Brazil’s Sada Cruzeiro HC Dan Levy getting set for war, facing former team in playoffs

Dan Levy, head coach of Brazil’s Sada Cruzeiro, is preparing this week to face his former team, the Vila Velha Tritoes in the Brazilian Football League quarterfinals this Saturday.

The Cruzeiro have muscled their way into the playoffs with the top offense (42 pts/game) and defense (allowed 2.1 pts/game) in Brazil. They are undefeated (6-0) and have dominated their opponents in their first year in the league. Meanwhile, the 5-1 Tritoes have had to battle to reach this far in the playoffs.

This could be called simply a rivalry but this time it is more than that. Anytime you have a former coach facing his old team, the intensity level is amped up. Levy, who has been coaching overseas for the past seven years and coached the Tritoes three years ago, actually recommended the new head coach for the Tritoes, Lonnie Hursey, for the job.  To add to the drama, he also managed to sign a few of his former Tritoes players who will also be facing their old teammates.

This will definitely be the game to watch this weekend in Brazil.

American Football International caught up with Levy, who is also an accomplished writer and a frequent contributor to AFI, and asked him about the rivalry and history.

 

American Football International: You are facing the Vila Velha Tritoes your former team. How long did you coach there and what was your record?

Dan Levy: I coached there from February until November of 2014. I think we were 7-1 during that period.

AFI: What are your thoughts facing the Tritoes and friend and colleague Lonnie Hursey?

Levy: Well, firstly and most importantly, the Tritoes are a strong team and have always been a strong team. They were national champions in 2010 and have never missed the playoffs. They bring a lot of experience to the table, whereas here at Sada Cruzeiro we are a brand-new team in our first year in Brazil’s top division. So we know that we have a tough, physical, experienced team coming to town and we have to figure out a way to beat them and keep our season alive.

On a personal level, I am really excited to see a lot of old friends. I was very close with those players in 2014, it’s a great group of men. So close that I brought half a dozen of them over to Sada Cruzeiro with me (QB Alvaro Fadini, RB Rafael Fadini, WR Pedro Medici, OL Victor Quintas, OL Victor Thome, DL Breno Ribeiro). There a lot of guys still with the Tritoes who I speak to regularly and even though I haven’t seen them in almost 3 years, I consider them to be very good friends of mine. I know that all of the ex-Tritoes here, myself included, are extremely excited to slap hands and hug it out with our former teammates.

As far as Lonnie, I coached against him back in 2012 when I was really just starting as a head coach in Europe. He was coaching the Trondheim Domers and I was the coach of the Kristiansand Gladiators (Norway). We faced off in our season opener and they beat us… I don’t remember the exact score. I also did some defensive consulting for him in 2013, and we were also both in Poland in 2016, but he was in the second division so we never played each other. He’s a smart coach and understands the importance of details. It’s funny because I actually recommended Lonnie for the Tritoes’ HC position and put the two sides in touch. He asked me about openings in Brazil and the Tritoes were asking me for help in their HC search. They’re winning games and peaking into the playoffs, so obviously it ended up being a good fit, and I’m glad it worked out for both sides.

AFI: You have been coaching overseas for a few years. Can you fill us in on where you have been?

Levy: I was playing in Europe from 2005-2008. Then I got my first head coaching job with Norway’s Kristiansand Gladiators in 2011. I was with them for two seasons and we were national champion runners-up in 2012. I came to Brazil after that in 2013 for a startup league that folded, and that was when I signed with the Tritoes for the 2014 season. I went back over to Europe in 2015 as the HC of the Ancona Dolphins in Italy where we made the playoffs. After my season ended there I was hired at Alfred State College as the Offensive Coordinator. I left for the Warsaw Eagles in 2016 and actually hoped to find a long-term situation there, but it ended up being pretty bad all-around. Funny how things work out because had my situation been good in Warsaw, I probably would have never come back to Brazil. I ended up signing with Sada Cruzeiro (the then-BH Eagles) in August 2016 and have been here ever since. We haven’t lost a game since I’ve been here and now have the longest winning streak in Brazil by a pretty good margin along with the number 1 offense, number 1 defense, and are leading in a lot of other categories that I can’t remember… so it’s been a winding road but I have really loved coaching here these last two seasons. The players here really make every practice, meeting and game an incredible experience.

AFI: You have assembled a powerhouse of a team this season. Is this a long-term plan?

Levy: I think you really have to go back to last season when I arrived and we were competing in the Liga Nacional (2nd division). At that time, the BH Eagles (now Sada Cruzeiro) had signed Alvaro Fadini, my QB from Vila Velha. Alvaro is one of my favorite players I’ve ever coached, I actually moved him to QB from WR in 2014 with Vila Velha so I’ve invested a lot of my time in him, and he is hands down the most coachable player I’ve ever worked with. Anyway, the opportunity to work with him again excited me so I came down here. The rest of the team was really a bunch of rookies, you’re talking about 80-90% of the team. But our management team here was really proactive, the players immediately bought in, and we were able to find ways to win on the field and win the national championship.

This really facilitated our partnership with Cruzeiro Esporte Clube and Sada Transportes. That sponsorship was huge for the team and gave me the resources I needed to go recruit some of the best players from around Brazil. National team players like Igor Mota, Victor Hugo, and some guys I knew from the Tritoes. So now we increased our talent level enough to where we felt we could make the jump to the first division (BFA) and compete right away.

But really, it’s about how bought in the players have been from day one. The good thing about having a team full of rookies is that they have no illusions that they know more than they actually know–which is what you run into a lot in international football. A guy who has played 15 years and thinks that there is nothing wrong with all of the bad habits he’s accumulated. These guys have done everything I’ve asked and demanded of them every step of the way. There are no egos on this team. Only goals. We want and we expect to be the national champions of Brazil. And we will do whatever it takes to get there.

So is it a long-term plan? I guess the answer in a way is “no,” because we are competing right now. As for the future, I don’t know where I will be after this season. What I do know is that I want to lay a solid foundation with this team and hopefully have a broader impact on the game of American Football in Brazil.

AFI: You have known Tritoes HC Lonnie Hursey for many years. What do you expect?

Levy: I know Lonnie but have really only played against him once. I know that as I speak he is preparing for us, watching film and looking for ways to exploit our weaknesses and stymie our strengths.

Our paths to the playoffs have been very different. We have had nothing but lopsided victories all year, and the Tritoes have had to make every play count and scratch and claw their way to victory. I think they’ve won two games in overtime and just about all of their games, save for maybe one or two, have been less than 2-score games. If you ask me which team is more dangerous, I would probably say them. Football games aren’t won on a calculator. Fans and media sometimes use a flawed logic of “well, Sada has dominated every opponent and the Tritoes haven’t, Sada has to be the favorite.” But that’s not how this game works.

So it’s going to be a chess match, and it would the pinnacle of hubris to assume that we are just going to roll over the Tritoes like we have the other teams we’ve played. They’ve earned their passage to the conference finals. They fought and swung and clawed and scratched and found ways to win close games. I also know that a lot of the guys over there feel like we stole some of their best players–guys like Alvaro, Medici, etc. So there will be a little added motivation for them in terms of this being a revenge game. They may not say it, but I think we both know it.

AFI
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