Warsaw Eagles Bring in HC Dan Levy for 2016 TopLiga Campaign

Coach Dan Levy is headed back to Europe in 2016.

Fresh off a a fall football season in upstate New York at Alfred State College, Levy has just signed on to the Warsaw Eagles of Polska Liga Futbolu Amerykańskiego (PLFA) TopLiga, Poland top American football league.

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Before Alfred State, Levy’s coached in both Europe and Brazil. Most recently in Europe he led the Ancona Dolphins of the Italian Football League (IFL) to a 8-3 record and a play-off berth in 2015, a huge improvement for the club in Italy’s top American football league.

American Football International had a chance to catch up with the American coach as he prepares to travel to Poland and with aims to improve the on the Eagles 4th place finish in the 2015 TopLiga season.

1. Following your experiences in Ancona and then Alfred State College in New York, what about the Warsaw Eagles job attracted you for 2016?

It was a little bit of a process, to be honest. One of the Eagles’ players, Charles McCrea–who is also a good friend of mine–contacted me right around the time I was starting at Alfred State. He asked if I would be interested in coaching the Eagles.

To be honest, the Eagles were not really on my radar at the time, nor was any team in Europe. My agent, Travis Brody, was also encouraging me to come back and coach in Europe, but I was pretty neck deep in my current job. So Travis spoke with the Eagles and kind of from that moment forward, they made it very clear that I was their guy, and they were going to do whatever it took to get me over there.

So really it became a situation too good to pass up. Warsaw is a beautiful city. I lived in Krakow in 2008 and fell in love with Poland. Football is growing there, probably faster than anywhere else in Europe. And the Eagles are an organization with an ownership and management team that is very, very serious about winning and willing to do what it takes to raise the level of expectation within the program.

Being a head coach again, the freedom to bring in my own staff and my own players, and the commitment to me not just for one season but as the long-term leader of their football program–it came down to just the incredible personal and professional situation that they were offering.

2. We know you have just accepted the Head Coach position, but what is your first impression of the Eagles?

The Eagles are a team in need of direction. They’re one of the more storied teams in Poland, having pretty much played from the inception of the PLFA. They’re in the hunt every season, and there are a lot of points and yards they leave out on the field, each and every game.

So this is a situation I’ve been in before. Coaching begins with accountability and setting standards not to be met by a few, but to be met by the entire team. My job–and the job of my staff–will be to go in there and change the culture, instill professionalism and accountability, and really just make sure that we have a team made up of football players, rather than guys who are just trying to play football.

3. The Warsaw Eagles finished 4th (6-4) in the Poland’s TopLiga in 2015, behind two powerful clubs, the Wroclaw Panthers & Gdynia Seahawks, and the up-and-coming Białystok Lowlanders. How can the Eagles make the leap to the top of the Polish league, and possibly, compete with some of the other great clubs in Europe?

It starts with what I alluded to before: establishing a culture of professionalism and accountability. A lot of players kind of use it as an excuse that they aren’t being paid to play football, ergo they aren’t professionals. But that’s not what professionalism is. It’s treating what you do as your craft. Regardless of whether or not you are paid to play football, what defines you as a “football player” is how you approach the game. If you make excuses to not put in the proper time and commitment, then yea, you’re an amateur. You’re just some dude trying to play football and post pictures of yourself in a helmet on Facebook. But if you respect this game, if you take it seriously–in the film room, in the weight room, on the field–now you’re a football player.

So the first thing we have to do is identify who the football players are. I think there’s over 100 names on the roster at this moment, some of whom I have recruited myself from other teams in Poland. We have to figure out which of these dogs can hunt and make sure that they are who set the standard for our team, that standard that everyone must meet. The good news is that, from watching film, talent isn’t the biggest issue. You watch the Eagles play against the top teams, the teams that you mentioned–the Panthers, the Seahawks, the Lowlanders–and it isn’t a huge talent differential, there’s not a huge gap between the teams in those terms. The difference is in the details. It’s stance/start, pad level, hand placement, eye discipline. It’s coaching, and it’s discipline and accountability.

Not everything will happen overnight, but this is a team that really just has to commit to moving in the right direction, and once it does, the Eagles are really the only team who can stop the Eagles.

4. What excites you most about going to Warsaw? You coached in Poland before, how have you seen the sport (organization, infrastructure) grow since your last season (2008) in Poland.

I was in Krakow in 2008 as a player/coach with the Krakow Tigers. This was back before there were many imports in Poland, and the situation isn’t even really comparable. The league has grown by miles since then. I had a great time in Krakow and I still have a lot of friends from that team, some of whom came to play for me in other countries, and many who I will be seeing for the first time in nearly 8 years and am very excited to catch up with.

On the football side, I wouldn’t know where to start. The organization and infrastructure of the league is just at such a higher level now. Nationally televised games being played in a world-renowned stadiums. 20,000+ fans on hand for the Final. That’s crazy. Football in Poland is young compared to the rest of Europe, but is growing so incredibly fast. In this respect it really reminds me a lot of Brazil. There is a huge, constantly growing interest that is very viral and kind of centered around social media. Both countries have very popular online forums where players and fans can get together and share information and gossip and talk shit. Yea, it gives a platform to some individuals who maybe shouldn’t have one, but it also serves as a very organic medium to spread news and share enthusiasm for American football. I think Poland has the advantage in terms of just sheer resources of the teams and the league, but as you saw just a few weeks ago, one of the CBFA regional finals in Brazil attracted over 15,000 fans! The Polish national championship game regularly reaches those numbers, too.

The parallels are really kind of all over the place, and this is probably the biggest change since my last stint in Poland and is a big reason why I am so excited to return.

Poland - Wroclaw Panthers v Warsaw Eagles

5. We’ve also learned that Irish coach Eoin O’Sullivan will join you in Warsaw. What strengths does he bring to the Eagles?

I could really go on for days about Eoin. The chance to coach with him again was a huge attraction for me during my decision-making process. What he did for me and the Tritoes in Brazil, I really can’t overstate it. He came into an offensive line that was completely retooled. I had arrived a few months before Eoin and immediately cut guys, gotten rid of some individuals who may have been part of the old boys club but were lazy, out of shape and not what I expect from my offensive line. I moved players from linebacker, defensive line, tight end–guys who had never played offensive line before in their lives. This was an athletic but very inexperienced group, yet Eoin was able to come in and teach them how to play their position and completely change the identity of our team up front.

Eoin O Sullivan

Eoin O’Sullivan

He’s the type of coach that just really isn’t interested in coaching anywhere else but offensive line. He knows football and he understands my offense–another strength he brings to the table–but offensive line is his passion. And that resonates with the players. Remember, in Vila Velha these were guys who had always played other positions–positions that brought them a lot more “glory” than OL. Yet he instilled a tremendous amount of pride in that unit. And now they are hands down the best offensive line in Brazil. You won’t be able to convince me otherwise, and anyone who watches the film from 2015 is going to agree. That’s Eoin. That’s all him. I wish I could take the credit but I can’t. He made these guys into what they are today, and he did it in a selfless way where even now, when he isn’t there, they still play with that same attitude, pride, and nastiness that he brought to the unit and to the team.

And just to elaborate a little further, offensive line is one of the most under-coached and difficult to learn positions on the field. You have these big guys who may or may not come from an athletic background and are being asked to do an activity that is simply not replicated in any other sport! It is completely unnatural and a lot of offensive lines the world over just look awkward and ugly. You have to have a coach who knows what he is doing. It is the most technical position on the field outside of QB. Teams with good offensive lines win championships. That is the simple truth, and that is why having Eoin on this team is so incredibly critical. I am a better coach when Eoin O’Sullivan is on my staff.

6. A few Brazilian coaches will also join you in Poland, Matheus Dias and Alexandre Braga. How did this happen and what positions will they handle and what do you believe they bring to the Eagles?

You know, it’s funny. For anyone who doesn’t know Matt and Lex, I can actually see this being kind of a head scratcher. There’s a lot of coaches out there with really long resumes and decades of experience–and of course, American passports. So I am sure there is a lot of questions regarding why I would bring with me… to Europe… two Brazilian guys who maybe no one outside of Brazil has ever heard of.

But for me it was simple. When I am going to a team with the goal of building a champion not only now, but well into the future, I want a staff of guys I trust. Resumes are great, but having worked with someone and knowing them on a personal level–their intelligence, creativity, work ethic, dedication, loyalty–that is who you want on your staff. Matt and Lex are as smart as any coach I’ve ever worked with. They love this game, they study this game. I could not be more excited about bringing them in and what they’re going to do for this team.

With regard to how it came about, I guess it started because my first stint in Brazil was in Curitiba, and Lex was a guy who I drafted for the LFA. I was able to work with him for the next four months. He is one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached. He loves this game, he has a passion that you can just see in eyes. He’s on fire for football.

Matt is someone who I had heard about through Lex and a few of the other players. By the time I was in Brazil he was already living in the U.S., coaching high school football in Philadelphia. He helped turn around West Philadelphia High School, and I was fortunate enough to have a few conversations with him and it was just clear that this guy was a football coach. He may not have been born in America, but he was 100% born to coach American football.

Then things kind of came full circle earlier this year. Lex had moved to the U.S. too, and he and Matt both drove all the way to Alfred for our season opener. After the game we went out for a few beers and that’s when it kind of became clear that these guys wanted to coach football for their careers.

One thing that is easily taken for granted as an American coaching or playing American football is the dedication it takes for a non-American to chase this dream and how hard they have to fight to stay in this game. For someone from Brazil to find a a way to move to the United States, to coach football, and to continue to pursue this obsession when any rational person would tell them that they have no chance of ever making this into a career–how the hell do you not want those guys on your staff? For me, it was a no-brainer.

So here we are. Matt is going to be the Defensive Coordinator for the Warsaw Eagles and work with the defensive line, and Lex is going to be the Assistant DC and coach the DBs. They’ll both help out with special teams and will be very involved in the youth program. They are excited to stay in Warsaw even after the 2016 season and help turn this team into a football program not just with the guys we’re counting on now, but with the players who we will be counting on for the future.

7. What about the other coaches? And have the Eagles signed any American imports yet for 2016? If so can you speak on them?

There are some very interesting coaches returning to the Eagles. George Booker and Kenneth Kolvits are two guys who I have had some conversations with and am excited to integrate into the program. They know the team, know the city and will be invaluable assets to the staff and the team as we move through the evaluation process and into the season. I can’t wait to meet them and to continue to get a feel for who they are.

We will be bringing in some imports and have pretty much agreed to terms with all of our guys. The standard number for Americans in Poland is four so that’s the number we’re looking at. The only one I can really speak on right now is Andre Whyte who will be returning since he pretty much lives in Warsaw now. He is the only one who I have not spoken to extensively or known/worked with prior, but I am excited to meet him and develop my vision for how we can best utilize him. As a player, he looks great on film and the team loves him. As a person, I know he apparently stole the show in Top Model Polska, so if the team doesn’t already call him Zoolander it’ll probably start once I get there.

As a group, this is one of my favorite import groups I’ve ever had and I could not be more excited. The contracts are still being ironed out but everyone is on board and excited. Much like my staff, I wanted to bring in the right guys for this current stage of the building process–guys who are dynamic players but aren’t going to try and stand off to the side while the rest of the team is doing up-downs and gassers. Men who are going to lead from the front and buy into what we are building and the culture we are looking to establish.

8. What Polish standouts should we keep an eye out for on the Eagles in 2016?

This is actually where I get really excited, and I guess the first guy I’m going to mention–I don’t know if you would actually consider him an import or not–is Konrad Waseila, a CFL veteran DB with a Polish passport. My “go to” description for Konrad is that he is the TRUTH. I have had numerous conversations with him and he is going to be a huge asset to me and this team as someone who not only brings a wealth of talent and experience as a ‘non-import’, but who also spent 5 seasons in the CFL and really understands professionalism. He’s a veteran player with top-level talent who is extremely intelligent and perceptive. He is going to get the job done right. He is going to teach the other DBs to get the job done right. And he is going to do it not just by teaching them fundamentals and the tricks of a wily CFL veteran–he is going to do it by showing them the big picture of what it means to be a football player, because Konrad truly gets it.

We have also signed Karol Zak and Tomek Ochino from the Warsaw Sharks, both of whom are national team players. If you remember, Tomek made a name for himself a few months back with his ridiculous TD catch in Poland’s win over Russia. So bringing him in was a huge move for us.

As for Karol, is one of the national team QBs and a guy who I spoke with extensively over the phone. He knows that we will be bringing in an American QB this season and while he will definitely get on the field, this will be mostly a learning year for him. Bringing in a “#2 QB” may not seem like a top priority, but for me it actually was. One of my proudest coaching achievements in Brazil was the work I was able to accomplish with Alvaro Fadini, the QB for the Vila Velha Tritoes. Again, you cannot convince me that there is a better QB in Brazil, and I think the film backs me up on this. He is a special player who I was able to develop, and I see A LOT of Alvaro in Karol. The difference is, Alvaro had not been playing QB before I arrived, and Karol has. He is going to be incredibly important to the Eagles program moving forward, both now and well into the future.

I don’t want to name too many other guys because I don’t want their heads to get too big since every single one of them has a ton of work to do, but there are definitely some intriguing names on the roster. Filip Kłoskowski is a really hard-hitting young LB/DB who I can’t wait to get there and develop. His entire highlight reel is nothing but bone-crunching knockouts, but he’s a guy who I know we can get to play even better. Antoni Omondi is a very intriguing specimen who looks like he’ll be a fun toy on our defense. Konrad Paszkiewicz is an interesting player who I think Coach Matt is gonna have a field day with developing as a D-lineman. Marek Włodarczyk is one of a handful of actual 6’8/6’9 giants we have on the team. I think he fancies himself as a D-lineman but Eoin and I really think he’s a guy we could develop into a great offensive tackle.

So there’s a number of guys I am very excited to work with. As I said before, the talent seems to be there. We just have to go in, break some bad habits, and replace them with some good ones.

9. And finally what are your goals for the Warsaw Eagles 2016 campaign?

Our goal is to be the best team we can possibly be. I have had numerous conversations with the Eagles’ owners and managers, and I am always very honest about expectations. It is one aspect where I have really grown up over my coaching career. On paper, this is a championship contender, and that will be a goal of ours for 2016, 100%.

But I also know how much is required to not just reach this goal–winning a championship– but in achieving all of the goals we set. Different teams respond in different ways. Some teams, you say “let’s go win a championship” and they respond with focus and dedication. Other teams–just by saying that word “champion”, they think the work is done. I don’t know which kind of team the Eagles are right now, but I do know without a doubt which kind of team they will become. The question is just how long it takes and how rigorous the process is. We may have to cut half the team, I just don’t know yet. But I do know we have the right staff in the building, and the right support from the management at the top to get the job done.

So “the best team that we can be.” Does that mean the best in Poland? Best in Europe? I hope both. I’m not going to be put any ceiling on the heights that we can reach. And I have told my staff that we are going to have some hefty expectations going into 2016. But one area where I am always diligent: external expectations will never exceed our own expectations within the office, within the lockerroom, within the team. I expect my guys to be professionals. To be accountable. To be focused, and to be football players–not just a bunch of guys trying to play football.

So that will be our primary goal for 2016–to field a team just like that. A team of football players who are ready to do whatever it takes to be the very best that they can possibly be. If we can accomplish that, I know that the rest will take care of itself.

John McKeon
John McKeon is a former professional and collegiate American Football player and coach now living and working in New York. His goal is to spread news, information, and opinion on the global growth of the sport he loves.
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