Belgian Barbarians HC Spencer Ferrari-Wood stepping down from national team

When he first took the job as head coach of the Belgian Barbarians national team program, Spencer Ferrari-Wood told American Football International there was two things he wanted to achieve: developing coaches and youth.

Three years later, the young fixture of the European coaching community is heading back to the United States feeling like he’s accomplished just that.

Ferrari-Wood personally informed each of his players and staff earlier this month that he would be leaving Europe in order to pursue an unexpected opportunity back home: a role as coach and head of international player recruitment for Baylor School, a private boarding school in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Even as he moves away from Brussels, Ferrari-Wood will be focused on developing the next generation of European talent.

“There’s so many deserving kids that have the talent to play high school football in the States but don’t have the connections, don’t have the knowledge, don’t have maybe the finances they think they need, although there’s a lot of scholarship opportunities available,” he said of his next step. “I’m really excited to plug into my network for the Baylor School.”

Spencer Ferrari-Wood talking to Team Belgium during game against Hungary in 2019 IFAF Europe Group B qualifier Photo: Sky 4D

Some of those players will undoubtedly come from the Belgian developmental system that Ferrari-Wood played a role in building, one that has begun to produce a disproportionate amount of Division One talent for a small European nation.

“I think a lot of people know about Germany or Austria or Finland and the Nordic countries, but Belgium is just a small, random country people probably don’t think much about,” Ferrari-Wood said.  “It’s been really cool to see some of these kids that have worked really hard to put Belgium on the map.”

The coach has done plenty of work on his own to achieve that goal as well. Every coach dreams of leaving a program better than they found it and Ferrari-Wood has built on the legacy of Belgian national team founder Lee Rosky by ensuring the Barbarians remained among the most active teams internationally during his tenure.

“He really laid the foundation and the building blocks for me to step in where I didn’t have to start from scratch. I could pick up something that was already clicking on all cylinders and do some fun stuff,” he said of Rosky.

“I feel like we’ve been able to develop it a little bit more and I think the next head coach will be in a good position to hopefully continue that.”

Along the way, Ferrari-Wood has made some incredible memories at the helm of the Barbarians. Chief among them was a historic 14-7 victory over rival Holland in 2018 that proved Belgium was for real on the European stage.

“I feel like the Netherlands is the United States and Belgium is Canada or maybe it’s kind of like Germany and Austria, something like that,” Ferrari-Wood explained. “For us to be able to look up to our big brother who we can never beat and then beat them on our home turf in 2018, that was a really cool moment that I think I’ll remember forever.”

It was an an incredible moment for football in Belgium but on a personal level, the team’s trip to Israel in 2019 was just as special.

“I never thought that American football would be the thing that would take me to the Holy City. I thought I would go for like a mission trip or something, but it was football of all things that took me to Jerusalem,” Ferrari-Wood marveled.

“We had a really cool experience there. It takes a lot of work for a European country to go down to that part of the world and logistically pull it off. To get all the passports and all the information ready to even play a game and then be able to win it, it was just a lot of fun and that’s definitely a memory I’m going to remember for a long time.”

Spencer Ferrari-Wood addressing Team Belgium prior to IFAF Europe Group B qualification game against Israel which Belgium won 32-23.

Those are the type of unique experiences only available in international football and as he moves on to the next chapter, the coach says it is the relationships formed in that unique environment that he will miss most. Over the past eight years, first as a player in Poland, then as a coach in Austria, Germany and Belgium, Ferrari-Wood has come to know and love the unique types of players only found in Europe.

“I’ll miss teaching the game to people that have that genuine passion for it,” he admitted.

“When you have a 27-year old Polish guy who’s a great athlete, who has a wife and kids, he’s never going to earn money from football. He has a lot of things he could be doing besides playing football, but he’s there because he wants to have fun and he has a passion to see it grow and wants just to play the sport like everybody else. I think I’ll miss coaching guys like that.”

Even though he’s leaving, Ferrari-Wood remains invested in the future of Belgian football, and the sport in Europe at large. He accepted his new role in Tennessee knowing he could place a foot in both continents, never too far from the unique style of the game that he’s grown to love so much.

“It is kind of a see you later not a goodbye forever because I’ll be back, whether it’s recruiting or whatever,” Ferrari-Wood said. “I’ll always have my hand in the development here.”

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J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.
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