Nuremberg couldn’t stop us, but we COULD stop ourselves. We fumbled deep in our own territory on the first play, setting up an easy Ram score and handing them the lead.

Their lead was short lived, we responded with a touchdown on our next drive…and they responded, and we responded again. Neither defense could get a stop. When we scored, to take a 72-70 lead with two minutes to go, I was scared that I’d left too much time on the clock. Fortunately, our defense came through and a pick-six with just seconds remaining ensured a 78-70 victory.

The game was exhausting and the numbers were enormous. We played for three hours and 48 minutes, the two teams combined for over 1300 yards of total offense, Garrett threw for 392 yard. Malik ran for 278 yards. The lead changed hands TEN times during the second half alone. An ugly game in many ways but one we’ll never forget.

raz-Mont 2018

An annoying aspect of Euro football is the tendency to attribute offensive success to a few American import “weapons”. After the first few games, the message boards were all saying, “…They’re a one-man team, just stop Malik.” Then, when Malik was out, “…they’re a one-man team, just double cover Javonte.”

Yes, our Americans have been outstanding.  I believe we have the best American QB, running back AND receiver in the GFL2 South…But, we wouldn’t be successful without the tremendous job our Germans have done.

Practice attendance improved as the wins piled up. The offensive line I was so worried about has done an excellent job protecting Garrett and getting push for our running game. Michi Mayer has scored 16 TD’s and is a big play threat every time he touches the ball. Veteran receiver Andi Lo Meo catches everything near him. Our newer receivers have been outstanding blockers. Several defensive players have filled in at running back when we needed them. I’m very proud of this team’s execution and sacrifice.

After the win against Nuremburg, we knocked off Montabaur and Wiesbaden at home, putting us at 8-0 going into the summer break. We have a three game lead with six left to play. We look to be in great shape…but strange things happen in Euro Football.

Razorbacks 2018

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Want to Coach Football in Europe? What You Should Know

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What’s it like to coach football in Europe?  This is a question I’m most often asked about my summer job. After the first confused question…”They have football in Europe?… You sure you don’t mean soccer?”

This is my third season coaching the Ravensburg Razorbacks in Southern Germany. There aren’t many jobs back home I’d trade this experience for. I get paid to coach the sport I love, in a beautiful place. I have the opportunity to see the world and I coach grown men with interesting lives.

My job is full time, as my only work responsibility is overseeing the development of the Razorback offense. Within my area, I have almost complete control and freedom, leaving me plenty of nice afternoons to sit in bier gardens and enjoy leisurely bike rides along the shore of Lake Constance.

A great job?  Yes… but coaching in Europe is different… and differences can be good or bad, depending on how you look at them.

 

Practice vs. Training

The biggest culture shock for an American coach working overseas is how practice is approached. Most of us come from either high school or college coaching.  In both cases, practice isn’t optional, it’s a priority.

In 1984, my high school coach told us the only acceptable reasons for missing practice were “Sickness, with a note from the doctor, or death in the family,” standard policy in the US. This level of commitment is possible because football in the US is generally played by young men without many responsibilities, or at the higher levels for scholarships and money.

These expectations aren’t realistic for most European players. The Razorbacks are grown men with families, kids and careers. They take business trips, have to care for their kids and work football in as best they can. But, legitimate misses too often bleed into less legitimate excuses. Players have parties to go to, players have tummy aches, players are playing tuba in the community band.

Germans talk about ‘training’ instead of practice, as in “We need everyone at training tomorrow.” At first, I thought this was just imperfect translation, but now I suspect it has deeper meaning on the value of ‘practice’

To an American coach, training is something you do in the off-season; lifting weights, running sprints…etc. While practice is held during the season, often with game specific goals. Training can be moved around, done early, late, missed then picked up later. Practice must be done with teammates and at a specified time, or the whole team suffers.

Attendance is something we must continually address in Germany. I’d love to say we have solved this problem in Ravensburg, but I’d be lying. Instead I’ll say that building organized practices with enough flexibility to overcome unexpected absences is vital in Europe.

 

Mentor vs. Employee

In the US, coaches are role models. We oversee grades, help with homework and tie on-the-field requirements into broader life lessons. In Europe, I’m simply a football coach, an employee of the organization.

I do have the responsibility to model correct on-the-field demeanor and commitment. The players need to see me as someone who won’t miss due to a tummy ache (see above).  But, my mentoring ends at the sidelines. I don’t give any “…if you quit here, you’ll quit on your families…”  talks. Who am I to tell them about their families? These are grown men and their outside lives are already formed.

This is one of my favorite things about coaching in Europe. It allows me to drink beer with players in the parking lot after practice and hang out with them on long bus rides after road games. Things I could never do with players in the US.

I enjoy working with the HS kids in the US. Many have become outstanding young men, and I hope I had a role in shaping them. But, the player-coach relationship makes it inappropriate to call them friends. In Germany, many of the Razorbacks have become friends.

 

More vs. Less

In Europe, we generally only practice two or three days a week. Less practice means a smaller playbook, less formations and less thorough scouting reports. It also means we don’t need as detailed scouting reports as the opponent likely has similar limitations.

Most teams run a version of the spread offense, as it packs a lot of versatility into a few base plays. The spread also puts a premium on quarterback play and decision making. In the GFL and GFL2 the QB is almost always an American import. Defenses generally run the same two or three fronts and coverages.

Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on what type of coach you are. Coaches who want to make big game plan adjustments every week will be frustrated here, as lack of practice time…and poor practice attendance, make execution of complicated schemes difficult. Luckily, I brought a ‘less is more’ offensive philosophy to the Razorbacks…one that’s proven to work well in Germany.

Size vs. Speed

When I go home to the States, I’m always struck by how small my American high school players are… then when they move, I’m struck by how quick they are.

In Germany, our players are anywhere from early-20’s to mid-40’s. The good ones hit the weights and have grown man muscles, but most are well past their prime speed-wise. Many also smoke, so they don’t have a lot of wind.

In the US, the kids generally train harder, but are barely through puberty and don’t have fully developed muscles. But they are athletes. They don’t smoke, and have often played long enough to have quick reactions.

The huge exception in Europe are the American imports.

In Germany, two Americans can be on the field, and in the top leagues; these are trained athletes with both size and speed. When an American D-1 athlete is in open field against a 35-year-old part timer, the differential can be enormous.

As an offensive coach, a big part of my strategy is finding the middle aged cornerback or outside linebacker with a beer gut and creating mismatches. We look for the same thing in the States, but rarely with such a differential in talent.

Too many cooks vs. One chef

                 Coaching in the States is all about egos. Every coach has his ‘turf’ and has to be very conscious of not having his ‘toes stepped on’.  Staff meetings can become bogged down as every coach feels compelled to weigh in about any issue remotely connected to their position. Nobody wants to lose face, so no one backs down. Every decision becomes fodder for the staff to dissect endlessly.

This isn’t always true. A strong and organized head coach or coordinator can resolve this. But, if left alone, in-staff rivalries and backbiting often develop as everyone fights for a bigger slice of the coaching pie.

In Germany, an American coach is brought over as the ‘expert’. Whether this respect is deserved or not, is another story. But, American coaches’ words are carried out, without pushback or meetings. As the OC, I don’t have to run any adjustments past my position coaches. I simply do what I think is best and deal with the consequences.

That’s the downside. Like everywhere else, there are consequences. If things go wrong…well, there’s no one to hide behind.

So far, things have gone well, but the scoreboard reads 0-0 after every game and every play is a chance to fall on your face. It’s also a chance to learn something new. Which I guess is a big reason I keep coming back. A coach’s freedom here creates a great laboratory for trying and learning new things about football. I’ve been doing this job for a while, but every week still makes me realize how much more there is to know.

 

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First Game Weekend in Ravensburg

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It was a weekend of first for me in Germany… some good, some bad and some just interesting.

First, I’ll get the bad out of the way. Last weekend, I lost two more games as a German coach than the entire time I was here in 2015. Saturday’s ‘friendly’ loss against the Karlsruhe Engineeers was frustrating and unexpected.

We had every reason to beat this team… playing in front of our home crowd and a member of the GFL 2, while the Engineers are new to the 3rd league. We have two import coaches and four import players, while Karlsruhe is entirely made up of German volunteers. Statistically, at least on offense, we looked good, gaining 500 total yards, with quarterback Will Benson completing 17 of 22 passes for 300 yards and running back Lennies Mcferran rushing for around 200…but six turnovers were the difference.

A muffed punt return led to Karlsruhe first score, a fumble by on our own ten early in the 4th gave the Engineers a late lead and two intercepts stopped potential answering drives. Adding to the frustration were two touchdowns brought back by penalties and having the clock run out on us on the opponents’ 10 yard line at the half… We had a dozen execution mistakes that made the difference between a win and the 42-35 loss.

None of this takes anything away from the Karlsruhe Engineers. They deserved to win as much as we deserved to lose. Despite having less talent, they plugged away and didn’t shoot themselves in the foot, taking advantage of what we gave them. Congratulations Engineers, it was a great win for your program and I wish you success the rest of the way.

For us, I’m glad this was a ‘friendly’ (European for a non-league game, with even less status than non-league in the States, as friendly’s don’t go on the official standings). The game exposed a lot of weaknesses and should be a great wake up call for the Razorbacks.

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Now the good. It’s unusual to say any loss is ‘good’, but the developmental Razorbacks loss to the Kuchen Mammuts was very encouraging, and, but for the final score, a lot of fun.

This was the first ever game for the farm Razorbacks. Many of our players only put pads on for the first time a month ago. With different parts of this team practicing on different days in cities an hour and a half apart, we had no idea what we had. My starting o-linemen were determined an hour before kickoff, by one-on-one competition during warm-ups.17523329_1757552187891994_6467431409336803359_n

Given that the Mammuts are an established team, I was afraid that the game might be ugly. But, the Razorbacks played outstanding defense and moved the ball well at times. After taking a 6-6 tie into the half, the Mammuts put the game away in the 4th quarter to win 20-6. I’m excited that we plays four full quarters and that we did so many good things. Yes, we also made some awfully big mistakes, but what can you expect from a brand new team?… some of whom were not only playing their first game, but playing in the first game they had ever seen.   We have a lot of things to work on, but it was a great start for the new team.

Now the interesting… This is the first time in my coaching career that I’ve called offense for two teams on consecutive days… how often do you have that opportunity in the States? Where my last trip to Germany felt like a vacation with a little work…due to the spread out schedule and fewer practice days, this is much more intense, some leisurely mornings, but few days off. I’m good both ways, I miss being on ‘vacation’ but the coaching is challenging and a lot of fun.

Other interesting…at least to me.

After the developmental game, I got my first brief look at our towns’ baseball team, the Ravensburg Leprechauns as they warmed up for a game against the Stuttgart Reds. It was strange but cool to hear baseball sounds in Germany, bats hitting the ball and the slap of leather of a glove. I was impressed that many of the Leps actually could swing the bat.  I’m told that Stuttgart is the national champion and have no idea how the game turned out. I had thought about staying to watch…but it was a long weekend for me and I was tired.  Happy Easter!IMG_1404

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Razorback Update and random stuff from Germany

I’ve been here a little more than a month. The pace has stayed steady with practices, 7 on 7 tournaments, developmental team practices, both in Ravensburg and an hour and a half north in Albstadt, home of our sister developmental program, the Albstadt Alligators.We’ve had something almost every day since I’ve been here, but we still get some free time, as we American Razorbacks are the only ones here without real jobs.

It’s about to start getting real. I’m excited about the progress we’ve made so far. Last weekend we had our last scrimmage, against the Stuttgart Scorpions from the GFL (the top league in Europe.) I don’t want to sound too cocky, so I won’t say much about the outcome, but we did very well.

Tomorrow is our first actual game, a ‘friendly’…what Europeans call a preseason game, against the Karlsruhe Engineers. It will be great to coach at our home stadium in Weingarten. I have a lot of great memories there from 2015.

IMG_1386The weather has been outstanding all spring. One of the great pleasures of living in Germany is just taking leisurely walks  in the countryside. Where ever you go there are trails connecting towns… just start walking and follow the Wanderweg signs to any destination.

Though I’ve been busy, I have had time to finish the revision to my book about the 2015 season in Ravensburg. I think it came out well, I’ll let this blog know when I learn any new details about Year of the Razorback’s publication.

Below is last night’s developmental practice… We have around 60 total players, but will only suit 50 for their first game on Sunday … They are very raw but also excited for their first action against another team. I’ll write again next week about our game. GO Razorbacks!!!IMG_1398

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Back In Germany–The same…but different

 

Razorbacks vs. Geissen #10

Yeah, It’s an old picture, but I haven’t had time to take any new ones yet.

I’m back in Germany, again coaching the Ravensburg Razorbacks. It’s great to be here, see old friends and be working in Europe again, but a lot has changed with the Razorbacks in just two years.

A wide spectrum exists within Euro-semi-pro football. Some top teams play in front of huge and passionate crowds; hold well-organized practices with outstanding coaches from both Europe and North America and train in outstanding facilities. These programs have may have hundreds of locals playing and learning the game on youth and farm squads, all wearing their parent clubs’ decal on their helmets.

At the other end are teams…groups of buddies more accurately, who come together, scrape some pads and helmets together and try to figure out how to play the game. These programs rarely have American players or coaches…sometimes no true coaches at all, just player/coaches who happen to know more football than their teammates. Many of these teams only have a few dozen players and rarely get enough bodies together to even practice a full offensive or defensive unit…and forget about actual 11 on 11 scrimmaging during practice.

An interesting feature of this landscape is how programs rise and fall, seemingly overnight. A major sponsor dropping can make a powerhouse crash and burn…while increased numbers, ambition and support lift other programs quickly up the ladder.

When I was here in 2015, the Razorbacks were easily in the top half of the spectrum, a quality organization, but below the top echelon. We still haven’t reached the heights, but the program has made a definite push in that direction.

In 2016, the Razorbacks were promoted to the GFL 2 and were respectable, but decided to upgrade and make a push towards the stars. They hired my successor, John Gilligan as the new head coach, brought me back to run the offense and created a farm team, allowing new players to learn the game a few levels below the GFL 2. The results from these changes were obvious as soon as I arrived.

In 2015, we usually practiced two days a week…this season we’ve upped it to three. With camps and film sessions we’ve held 16 practices in the 12 days I’ve been in country.

In 2015, there were around 40 adult Razorbacks, this season, with the founding of the farm team, we have over 100.

In 2015, the team brought four imports (three players and one coach), this season it’s six. (Four players and two coaches)

It’s too early to know the outcome of this experiment, but the signs are outstanding. The practice tempo is beyond anything I saw during my last season here, guys are flying around and exhausted. Practice attendance is still always a concern, but much better than two years ago. The football we’re playing is far above what I saw in 2015…and three of your import players aren’t even here yet. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when we line up for our first game a month from now.

For me, this is now a lot more like a real coaching job. The last time I was here, Mondays and Tuesdays were usually off days, and I had a lot of free time. Not this year. With the new practice tempo and extra practice days, I’ve gotten buried in film breakdown and practice prep…just like coaching back home.

I don’t have as much time to sightsee, sleep in and have lazy breakfasts as I did on my last trip, but the loss is offset by the excitement and challenge of helping the Razorbacks become a top tier football program. It’s going to be a fun ride.

GO RAZORBACKS!

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Book Update–Good News!

Razorbacks vs. Geissen #9I’m sure some of the Germans started to doubt it will ever happen, but it looks like I may have a publishing deal soon for Year of the Razorback…(although the title may change).

A University press in Texas is interested in publishing the book as part of a series: (Sports in the American West) I’m working with their editor now to make some revisions to make it fit the western theme.

In other news, I’m very excited to be returning to Ravensberg in a few weeks to help the Razorbacks prepare for the 2017 season. It will be exciting to be back in my German home and coach the Razorbacks again.

Anyway, looks like there might be a light at the end of the tunnel as for getting the book published.  Here’s an excerpt–

…I drive 10 miles south to Friedrichshafen and look across Lake Constance to see the snowy Alps in Switzerland and Austria. Next, I head 20 miles north to Ravensburg. Driving through rolling hills, I see a curious mix of farms, small towns, factories and residential neighborhoods. Germans don’t segregate land by use the way Americans do. Clumps of steep-roofed houses often sit among hops fields and industrial plants.

            Every town seems to have a few factories, but I never see the glut of industrial land common in the US. Manufacturing has dropped in the States, but what’s left is generally in neighborhoods entirely given over to it. Germans seem to have married residential, commercial and agricultural in a way not seen in the US.

            Residential neighborhoods themselves are harder to pigeonhole than back home. In the US, it’s easy to immediately identify the socio-economic status of a location by the housing. Poor neighborhoods, lower-middle class, middle-middle class, upper-middle and various strains of affluence are all separate and recognizable, by neighborhood.

            Here, rich and poor are closer together. No ostentatious palaces, (a few castles,) but no slums either. Most homes and apartment buildings look clean and comfortable, but modest by American standards.

            I don’t have a roadmap or GPS, but the two-lane highways winding through hops fields and small towns are well-marked, with arrows pointing to Ravensburg and other neighboring villages at each roundabout.

            The Razorback’s hometown of Ravensburg is a medium size town of 50,000 known for its jigsaw puzzle company and the Medieval towers surrounding the downtown core. I’d find that Ravensburg is a very typical German city.

            Though the weather is cold, locals clad in dark coats and hats sit at the many outdoor restaurants and cafes. Germans eat outside whenever possible. Blankets are left on the chairs for customers to use on cold days. It’s impossible to walk more than a block in any German city without finding an ice cream shop selling cones for a Euro a scoop.

            The downtown core of Ravensburg is also typical in that it’s mostly off-limits to cars. The streets are lined with small fountains that will flow in spring. Unlike Friedrichshafen and many larger towns, Ravensburg largely avoided Allied bombings during World War II, so many of the buildings are hundreds of years old.

            It’s a damp and overcast day and after walking the town for an hour, I’m ready for a nap. I landed less than 24 hours ago and my first practice with the team is tonight.

            Our first import player, Jeremy Stewart flies into Munich late tonight, so I’ll be the only non-German at practice.  Due to family commitments, it will be two weeks until quarterback Garret Colao arrives from Florida. No matter, it’s nearly a month before our opener and my first goal is to meet players, begin learning names, positions, strengths and weaknesses. Our acting quarterback is receiver Alex Borgmann. He had played QB the previous season until he blew out his ACL against the Frankfurt Pirates; and he’s still injured. With a stiff brace immobilizing his left knee, Borgy can only hobble and throw weak passes from the pocket. This is a big problem for my offense, an offense that requires the QB to be a running threat. It’s frustrating, but we’ll just have to pretend we can run. During these two weeks I say, “Trust me, this will work when we have our quarterback,” more times than I can count. I just hope I’m right.

            We practice at the Ravensburg Turn-und Sportbund (TSB) The TSB is a sports complex consisting of six outdoor fields, a small stadium for the soccer team, an indoor gym, an indoor four-storey climbing wall, tennis courts, a roller hockey rink and a bike/skate park. Also on site is a small restaurant and bar.

             The TSB is a busy place. Soccer is the main sport, but the Razorbacks and a baseball team, the Ravensburg Leprechauns play here as well. (Yes, they actually have baseball in Germany.)  When I arrive at practice, I usually navigate dozens of soccer teams in training, boys and girls, from very young to middle-aged. During junior practice, we often share our field with an adult soccer team.  

            Tonight, I notice how poor the lighting is. Dim lighting is common on Euro practice fields.  This probably doesn’t matter much for soccer, as the ball is large and usually near the ground. But for American throwing and catching sports like football and baseball dim lights make it difficult to perform. After practice, offensive lineman Dominic Johann invites me to have a beer with him the following night. This is the first time I’ve ever been invited for a beer by a player. It’s still a novelty, but one I quickly get used to.      

            I vaguely hear stomping and commotion when Jeremy arrives well after midnight. I’d planned on getting up and meeting him, but my clock is still screwed up and I’m barely conscious… it will wait until tomorrow…

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A Defense of Football

The sport of football is under attack. Participation numbers are on the decline as parents refuse to allow their children to play. The media is full of stories about concussions and the barbarity of the sport. Even the NFL is seeing its TV ratings drop and many are saying the game is on the decline. Some even wonder if it should be abolished.

I just finished reading a study about how the NFL targets kids from a young age, creating sophisticated marketing campaigns to lasso children into becoming players, (and more important, NFL consumers.) The NFL’s PR effort is likened to Big Tobacco’s effort to hook kids on Camel and Marlboro. Convincing moms that football isn’t that dangerous is a big part of the campaign, with a concerted effort to downplay the risk while admonishing overprotective parents to allow their children to pursue their dreams. Parents are also reassured that the game is being made safer by programs like Heads Up Football, placing emphasis on training coaches in teaching safer blocking and tackling techniques. According to the study, Heads Up Football is mostly a sham, designed to allay fears, but doing little to make the game safer.

In this study, they briefly touched on the sports benefits, calling them anecdotal. This is the problem with such studies. Anecdotal implies that the benefits aren’t real, or that any benefits gained by football may be achieved from safer activities.

I love and respect the game as much as anyone, but perception is reality, and the reality is that football is in trouble.  The NFL is engaged in a cynical campaign to create another generation of consumers without any regard for real safety. As a coach, I was horrified by much of what I saw on the documentary series, Friday Night Tykes, an extreme example of youth football at its worst.  I don’t see the benefit of tackle football for 5-year-olds and would probably advise anyone who asked, to stay away from tackle football until middle or high school. Younger kids are going to get more from flag football.

But football is not the NFL marketing department or an overzealous youth league like the grotesque example displayed in Friday Night Tykes.  Football is a game; a culturally important and powerful tool that goes far beyond selling team gear and the worst examples of its excesses.

Labeling all the good that comes from the game as anecdotal may be accurate, but enough anecdotes make a pattern, a pattern impossible to quantify. I know the game taught me toughness, discipline, commitment and teamwork. I know it made me a better student and showed me that I could achieve great things, if I was willing to work for that success. Anecdotes maybe, but also truth.

I’m not alone. Many, if not most, former players will say the same things. How many successful people were at least partially shaped by lessons learned on the football field? The downside of football is ugly and easy to see, injuries, concussions and poor social behavior from ‘star’ players. The good is harder to attribute to football, but is just as real.

Anti-football people might respond with, ‘OK, football does teach values, but can’t those values be taught by safer activities?’

Yes…For many. For others, probably not.

Discipline, teamwork, toughness and commitment are best taught in venues where students are motivated to succeed. It would be wonderful if everyone was motivated to learn discipline in math or English classes, but that just isn’t reality.  Fairly or unfairly, in the United States, football has a status to attract many who are looking for something, many who wouldn’t be enthusiastic about other options. Those motivated by music can learn discipline in the band or orchestra. Artistic students may learn these traits in the theater or dance squads.

Athletic kids may learn character playing basketball, soccer or baseball. But what about those not talented enough to play those sports?

Through the high school level, football is a no-cut sport almost everywhere. In my research of the best high school programs in Texas, one common feature was that football was available to every male student. Baseball, basketball, and soccer all have limited rosters and cut kids who can’t contribute. The positive benefits of football are accessible to kids who will never be great athletes. Including those who never see the field. This gives football the unique ability to reach a huge cross section of kids.

Another unique aspect of football is specialized positions. Boys with many body types are needed and can contribute; small, quick kids can play in the secondary and as receivers, bigger boys are linebackers, running backs linemen. Many of the adult linemen I coached in Germany told me of how excited they were to find football, ’finally a sport where I can excel!’ Not like soccer, where they were always too big.

Can football be made safe? Not entirely. There are dangers to every physical activity. Soccer, skiing, bike riding and many other sports all have significant concussion risks. Concussions were surely as prevalent when I played during the mid-80s, but nobody worried about it then. That the risk is no acknowledged is progress in itself. Equipment has improved, so has training staffs and coaching.  I expect rules will continue to change to protect players.

It isn’t my place to say the game is right for everyone. It isn’t. Just as the basketball team, the debate club or the marching band aren’t for everyone. But comprehensive education means options for   students to find their niches. Football has been the path for many young men to learn character not taught in the classroom or even, in many cases, at home. I doubt those who would like to see it abolished know how important the game has been to so many. Yes, concussion numbers would likely diminish, but undoubtedly so would many anecdotes from those who’ve become better people because of the game.

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Year of the Razorback Query Letter

Razorbacks vs. Geissen #9Hello Readers,

It’s football season, so that means I’m busy. But we have a bye this week and I had time to get some work done.

The good news is that the edits are finally sufficiently done and I’m ready to show Year of the Razorback to publishers and agents.

The bad news is that Taylor Trade, my publisher for Big and Bright, took a pass on Year of the Razorback.

I’m a little disappointed but not surprised. Though I can immodestly say the writing is superior to my first book, (You learn some things your second time around)  the market for a book about football in Germany isn’t as built-in as the market in football-crazy Texas, and unfortunately publishing is as much about sell-ability as writing.

This means it’s back to the drawing board, and writing a query letter to attract agents and publishers. I’m kind of happy with the letter and decided to post it here for you to read… and to pass along to any literary agents and/or publishers you might happen to know.  Thanks!!!!

 

To whom it may concern;

Does any sport fit any one country as well as American Football fits the United States? Celebrating toughness, excess, organization, power and violence, the game fits our nation as a hand fits a glove. But as Hollywood, Disney and McDonalds have become international brands, American football is making strides overseas.

Year of the Razorback: Football in the Land of Schnitzel is the true account of an American’s journey coaching semi-pro football in Germany. The story of the 2015 Ravensburg Razorbacks describes how this very American sport has been translated into the German culture, creating something recognizable, yet different, than the game we grew up with in the US.

Year of the Razorback is my second book. Big and Bright: Deep in the Heart of Texas High School Football was published by Taylor Trade Publishing in 2015, and chronicles eleven outstanding high school football programs in a place where football is king. After seeing my sport in the state where it’s most revered and deeply ingrained in the culture, I wanted to see it at it’s early stages, through the eyes of people who weren’t raised on it.

As a 25-year veteran coach, I found a job coaching in Germany and set out on this new adventure. It was a season I’ll never forget.

I hope you enjoy the attached copy of Year of the Razorback and might consider representing me.  I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Gray Levy

Reno, Nevada

 

 

 

 

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Year of the Razorback- Intro

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The first few pages of the book… Hope you like it!

It’s dark and cold under the dim lights of the practice field. I’m in a fog, disjointed, out of place and jetlagged from a 26-hour travel day.

            “I’m coaching football, in March… in Germany,” I keep reminding myself, the sentence hardly making sense in my head.

            After 25 years, coaching is mostly second nature. Familiar phrases come out of my mouth without much thought… “Get your asses together,” I tell two offensive linemen working on combo blocks, forgetting they may not understand English.

            Football is football in any language and on any continent, but this is a strange context. The pads, the sounds of contact, the look of the players are all familiar, but in sharper focus the differences are plain. The side talk is in German. Many players are approaching middle age and many aren’t very fit. The bluish football lines on the artificial turf barely stand out from the green on a field set up for soccer. The “locker room” is a utility shed with a shelf of scary looking, battered, old helmets, a cart piled with ancient blocking bags and other miscellaneous hand-me-down football gear. After practice, a dozen players take off their helmets and light up cigarettes. Welcome to Germany.

            For all the strangeness, I’m excited to be here. Whatever I’ve gotten myself into, one thing is certain, this is going to be interesting.  The experience of doing this work in a foreign land will be completely different than any coaching I’ve ever done. I have the opportunity to help export the game I love into a different culture and to see what it looks like from a European perspective.

            Since I took the offensive coordinator job for the Ravensburg Razorbacks, the coaches and players have been beyond cooperative. They’ve treated me like a rock star. Long before arriving, I learned that simply being an “American Coach” gives me status in Europe. Respect I’ve yet to earn. Expectations are that any coach from the sports homeland will know the game better than the locals.

            It’s my first day in country. But between Facebook and Hudl, I’ve been working with the Razorbacks from the United States since October, doing my best to earn the trust the team has placed on me. The other coaches have been very receptive, implementing my suggestions immediately. In the US, other coaches and even players are often skeptical until a new coach has proven himself. German players and coaches, however, are hungry for coaching, and I feel lucky and excited to be here.

            Tonight, everyone quickly makes me feel welcome. Right tackle and Razorback captain Sebastian (Trabbi) Trabold introduces me to the other offensive linemen. Except for right guard Christian Bromund, they speak English.  At 6’2” 330 pounds, Bromund is the biggest player on the field.  Generally known as Bam Bam, he’s a giant-sized version of the Flintstones character.

            Communication is easy enough that I quickly forget I’m the one speaking the strange tongue… something it’s easy to forget, but I must keep in mind.  After individual drills, Coach Leo Grenz asks if I can please speak more slowly, as some players have trouble with my rapid-fire English. Ten minutes later, I’m given my first taste of what I’m to find is typical German sensitivity when Coach Leo asks, “Is it okay, what I said about your speaking slower?” clearly worried that he’s offended me. I tell him, “Of course, I’m not angry.  I need to know if my words aren’t getting through and please let me know if anything is confusing.”

            Beyond the foreign setting, I feel awkward and out of place with a team who’ve been working together for months before I arrived. Coaching jobs usually have definite beginnings and progressions; pre-season meetings, the first day of spring ball, summer workouts, two-a-days, the season and the whole thing again the following year. The Razorbacks are basically a year-round operation:  a month off after the season, directly to indoor practices followed by outdoor workouts when the weather clears up enough to allow them. I’m stepping into a work in progress.

            Unlike US school-based programs, players here don’t graduate. Most have been with the team many years, retiring only when the pain gets too great or other commitments take priority. I’m the outsider, but given my status as an ‘American Coach’ I’m immediately given the reins, despite knowing little about my new team or what I’ve gotten into. It’s a crazy situation, like being trusted to lead a lost party out of the wilderness, without being quite sure of my bearings.

             I’m in over my head, and I feel the teams’ expectation of me. Now isn’t the time to show doubt in my ability to do this job. We’re beginning the team offensive session; I call plays and correct mistakes as though I’ve been here for years.

            “Get to the line! Martin, you have to overtake the one tech so Bam Bam can climb. Run it again!” I’ll check to see what they understand later…

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