The Boy from Brazil: A conversation with Coach Alexandre Braga

“Where’s Colby?” shouts the bartender as Alexandre ‘Lex’ Braga and I rush through the doors, desperate to escape the freezing rain pelting the cobble-stone streets a stone’s throw from his downtown apartment in Dornbirn, Austria.

“I was gonna ask you the same question!” laughs Lex, raising his voice over the blaring music. He reaches across the bar and slaps hands with the server, someone with whom he is obviously well-acquainted. The air is thick with shisha and cigarettes at this particular watering hole, but that’s hardly a concern for the boy from Brazil living out his football dream in one of the most beautiful areas in Europe.

10,004 kilometers. That is the distance from Curitiba, Brazil to Hohenems, Austria. And once you calculate detours in New Jersey and Poland, the distance Lex’s coaching career has taken him is actually quite longer.

In the world of Brazilian American Football—or FABr—Coach Braga is the definition of a pioneer. He’s been there since the beginning, helping to organize the first full-pads American football game in Brazilian history between the Curitiba Brown Spiders and Barigui Crocodiles. He also carries the honor of having recorded the first ever tackle in the first-ever full-pads game in FABr history.

But those playing days are behind Lex. With the passing of many years and countless miles, his focus is now on coaching and seizing opportunities for himself at every turn.

In the interest of full disclosure, I consider Coach Lex to be a branch of my own coaching tree. He has worked with me in the past as both as a player and a member of my coaching staff. During my recent visit to the Cineplexx Blue Devils of the Austrian Football League (AFL)—largely regarded as the top league in Europe—I had the opportunity to sit down with Lex over some beer and shisha and cover a number of international football topics—and more importantly, to take a look inside the mind of an individual whose football journey is about as unique as they come.

Daniel Levy: Did you ever imagine—when you started playing football—that you’d be here (coaching in Europe)?

Lex Braga: Not at all. Never.

DL: Is there a point where it became real?

LB: Well it all started as a joke on our WhatsApp group, remember?

DL: (laughs) Sure I do.

LB: I said, hey if you need an assistant, call me.

DL: Yep. And then you sent a private message.

LB: Saying, hey dude, I’m serious. (laughs)

DL: And then you gave your boss (in New Jersey) your two-weeks notice and he just fired you on the spot, right?

LB: Yea.

DL: Did it ever occur to you that you had something to lose or was it only I have so much to gain.

LB: Honestly, a little bit of both. It was an opportunity to coach professionally, but it also meant leaving the U.S.—which my situation wasn’t great, but I had a visa. I knew that if I went to Europe or back to Brazil, I was going to lose that.

DL: Yea, that’s tough.

LB: I knew that if I decided I wanted to come back, I would have to go through the process all over again. That was the only thing. But once I made the decision—

DL: You put that out of your mind.

LB: Yep. No plan B, no regrets.

DL: When you took that leap, what were you going for? Was it the opportunity to coach football or the opportunity to live in Europe—

LB: To coach football. Definitely.

DL: But you already lived in the U.S. Couldn’t you have just coached football there?

LB: Not professionally.

DL: Why would someone hire a Brazilian if there are American coaches everywhere?

LB: Yea. And I didn’t have the network or know the right people—

DL: To even hope to make that happen.

LB: Exactly.

DL: So this was an opportunity.

LB: Definitely. Living in Europe is just a bonus.

DL: When you left Brazil had you kind of given up on football?

LB: No I wouldn’t say that.

DL: You were hoping to get back to it somewhere down the line?

LB: What I left in Brazil was a clusterfuck. I was a player, trying to make the national team—playing defense—and was also the OC… and the Head of Football Operations for my team.

DL: (laughs)

LB: Like I was the one signing the imports.

DL: I gotcha.

LB: After a few months I was just overwhelmed. Drained. The disorganization was robbing me of my passion for the game.

DL: So were you burned out with football? With football in Brazil? Or just with your team?

LB: With my team, the organization.

DL: So when you got the opportunity to coach in Warsaw, did you know anything about Poland?

LB: Not at all. I barely knew that Warsaw was the capital.

DL: (laughs)

LB: All I knew was that they had pierogi.

DL: So let’s walk through the timeline. I know how you got there, but for the readers out there—the other coaches or players from Brazil or elsewhere with aspirations of coaching abroad…

LB: Sure. Well, you remember me and Matt drove up to New York to catch your season opener (at Alfred State College).

DL: And then we got some wings and beer after.

LB: (laughs) Yea.

DL: But I didn’t offer you the job then. That came later.

LB: Yea when we were talking on the WhatsApp group. After you got offered the HC job with the Eagles and offered me the assistant coach spot.

DL: Do you remember what you were thinking the day you signed the contract?

LB: Only that this shit better work out. This is my job now.

DL: And then you got there and NOTHING worked out (laughs).

LB: (laughs) Yea, I mean… I know that season was a shit show. The management was really dishonest. But my perspective is… that was just a bump in my path. Sure, they didn’t honor the contract and we dealt with a lot of bullshit.

DL: Yea.

LB: But if I hadn’t taken that job, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.

DL: Opportunities become what you make of them.

LB: Exactly.

DL: You’re right about perspective. Maybe you can’t completely control your situation, but you have a choice of whether or not it controls you.

LB: Exactly. That was my perspective. Things were tough in the moment, really tough at times… but my vision was long term.

DL: Sure.

LB: I need to go through this and finish this so I can go somewhere better when it’s over. I wanted to achieve my goal, which is to be a great coach in Europe.

DL: And I’m sure there were times where… I mean we were both there, we know what happened… were there ever moments where you thought, this is too much. I can’t deal with this anymore.

LB: No. Not really. There may have been a few mornings where I woke up and said, what the fuck am I doing here? You know that, you were there. But after a few minutes, I stopped thinking about it and got back to the grind.

DL: Eye on the prize.

LB: Yep. And I know that maybe it sounds cliche, but that really was my mindset.

DL: And now you’re here, in the Austrian Alps, coaching football in one of the best leagues in Europe.

LB: Yep.

DL: Is there anywhere else that you’d rather be?

LB: No. (Smiles) I’m really living the dream right now.

DL: Take us through how you got here.

LB: (laughs) It’s weird because you already know all this shit.

DL: (laughs) Yea, but for the readers.

LB: Well, we were working the camp in Split (Croatia) and you introduced me to Tyler (Harlow). I knew he was the Head Coach of the Blue Devils, that they played in the AFL (Austrian Football League) and that it was the best league in Europe.

DL: Did you think at that moment that maybe you could coach there?

LB: Actually I had no intentions, no expectations. I thought that maybe it was too early for me. But during the camp I got to see him coach, and he was able to see me coach.

DL: Yea.

LB: And then I think it was the second day when you pulled me aside and said you guys had talked about me, and that Coach Harlow was looking for an assistant on the defensive side. And you asked if I would be interested… which, that was an easy answer (laughs). AFL. Cineplexx Blue Devils.

DL: Not a bad gig.

LB: Not at all. I should have hired you as my agent (laughs).

DL: So where’d it go from there?

LB: Well we just started talking, and I saw that he (Tyler Harlow) was a pretty cool guy. Definitely knows his shit. He said he was looking for someone to coach the DBs and that’s what you had me coaching in Warsaw. But I still didn’t make too much of it, it all seemed pretty far off.

DL: Yea.

LB: I thought maybe he’d go find some American coach or something.

DL: That’s what a lot of teams are looking for.

LB: Sure.

DL: Do you feel like you don’t get enough of a look as a Brazilian? Does that American passport matter?

LB: Yea it does. I think that’s one of my biggest challenges coaching in Europe. I don’t have an American passport. I didn’t grow up in the states. So I have to prove myself every day, prove that I am a real coach and I can bring the same talent to the table.

DL: Who do you have to prove it to?

LB: Everyone. But mainly my players. Brazil is a soccer country. So I can say, I’ve been playing football for 10 years, but it’s different. An American who has played football for 10 years may not even be 20 years old. So maybe I have some players who assume they know more than me.

DL: Hey that’s not just you, brother (laughs). I think we all deal with those guys.

LB: Yea some guys just think they know everything.

DL: Do you feel like you have a harder time overcoming that? Winning their trust?

LB: I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe that’s just my perception because I know that I don’t have an American passport. That I come from a different path. But that’s what pushes me and motivates me. I wouldn’t call it a struggle, but it’s a day to day challenge. To prove every day that I belong.

DL: Sure

LB: And I have to coach in English, which isn’t my native language. So there’s different challenges, but hey, that’s why I’m here.

DL: How do you get the guys to buy in and trust you?

LB: I don’t know, I think I speak from the heart. I’m always honest with my guys.

DL: Just being genuine.

LB: Genuine. Yea, that’s the word.

DL: I always say that if you really believe in what you are teaching, then your guys will believe in it.

LB: Exactly. I always make sure I know what I am teaching them before it ever leaves my mouth, and that I believe in it.

DL: Switching gears, you played football for 10 years—

LB: Well, 7. But I’ve been around football for 10.

DL: Right. And you played linebacker for all 7 years.

LB: Yep.

DL: And you’re now in your second year coaching.

LB: Yep.

DL: And you’re a DB coach. What asshole made you coach DBs after you spent your entire career as a linebacker (laughs)?

LB: (laughs) Yea that’s on you. I still remember the conversation like it was yesterday. When you brought me in, you told me I was going to coach linebackers and special teams. Which was great, that’s my comfort zone. But then like, two weeks before—

DL: (laughs) Maybe like two days…

LB: Yea (laughs). You said, Hey Lex, change of plans. You’re gonna coach the DBs. And I was like, fuck!

DL: (laughs) I gotta hand it to you, you didn’t show that much hesitation when I told you.

LB: Poker face (laughs). But I embraced it. I knew you were gonna have us running a 4-2-5 and I love the dynamic of the DBs in that defense. They’re the cornerstone. And I knew it would be a lot of work and a huge challenge on my end, but I love that.

DL: How much have you learned since then?

LB: I don’t know… a lot! (laughs) I know more about DB than linebacker right now.

DL: What do you feel got you to that point? A lot of players and coaches say that they want to learn. I want to learn, I want to get better, you know?

LB: Sure.

DL: If you were giving advice to those guys who are out there searching for knowledge—about a position, about football—what would you say? How much of it is study? How much of it is mentorship? How much of it is observing and learning from your players? What made Lex Braga grow as a coach?

LB: Well it started with studying. I think it always does. You have to understand the basics—techniques, fundamentals, concepts.

DL: Yea.

LB: But having you as a head coach helped a lot. For the first two months I was coming to your desk every day. Hey Dan, what do you think about this? What’re the coaching points on shuffle tech? What’re the keys? What’re the reads? You helped me a lot.

DL: Sure

LB: YouTube can’t teach you to be a coach. It can help you. You can learn some drills—

DL: It can supplement your learning.

LB: Yea, but you need someone to guide you. That mentorship is crucial. Having access to the right person to learn from.

DL: I agree. So while we’re on this topic—and switching gears for a minute to Brazil—do you think that’s something that is lacking.

LB: Oh absolutely. It’s probably the main thing that’s lacking.

DL: There are some smart Brazilian coaches there—

LB: But they don’t have mentors. Most of them never have. You can only go so far by yourself.

DL: There’s a ceiling.

LB: Exactly. Like, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. That’s what happens in Brazil. Maybe someone thinks that they don’t need a mentor, but that’s because they don’t even know what they don’t know.

DL: Sure.

LB: Listen, I played in the first full pads game 9 years ago. Nine years! That’s nothing! We don’t have the experience to know everything or to learn it all on our own.

DL: And this is coming from one of the pioneers of American football in Brazil. And the as in one of a very small handful. You played in the first full-pads game.

LB: Yep.

DL: Made the first ever tackle in the first full-pads game.

LB: (laughs) Yep.

DL: If you sought out mentorship, then that’s probably a pattern others should follow?

LB: Correct. I mean, I feel like that’s common sense though.

DL: Then why don’t more aspiring coaches seek out professional coaches for mentorship? Why don’t more of them pursue international experience?

LB: Probably because they don’t know how to, or where to start.

DL: What should they do?

LB: Well, it’s about opportunities and I wish more people had the opportunities to I had.

DL: But you created that.

LB: I know. I figured out that I needed to go outside of Brazil—to Europe, to the U.S. But not everyone can do that. So if you can’t leave Brazil, and you want to become a better coach—or a better player, team, program, league—you need to bring in Americans. You need someone to teach you how to be a coach. That’s the only way.

DL: But there’s more and more Americans coming into Brazil for football. A lot of teams are bringing in American players.

LB: Yea, but they aren’t bringing in coaches. That’s not the same.

DL: Why?

LB: If you’re bringing in players, what are they gonna do for you? They’re going to help you win in the short term. They’ll make some plays for you that season, but what do they leave behind? How much better did the rest of your team become? They leave, and then you’re back to square one.

DL: Sure.

LB: Now I’m not saying all import players are the same—

DL: But it’s not their job to make every player on the team they best they can be.

LB: Exactly.

DL: I always say, the player’s job is to be the best player he can be. You want a guy who, of course, can mentor and serve as an example to the Brazilian guys. But it’s the coach’s job to make every player on the team the best they can be. To bring the vision and the structure—

LB: The culture—

DL: The details, the decisions. That is not a player’s job.

LB: Of course not.

DL: Why do you think teams gravitate toward bringing in players instead of coaches?

LB: Because they think it’s what they need to do to win today. There isn’t the long-term vision.

DL: Sure.

LB: Another reason—and I know this may sound stupid—but teams don’t really want what a professional American coach brings. If you bring in a real coach—not just some American guy, but a real, professional coach—he is going to change everything. Your structure, your management. He is going to come in and change the culture, and I still think a lot of teams in Brazil don’t want that.

DL: Really?

LB: Listen, they want an American running back who is going to make the other teams with poorly-coached defensive players miss tackles and score a bunch of touchdown. They want to find a way to win games while they keep doing the same old bullshit they’ve always been doing. They see that as the easy way.

DL: They don’t have to do a bunch of work.

LB: Exactly. But if they bring in a real head coach—not a guy who is a “head coach,” but a real head coach—he’s going to shake things up. He’s going to change how you make decisions. He’s going to hold people accountable. Some teams see that as more trouble than it’s worth.

DL: If you bring in a professional coach, you are asking for a cultural change.

LB: Exactly. And I just don’t think the majority of teams and individuals in Brazil are ready for that like they are in Europe.

DL: Do you think there’s a fixation on… this perception of “tradition”? Well, we’ve always done things like this—

LB: What tradition (laughs)!? Most of these teams have barely been around for a decade and only had an idea of what they were doing for, like, half of that time. We don’t have tradition when it comes to American football in Brazil, so people need to stop saying that. It’s holding us back. Why the fuck would we think we can’t learn from American professionals? They’ve been playing football for over 100 years. We’ve been doing it for 10.

DL: Is this what made you leave? Was there a moment when you told yourself, there has to be a better way to do this?

LB: I remember for the first 3 or 4 years I was playing, on defense we weren’t really doing anything based on gaps. We didn’t know what that was. And I was beginning to develop my coaching passion at that time, so I started studying defenses and learned about gap control and run fits and things like that. (laughs) I know it seems stupid now—

DL: Gotta start somewhere.

LB: So we studied it and presented it to the defense, and the majority of the guys responded with, No, we can’t do that! That’s too much! They didn’t understand that what we were showing them was football, how you’re supposed to play the game. If you choose not to do that then you’re not really playing football.

DL: Yea.

LB: So that was one of those moments when I was realizing that I wanted to grow—needed to grow—and that it wasn’t going to happen where I was. And I am not negative on football in Brazil, there is so much potential. But it won’t reach it until we get out of our own way.

DL: I always get asked what the difference is between football in Brazil and football in Europe. And it’s such a loaded question that it’s hard to give a good answer. What is your answer to that question?

LB: That’s a tough one. I mean, I guess it starts with organization and management. I know I can speak for the Blue Devils when I say that we have people in management who are working hard to make the team better. So in general, I think there’s more well-managed teams in Europe than there are in Brazil right now. We have people here who understand that football is way more than X’s & O’s. You have to have a strong structure. You have to have a long-term plan.

DL: You have to have a vision.

LB: I know it’s been a few years since I left Brazil. But when I was playing there, we didn’t have knowledgeable management on my team.

DL: Was it a lack of business knowledge? A lack of football knowledge?

LB: Both. We didn’t have visionaries, and that was the case with most teams at that time. I mean, most of the guys on the board played on the team.

DL: Do you think putting players in charge of running a team is a bad thing?

LB: Yes.

DL: Why?

LB: How can you be the fucking president of the team and still be playing? Where does that guy devote the majority of his time and energy? He is going to end up doing at least one of those two jobs poorly, and probably both.

DL: If I ask somebody, are you a player or a manager?… he shouldn’t have to think about it.

LB: No. It needs to be defined.

DL: Sure.

LB: And another thing is that in Europe, they’ve been playing football for a long time.

DL: Some teams since the ‘70s.

LB: Exactly. And they’ve had the NFL Europe here. So they learned about management and structure and coaching—

DL: They’ve had the example physically there.

LB: Exactly. I mean, Brazil is just way behind in terms of development. There’s some teams like Timbo (Rex) that are well-structured and well-coached, but they’re in the minority. Way in the minority. The rest of the organizations are probably where Europe was 20 or 30 years ago. Their only example they see is on T.V., so you have players who have studied how to do a TD celebration that they saw on the NFL but they don’t know how to get into a correct stance.

DL: They see what happens on Sunday but have no idea what happens Monday through Saturday.

LB: Exactly. Same with the management.

DL: They only see the result and have no idea what the process is.

LB: Exactly. And there’s just too many of the wrong people running things.

DL: So just to hit things home: You spent seven years playing and coaching American football in Brazil.

LB: Yea.

DL: You are now in your second year in Europe. How much did you learn in that one year in Europe compared to those seven years in Brazil?

LB: Easily twice as much.

DL: Twice as much in one year?

LB: Easily. That’s being conservative.

DL: Why is that?

LB: Well I had you as a head coach (laughs).

DL: (Laughs).

LB: But seriously, the game is just more developed here. The level is higher.

DL: From a technical standpoint.

LB: Yes. And I mean, I know that Europe isn’t one country. Like there’s a lot of countries here where football in Brazil is much better.

DL: Sure.

LB: But I’m talking about Austria, Germany… the top leagues over here.

DL: Of course.

LB: But I think I’ve developed twice as much over here because I was around great football minds. It wasn’t only because I was in Europe. Because you can come to Europe and go to a shitty team without any good coaches around and you’re not gonna develop.

DL: Of course.

LB: I was just fortunate to be around great players and great coaches—great football minds—while I’ve been here.

DL: So the country doesn’t really matter.

LB: No, of course not. Like I said, Brazil has way more potential than Europe when it comes to football. There just needs to be more great football minds—great football people who are accessible to teams and to the league. Especially the league.

DL: It goes back to that next step for Brazil. Bringing in coaches.

LB: Exactly. And football is growing there. It’s like the third biggest sport. The audience is there. Teams get like more than 100 people at tryouts and 10 thousand fans at games. The desire is there. But they need the knowledge.

DL: Sure.

LB: It doesn’t matter if you’re a team with 100 players if nobody knows what the hell they’re doing.

DL: As one of the only professional Brazilian American football coaches with international experience, do you feel like you have a responsibility? Do you have a duty to grow the game in Brazil or are you just focused on your career here in Europe?

LB: My responsibility goes as far as they (Brazilians) want it to. If people aren’t receptive, there’s not much I can do. Like I said, it’s been a while since I was involved with football in Brazil. But I did this 4-2-5 clinic in Curitiba this past December and kind of felt like not much has changed. The young, new players and coaches were eager to learn, but the “old guys”—the guys in their late 20s or early 30s who have been around for a while—most of them still don’t want to learn.

DL: Really?

LB: Or they don’t think that they can learn anything from me. So that’s what I’m saying. I believe I have a responsibility to grow and develop the game in Brazil, but I can’t help anyone who doesn’t want my help.

DL: From my own experience, it was refreshing to coach for a brand new team this year (Sada Cruzeiro, formerly the BH Eagles). I have coached for, let’s say “traditional” teams in Brazil and experienced some of the same resistance we talked about when it comes to change. But my current team, Sada Cruzeiro, kind of gave me the keys to the castle and entrusted me to take the program in the right direction.

LB: Exactly.

DL: The most common question from management was, What do you need, Coach? And that’s why we were successful.

LB: That’s why you guys were champions.

DL: Do you think that some of these “traditional teams” are too stubborn?

LB: In my experience, yes. Now I know you had a great situation. Those guys listened to you, and they also had the resources.

DL: Sure.

LB: But it’s more than that. You have to have the right person there, the right coach with the right vision and knowledge who understands how to build a program. You can’t just go to Europlayers, find a random coach, hire him, and think that he’ll build a program for you. You have to do your research and hire the right person to build your program. And you don’t have to be rich, you just have to be willing to invest in the right things.

DL: You know, in Brazil there’s something just beginning to develop now—and it’s kind of been in Europe for a while—but that’s a market for local talent. A small handful of Brazilian players and coaches are being signed to professional contracts and being paid to play and coach football. Do you think this is a good thing or a bad thing for American football in Brazil?

LB: It’s a good thing.

DL: Why?

LB: Because players make plays and win games, and they’re the ones putting their bodies on the line. Not to mention some of these guys have already devoted so much of their time and worked hard to become the best. So why not reward them? If you’re one of the best players in Brazil, and you have the opportunity to make football your job, why would that be bad?

DL: So it’s good for the players?

LB: Yes.

DL: Do you think it’s good for football in Brazil? Some people would argue that teams with more money have an unfair advantage. Is the market bad for competition?

LB: Dude, losers will find an excuse in every situation. We have the same shit here, with the money. The Swarco Raiders and the Vienna Vikings have like over a million Euros in the bank. We aren’t even close to that, and we have to compete against them. But I don’t hate them for it. I’m gonna treat them just the same, as a player or a coach. I’m gonna go compete—who gives a fuck about the budget. It’s still 11 against 11 on the field.

DL: Talking about teams in the AFL like the Swarco Raiders, do you think that they are just lucky to have resources like that? Or is your mentality if they can do it, we can do it? Are they a template or a model of what to work toward as an organization?

LB: It’s a template. We want to get there. And I don’t know Graz’s (Giants) budget, but it’s a lot less than Swarco’s and they were right there in the Austrian Bowl last year. So it’s not an excuse (money). You have to work to have better infrastructure, better fields, better equipment. And of course, better players. So at the end of the day it’s about how much you’re willing to invest—not just with money, but with time and effort.

DL: So bringing it back to Brazil, you have teams like Timbo Rex, Sada Cruzeiro—maybe their budgets are a little bigger than most teams. Are they just lucky? Or can other teams in Brazil get there?

LB: This shit doesn’t happen by accident. Other teams can get there, but it all starts with organization and management, and how willing and knowledgeable they are when it comes to securing sponsors. You want to blame a team because they are organized and aggressive and go after sponsors? That’s stupid.

DL: Speaking of stupid…

LB: (laughs) Oh God.

DL: You were part of the LFA (Liga de Futebol Americano).

LB: I knew that’s where you were going.

DL: Some coach picked you in the draft. I don’t remember his name (laughs).

LB: (laughs)

DL: That day you got drafted, how did you feel?

LB: (sighs)

DL: (laughs) If it’s too painful we can talk about something else.

LB: No it’s not to painful, I’ve moved on.

DL: (laughs)

LB: I knew my life wasn’t about to change overnight, because I still was going to have to keep my day job. But it was still surreal. To become a professional football player.

DL: Sure.

LB: It was a dream come true. That phone call from you; seeing my name on the draft feed. Even with all the shit that happened later, it was still one of the best days of my life.

DL: It was a good day.

LB: Yea man.

DL: So the day it all came crashing down… was that one of the worst days of your life?

LB: Yea it was. I was just devastated. My dream was gone. But at least I still had my job. I know some of you guys—you, Clayton, and the Americans who came to coach in Brazil—and some of the other Brazilian players were in a much worse situation that me when it (the LFA) didn’t happen.

DL: What do you think of the new BFA (Brasil Futebol Americano)?

LB: From what I know, it sounds nothing like the LFA, which is a good thing. It could be a huge step for football in Brazil. They’re trying to take care of practical issues and make things more professional but not start a whole new league. It needs to happen.

DL: Sure.

LB: I just hope that the Brazilian teams and managers are open-minded to it and don’t get in the way. One thing I know about football in Brazil is that somebody always has something to complain about. I hope that the BFA isn’t like the CBFA where everybody gets to bitch and complain and vote on every fucking issue and things never move forward.

DL: I hear you.

LB: I really hope that it works. That it isn’t the LFA 2.0. And that it is more organized and a lot better managed than the CBFA. The league needs to be operated like a business, not a democracy. But we will see in a couple of years. Hopefully it’s a positive force for football in Brazil.

DL: Do you think that American football in Brazil can ever be as organized and developed as it is in the top leagues in Europe?

LB: I think so.

DL: Do you think it can exceed Europe?

LB: I mean, all the pieces are there, just like we said. But we have to get out of our own way. I always felt like there were more negative forces than positive forces within American football in Brazil.

DL: What do you mean?

LB: Just too many people who were small-minded, hated change. Didn’t want things to progress—

DL: Because they were afraid of becoming obsolete.

LB: Exactly. People need to either adapt or get the fuck out of the way. If some team doesn’t like the way the BFA does things, they can leave. You don’t need 30 teams where 20 of them act like amateurs.

DL: It’s better to have 10 organized, professional teams.

LB: Exactly. And the potential is there. Europe may be ahead of Brazil, but there isn’t the same room to grow here. In Brazil, we’re just scratching the surface.

DL: Football is still in its infancy.

LB: Exactly! It’s fresh, it’s exciting. I was in Curitiba for the Super Bowl and bars were packed. Everyone was posting pictures in Patriots and Falcons jerseys—not just people who play football—

DL: And this has all happened in just the past few years.

LB: Exactly. Five years ago if someone saw me with my football helmet they’d say, Yea you play rugby, right?

DL: (laughs)

LB: Now everyone knows what American football is. All of the ingredients are there. The league and the teams need to take advantage of that and not be blind to it. Stop letting people who don’t know anything about business or football run things. Stop being afraid to adapt. There is so much opportunity.

DL: How do you think the athletes playing American football in Brazil compare to the ones in Europe?

LB: Generally speaking, we have better athletes in Brazil. Hands down. At every position. Maybe they aren’t as developed because we don’t have the coaches—especially knowledgeable position coaches—

DL: But the talent pool is deeper in Brazil.

LB: Much deeper.

DL: Why do you think that is? Or is there even a reason?

LB: Football is still new and exciting, and it has a lot more exposure in Brazil. There’s big and athletic guys all over Europe, but most of them aren’t playing American football. You try to recruit them and they’re like, American football? Who gives a fuck about that? But in Brazil it’s exciting and they buy into the sport a lot more.

DL: Sure.

LB: If you go to the gym (in Brazil) and you see a huge guy lifting a bunch of weight and you say to him, “Hey you want to play American football?”, he’s a lot more likely to say, “Yea, I saw that on T.V. It looks really cool.”

DL: Like you said, it’s exciting.

LB: And that’s not gonna last forever. They need to take advantage of that now and the league and different teams need to realize that this opportunity is bigger than their disagreements—

DL: Their petty differences.

LB: Exactly. Football is bigger than that.

DL: So with all of this that we’re talking about… and then you take into account all the bullshit going on in Europe with the IFAF split… is this the moment where Brazil can become the premier place for international American football?

LB: I hope so. All the pieces are definitely there. This is definitely the time. We need to use this time to bring in the right people—the right coaches, managers, business people—and take football to the next level.

DL: Five years from now, where is Lex Braga coaching football?

LB: Brazil.

DL: Brazil?

LB: I want to be a coaching in Brazil.

DL: Do you see Europe as a stepping stone to bring knowledge back to Brazil? Or do you see a future here (in Europe)? Do you want to have an impact in both places? What are your goals?

LB: I want to be a head coach in Brazil. I still think there is so much I can learn from coaching in Europe. And, actually, I want to talk about something and I know this doesn’t answer your question exactly…

DL: OK.

LB: I think this is the biggest mistake being made in Brazil right now… people trying to compare American football in Brazil to football in the U.S. We aren’t there yet.

DL: Sure.

LB: What they need to be doing is looking at Europe and seeing what teams and leagues are doing here.

DL: So instead of teams in Brazil saying We want to be the Alabama Crimson Tide or New England Patriots of Brazil—

LB: No, no, no! Fuck no! We need to look at the Swarco Raiders (Austria) and the New Yorker Lions (Germany). But the people in Brazil have no idea what’s going on here. But I don’t blame them, because I didn’t know anything about football in Europe before you hired me like a year and a half ago.

DL: Do you think there’s a space for exchanges?

LB: Absolutely.

DL: Coaches and managers from Brazil coming to Europe. Maybe teams from Brazil and teams in Europe organizing friendly games.

LB: For sure. I think that’s a great idea. Because we come from the same place when it comes to football. We started from the same place and the dynamics are really similar in a lot of ways. We have so much to learn from each other. But in America it’s different.

DL: Sure.

LB: In colleges in the U.S. they’re practicing every day. Having meetings every day. We aren’t there yet. Brazil needs to look to Europe to see how to develop the right way. They’ve been doing it here (in Austria) for 30 years.

DL: Sure.

LB: Teams need to look at the Swarco Raiders, not the New England Patriots. That’s more attainable.

DL: They’re also more accessible.

LB: And the realities are the same. Players have day jobs and are in school. American football isn’t the number one sport. If we are going to learn how to build a league or a team from the ground up, that’s where we need to look. That’s the next step.

DL: Since you’ve been in Europe, you’ve worked on my staff with other experienced coaches. Now you are working for another great coach, Tyler Harlow. You’ve been able to work at camps and meet and work with some of the best coaches out there at any level—guys like Dan Hawkins, Dan Morrison, John Booker… coaches with FBS and NFL experience who also understand the realities of international football. Would you have had these opportunities in Brazil?

LB: No. No way.

DL: Why not just go directly to the source? Why not go to USC or Alabama to learn?

LB: (laughs) Well I can’t exactly call Nick Saban on the phone.

DL: So there isn’t the same accessibility.

LB: There isn’t. And like you said, Dan Hawkins has been the head coach at Boise State, but he’s also coached in Europe. He understands the realities of international football. You and Tyler understand the realities of international football.

DL: What’s it gonna take to create an environment like that in Brazil? One with professional American coaches who are also accessible.

LB: Education. Teams and coaches need to understand how valuable it is. And then we have to get out of our own way.

DL: So five years from now…

LB: (laughs)

DL: Lex Braga, Head Coach of the Curitiba Brown Spiders?

LB: (laughs) No.

DL: Coritiba Crocodiles?

LB: (laughs) Maybe.

DL: (laughs)

LB: (laughs) I don’t know if I’m welcome there.

DL: If you had a message for Brazilians out there—coaches, players, whoever—who want to seek out the same opportunities you did, but have no idea how to get there… what would be your message to them?

LB: For me, it’s the same for anything in life. If you want to be the best, you’re going to find a way to create those opportunities. Look at the coach from (Paraná) HP (Carlos Copi). He went to Hal Mumme’s college to learn about the Air Raid.

DL: Sure.

LB: He created that opportunity. I know that not everybody has the same starting point, but there is no reason to not be going after opportunities.

DL: There’s only excuses.

LB: Exactly. And don’t expect people to just do favors for you. You have to fucking prove yourself.

DL: You have to show them you’re worthy of their time and their trust.

LB: Yes, and just be proactive. Don’t wait around for things to happen. I know everybody “wants to be the best”—

DL: Everybody SAYS they want to be the best.

LB: Exactly. But who is really willing to put in the work to make it happen?

DL: And who is willing to take the risks?

LB: Exactly. And I think that’s my message. There is no plan B. If you want to be the best—the best player, the best coach—and if you want to make opportunities for yourself, let go of your backup plan. You can’t ask for guarantees or assurances of what will be on the other side—otherwise you aren’t taking a risk. There’s no guarantees in football.

DL: None.

LB: So that’s my message. If you want to be a football coach—a real football coach—and you’re sure that’s what you want to do… there is no plan B. Go forward. Take risks. And never look back.

Daniel Levy
Daniel Levy is currently serving as the Head Coach of the Sada Cruzeiro Futebol Americano (formerly the Belo Horizonte Eagles) in Brazil, whom he led to an undefeated, championship season in 2016--the Eagles' very first season of national competition. A staunch advocate for the growth of American football internationally, Coach Levy has experience in over 10 different countries on 3 different continents as a player, coach, and consultant. You can follow him on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/coachdanlevy, as well as his website www.coachdanlevy.com.
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