Live from Europe….
Troops; I’m feeling totally comfortable with our Lakeridge football players off season endeavors. Because of that in early December I agreed to once again venture overseas to spend five months coaching American football. Because high school football has become, like pretty much all sports, a twelve month commitment, before agreeing to leave, I needed to be confidant our kids would be well supervised during my absence. Fortunately many of our football players are involved in winter and spring sports or working in the weight room with our very competent strength coach Hashim Hall. The recent addition of Chad Carlson as offensive coordinator and summer program supervisor has further eased my mind.
I thought it might be a good idea, for those of you who might be interested, to make available a journal of my visit to coach football in the Czech Republic.
Thursday January 31, 2013 Vienna Austria
I got up at my usual pre dawn hour and began the task of cleaning up and rearranging things after my week long stay. Thomas Herz, who played for me beginning in 1994, my first year as head coach of the Vienna Vikings, had generously offered me his apartment while I stayed in Vienna prior to heading north to Prague, Czech Republic. Thomas was off skiing in the French Alps.
The train to Prague left on time, as is the custom in Europe, so promptly at 9:35 AM we were on our way. My ticket was for a 2nd class non reserved seat which meant in most likelihood I would be in a six seat compartment by myself. Now and then the 2nd class coach is open minus cubicles but regardless there is usually plenty of room with no need to pay extra for a reserved seat.
We were soon crossing the Danube and gliding along at something like sixty miles per hour heading north towards the Czech Republic. It is a four hour train ride to my destination and as I gazed out the window at fields slightly covered with snow I couldn’t help but think it won’t be long until the bloom of spring turns this cold landscape into a rainbow color collidescope. Most of the fields just north of Vienna are planted with sun flowers and their stunning yellow color always searching for the sun can brighten even the most dour of peoples day.
About the time I was describing the usual comfort of train travel and about two hours short of our destination we came to a non scheduled halt and a horde of travelers descended on us like honey bees to the queen. It seems a local train had engine trouble at a most inopportune time and our ‘fast’ train came to the rescue, slowing our progress considerably. I had been joined earlier by a young traveler dressed in her I Love London sweatshirt and wonder of wonders idling away the time busy on her cell phone. Soon after the Titanic train hit the malfunction iceberg somewhere in nowhere Czech Republic our cozy little cubicle was full of locals and luggage stacked the passageway outside each cubicle. Such is life.
I flew into Prague last Friday and spent two days meeting management, checking out and choosing my apartment from a couple of possible choices and reacquainting myself with the joys of Prague. The ‘Old Town Square’ still has nearly unequaled charm and Wenceslas Square, although lacking spring color, is still majestically overseen by the towering statue of the good King himself.
You might be asking yourself, “Why Prague, why Europe?” Good question, let me tell you the answer. I first traveled in Europe in the summer of 1964 between my junior and senior year in college. For some unknown reason I had always harbored a fascination with Europe even though my grade in the History of Western Civilization class in college would tell you otherwise. But once actually there, traveling for three months by rail with a Eurorail Pass tucked away safely in my pocket and carrying one old leather suitcase purchased at Good Will I was hooked. The history, cultural and people charmed me and what began as a once in a lifetime college journey, most probably to relieve me the boredom of another crappy summer job, became an obsession.
After my two day orientation I took the train to Vienna, mostly to get my jet lag under control and adjusted to my new European clock, nine hours ahead of west coast time back home in Oregon. But, also to see old friends and relax before a five month commitment as the new head coach of the Prague Black Panthers. The team is the result of a merger between old rivals the Prague Panthers and Black Hawks. Merging teams can be difficult and management felt it would be best to hire a head coach with no ties to either of the former teams. They wanted an American coach with a European history on his coaching resume. I guess my nine seasons in Vienna, two in Finland and one in Croatia helped the selection committee make their choice.
I spent the journey alternately between reading my latest book, “Solar” by Ian Mc Ewan and writing this journal and the time flew by, as usual. Train travel in Europe is nearly always an easy and comfortable ride. Over the years I’ve had a few panic situations but I stand by my resolve to never worry because, “There is always another train.” Although this one failed to provide the normal smooth unencumbered trip I am accustomed too, it was an adventure.
Coach Daniel Lesko, our GM and the former head coach of the Black Hawks will meet me as planned and we will begin what both hope will prove to be a successful season playing in the Austrian First Division league. I’m quite familiar with the best top to bottom league in Europe, having coached the Viks to nine straight league championship games and winning six titles. The challenge will be formidable as we attempt to get the Czech team into the four team league championship tournament for the first time in history. Go Black Panthers!