I Dreamed a Dream….
Wednesday March 20, 2013 Prague, Czech Republic
Our last practice before our opening game wasn’t very good. It was suppose to be mostly a light, just more speed than a walk through, of special teams and some goal line but it got off to a bad start. After a just ok kick off and return period we moved to punt. Our punter and our deep snapper were not there so we had to find replacements. As is often the case here in Europe, that meant moving players all over the place. Our left side slot would become the punter and our right side slot would move to the left and we moved a defensive player into his old spot. And of course our back up deep snapper fired the first three snaps over the new punter’s head. Add to that the concentration seemed to be missing by nearly everyone.
It seems like we’ve been practicing for a year. I know the players are tired of the routine and can’t wait to play a game. But, you would hope the last practice would be crisp and smooth. It wasn’t. I’ve quit trying to figure out if a poor practice is a bad omen or a good one. The results are certainly mixed. The same thing goes for pre-game warm up. Sometimes a poor pre-game is followed by a great game. Other times the reverse is true.
Speaking of the truth, we’ll go into Vienna bigger underdogs than was Susan Boyle when she first walked on the stage of Britain’s Got Talent. But if we can somehow give one half as inspiring a performance we’ll have a decent chance to come home a winner. In case you were in Mongolia when Susan sang ‘I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables and absolutely blew everyone in attendance away, you missed the upset of the decade. I don’t know if we can do that but I’ll tell you this, if we can pull off a stunner ourselves there will be some Vienna Viking staff members that will be checking their whole card and searching for answers. My guess is someone will get thrown under the bus. I just hope it isn’t the one that will be hosting a three hour party on the way home to Prague.
“I Dreamed a Dream”, yes I did. You’ve probably been in this situation before or something close to it. Let me take you back six years just in case you don’t have a clue as to what I’m talking about. When I left Vienna in July of 2006 after winning both the Austrian championship (for the sixth time) and the European title (2nd time) I was still the head coach of the Vikings. But I knew something was up. Karl, the team president had told me, “Make Shawn happy!” Shawn was our recently retired QB and Karl had told me he had hired him as offensive coordinator. I told Karl, “He can have the title if that will make you both happy, but it’s my offense, my team and I’ll run the show. He’ll have to learn as he goes. He hasn’t called one play in his life and I would ask you to tell me of one player, having just retired, at any level, in any country, who turned in the game jersey and instantly became coordinator.” His response was something like, “But if we don’t give him what he wants he may go to another team.” “Shit Karl, let him go and prove he can coach. I’ve been doing this for over forty years and he hasn’t done it for forty seconds.”
Shawn had told me in not kind terms, “Things are changing over here coach. We’re going to make this D-1. All you do is call plays and tell stories.” Predictably he lasted two years before heading back to Canada where he’s had a very undistinguished three year career as the head coach at the University of British Columbia, his alma mater, losing more games than winning. I will say this about him, when we met in Helsinki, a year later, he waited a long time after the game while most of my former players took the opportunity to say hello, to make it a point to apologize. Looking very downcast and remorseful he said to me, “I just needed to tell you I didn’t like how it ended.” Well, it was your insistence on being the coordinator that caused the problem. But at least he had a conscious.
Combine that with this little nugget, the defensive coordinator was another Karl hire. He was a McNary graduate, before I arrived in Keizer, and after a playing career at Willamette had played a year for the Vikings. And, more importantly, he married an Austrian. After that he took a job as a GA at Cal but only lasted one year. He said his wife was unhappy and wanted to come back home. Karl hired him, without consulting me, as our defensive coordinator. Truth is I would have never done that. There was something about him I didn’t trust. That suspicion proved to be right on the mark. His excuse to come back to Austria was a bit hollow as well. I’m not convinced he wasn’t asked to leave. In my opinion he was a lousy coach, especially on game day, when if the answer wasn’t on his ‘color coded’ chart he had none. His idea, like so many young football guys, was stay in the office all day long pretending football was hard and making a big playbook. The obvious lacking of a ‘Feel for the game”, was lost among colored pens and laminated charts.
I was back home about a week when Karl called to inform me I was out as head coach. It was hardly a surprise. He was going to have co-head coaches, Shawn and Chris got their wish. Oh and by the way in their/his six seasons the Vikings have won one Austrian title and one Euro. Karl would call that progress I guess.
So I’ll find myself on the opposite sideline at the Hohe Warte, home field of the Vikings, on Sunday coaching the Black Panthers. I was asked more than a few times during last weeks Wednesday press conference about my emotions come game day. I know this, it will be emotional but I’ll do my best to keep the game in perspective and not let my personal feelings towards the current head coach of the Vikings and the president affect how I coach. My players deserve my total attention on the game. I’ll stay professional in my approach. I’ll say hello to Karl but I’ll never utter another word to ‘what’s his name’. Disloyal, back stabbing snakes don’t deserve the attention.
He’ll probably have a two hour ‘walk thru’ on either Saturday or Sunday morning. On the other hand, we practiced twice again this week. My players will ALWAYS be mentally, physically and emotionally FRESH on game day. So will our coaches. So, I’ll waltz into Sunday fresh and happy while my counter part will have, I’m sure, the most up tight butt muscle in the history of American football in Europe. Something like he would have after an all night chili feed.
Some of my friends in Vienna have organized a ‘Welcome Coach” gathering when our team bus arrives at the game field. I’m sure there will be a lot of well wishers in attendance. I just hope they don’t go overboard and make it embarrassing for the ex-Viking head coach.
My Dream is that when play begins on Sunday in Vienna those people in the stands will get a surprise equal to those in that Glasgow Auditorium when Susan began her audition. It’s a bit of a stretch to take the ugly duckling turned into a beautiful swan and relate it to the former and sometimes hapless Panthers hopefully turning into the sleek & awesome Black Panthers but all of us involved see the dream and hope it does come true. And ok scores a ten on the applause meter. Just maybe the Czech Republic has talent too.