American Football is now an international sport, being played in more than 90 countries all over the world! This great sport is taking people all over the globe and introducing them to various cultures in the process. “The Import” series allows players to share their unique travels and experiences about American Football being played internationally, but players are not the only imports involved with football internationally. Coach Garren Holley has been kind enough to share his import experience with me.
Holley has experience as a Graduate Assistant, Defensive (all positions) Coach, Wide Receivers Coach, Strength & Conditioning Coach, Special Teams Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, and Head Coach. Garren Holley has coached at Missouri Valley College (NAIA), Peru State College (NAIA), Sumner High School, Presentation College (NAIA), and Minot State University (D2) in the United States. Additionally, he has coached the Munich Cowboys (GFL), and Wasa Royals (Maple League) in Europe.
Garren Holley began his European coaching career as the Defensive Coordinator for the Munich Cowboys. After two seasons with the Cowboys, he took the same position with the Wasa Royals in Finland. He Returned to the Munich Cowboys to take over as the Head Coach in 2017, and is currently still in that position. During his two stints with the Cowboys, Holley has helped the team reach the GFL playoffs 3 times, and boasts 4 of his players named to the GFL All-Star Team in 2018. In his lone season with the Wasa Royals, the team had a great season in Finland’s 1st Division, being promoted to the Maple League the following season.
How many seasons/years have you been coaching in Europe/overseas?
Going into my 6th season.
Which team was your best experience?
Overall, my summer in Wasa. The overall structure and organization was the best I have been apart of.
Which country was your best experience?
Germany, it’s more diverse, and a central hub of travel in Munich.
How did you get to your current position? What’s your football journey?
I was fortunate to have coached here in Munich in the past, and during that time lead a successful defensive unit, being a part of back-to-back playoff calibre teams. Having done a good enough job, I was contacted with the opportunity to come back and lead the program from the bottom of the league back to being a contender. It’s been a process, but we have accomplished this in 2 seasons, and are looking to take the next steps.
My journey is one of a young kid who has been playing tackle football from the age of 5 years old. Grew up as a quarterback in the Newport News, Virginia area. The area where Michael Vick is from. I was on that path to grow up and be a quarterback. We moved a few times through my childhood, and I ended up at Truman High School in Independence, MO. My sophomore year I transitioned into a full-time defensive player. I began playing varsity as a defensive back. My junior and senior years I played as an undersized outside linebacker. I suffered a dislocated elbow my junior year, which put me out most of the season until the district tournament. I had a pretty successful senior campaign, which garnered the interest to walk-on at the Division 2 level, and offers from various NAIA schools. I ended up committing to Missouri Valley College to play defensive back. I spent 3 seasons as a player, and one as a student coach. Upon graduation, I knew coaching collegiately is what I wanted to pursue. I was fortunate to enough to have several opportunities amid some unfortunate hardships (Long stories). I never stopped pursuing my dream of coaching, and had some real rough times as a young coach. But perseverance and hard work has kept opening doors for me. I want to thank those who gave a young coach a chance to prove himself. Thanks goes out to; Paul Troth, Monty Roe, Denny Honnold, James Craig, Andy Carr, Werner Maier, Seppo Ovie Evwaraye, JV Williams and Scott McDonald.
LIFE IN EUROPE
How do you like it in Europe?
I enjoy Europe very much. It has become my home. The quality of life is great, and the ability to experience new places and cultures is amazing.
How do you like the People in Europe?
I’ve had a good experience, met a lot of welcoming people. As with anywhere, you are going to come across all types of people, from different cultural back grounds. If you are willing to be open and experience each other’s cultures, it can make for some great interactions.
What is your go to meal in Europe?
I cook a lot, but I’d have to say the pork knuckle with fries, if I am eating out at a German restaurant.
Do you spend a lot of time with local players & coaches or on your own/with other imports?
Yea, I am pretty family orientated. We are all one team and family. I do spend time with players and staff.
FOOTBALL IN EUROPE
What level would you compare the football played in Europe to in the United States?
I have always compared the GFL’s league talent to Division 2 or High NAIA/Division 3. There is a lot of individual talent you are now seeing, that can play at very high levels in the U.S.
What are some of the coaching challenges in Europe?
The biggest challenges I have faced are battling for field times/space, what amount of training days is available for amateur athletes, funding/sponsorship, housing, organized gym activities/meeting space(off-season), and staff/player overall football knowledge.
I believe coaches can benefit from the change of pace. It is so different than sitting on campus 14-18 hours, 5-7 days a week, and traveling to away games the day before, and the 365-day-a-year recruiting. To be able to do what you love, and have control of your schedule, is great. To have the time to do what you want, and see the world, is amazing. You have a lot of time to self-reflect, and improve your craft on your own basis. A lot of young coaches, like myself, can have the opportunity to be coordinators. I was 25 years old when I was a Defensive Coordinator for the first time. I was 30 years old as a first-time Head Coach. Coaching in Europe has given me those opportunities.
What do you see as some of the biggest differences between football in the states compared to Europe?
Practice scheduling is way different. In Munich, we train at night, twice a week all year. Being in a major city, it is tough to get players to more than that. They have much more going on in their lives. I think that’s where most coaches get in trouble, and lose players. You must have a standard that you will hold them to. But you must understand they are amateur athletes, with real jobs, and families. Also, the school system is different here, so how do you find that balance.
Facilities is a major topic as well. Having a facility, with meeting rooms, field space, and gym, is rare to come by in my experience.
Recruiting is open and like the wild west.
The fact that sports and sponsoring are so hand in hand, makes it interesting in how strong your program can be.
How have you personally helped your players and coaches develop their American Football knowledge during your time abroad?
I like to be an open book for anyone who has questions. I don’t have all the answers. But I have a knowledge for the game and approach to coaching that I am making unique to myself. I have held some clinics for coaches within our organization. I bring a personable approach, and really try to teach the game. The what and the why’s.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned coaching football internationally?
Being adaptable and flexible is key. If you’re not that type of person, life will get tough. Focus on the players, not the scheme. If you don’t have the players to fit your favorite scheme, then be prepared to change. Be knowledgeable, and study up on everything. The basics shouldn’t be overlooked. Make sure the players and staff know you care. You can get more out of your team and staff by just being there for them. It’s not all about football.
What advice would you give to someone coaching football in Europe/overseas for the first time?
Enjoy it. Come here ready to adapt, and get to know your team. Be a master of your craft.
Can you sum up what American Football means to you?
American Football is who I am.
*I would like to thank Garren for allowing me to share his experiences.
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