Championship Coach in Spain Building New Dynasty

When New York City native Teo Polanco decided to take a year away from club coaching in Spain after 10 seasons, the entire Spanish American football community was surprised to say the least. Polanco had been coaching the L’Hospitalet Pioners from Barcelona since 2005 with enormous success capturing six Spanish titles and numerous other awards. He was a mainstay of American football in this country.

A year later, he has added yet another surprise.

Following his 12 month sabbatical, Polanco has not returned to his “mother” club. He has taken over the reins of the Barbera Rookies, newcomers to the top division. This has not been the first time he has opted to try out a different team though. In 2006, he took over a faltering Barcelona Bufals team and turned the team into winners. They finished that year with a 6-3 record but defeated the top-ranked Pioners and Badalona Dracs in the process and reached the Spanish semifinals for the first time in years.

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This time has been a little different though. Polanco felt that he needed a break.

“I needed the time to take a step back but also to let some of the young coaches step up and get some experience.”

Initially, Teo was brought in as the offensive coordinator for the Rookies, who have their base about 30 km from where he lives outside of Barcelona. But, as a result of internal issues the head coach left the team leaving Polanco to do what he does best.

“This is a new, different dynamic, taking over a team moving up for the first time. The Rookies seem like the Pioners did when I first started there years ago.”

The team is thriving and has the most players under license in all categories in the country. They have an outstanding women’s program and a growing youth side.

Polanco’s success as a football head coach since he arrived in Spain has been astonishing. Since landing in Europe in 2005 as the head coach of the Pioners, his record both as a head coach and assistant is a stunning 101-23.

At the end of the 2014 season, however, after his team was knocked out of the semifinals by the eventual champions the Badalona Dracs, Teo decided that he needed some time off. He had two young children and a career in teaching. The rest of the league was taken by surprise and in some circles with some portion of glee. Coaches would not have to plan for games against a Polanco-coached team.

New York Native

Polanco launched his coaching career at Iona College in New York where, after finishing his playing career, he started as a defensive assistant. He began to develop his own unique philosophy of coaching back then. He went on to St. John’s University (NCAA Div I) and then to William Paterson (Eastern College Athletic Conference, Div I) in New Jersey as defensive coordinator.

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That was where he began to develop his own approach to coaching.

“Working at these schools really gave me valuable experience. I began to discover that by giving the players “ownership” of the team they take responsibility,” said Polanco.

The players buy into the system. Joey Stein played for Teo in 2008:

“Teo was the soul of our undefeated Spanish season in 2008. He was able to motivate players from five different countries using two separate languages to join together and fight as one. It was remarkable to see him accomplish that.”

His approach to coaching has been highly successful everywhere he goes. He has had an undefeated season and has won the Spanish Triple Crown (Spanish League, Spanish Cup and the Catalan Cup) three times.

He has signed another William Paterson alum DaShawn Johnson, an offensive lineman.

“DaShawn is a great player and great person too. He is a character guy who will fit in well and help the other players.”

Will his character-first approach translate into another championship again in 2016? Most rookie teams in the elite division would have the odds stacked against them. But with Teo Polanco behind the bench, the Barbera Rookies may well surprise this year.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.