Czech Republic: Playoff interview – Prague Black Panthers HC Dan Levy describes playoff preparations and much else

The Prague Black Panthers finished the regular season in the Czech League of American Football with a 10-0 record in the team’s most dominating year ever. Under head coach Dan Levy, who won the 2017 Brazilian championship coaching the Belo Horizonte Sada Cruzeiro, the Black Panthers have scored 456 points in 10 games while allowing just 54.

The 34 year old Levy, who is in his eighth year of coaching football, took over a Black Panthers team that won its fifth straight Czech title in 2017. 

As Levy and the Prague Black Panthers prepare for the semifinal matchup with the Brno Sigrs this weekend, American Football International asked Levy about those preparations, how the season has compared to his Brazilian championship season and his plans for the future.

AFI: Your team, the Prague Black Panthers, the defending Czech champions, has run through the league this year undefeated. How does that affect you going into the playoffs?

Levy: Obviously this is the best result you can hope for.  To finish undefeated and go into the postseason with momentum on your side.  You never want to be the team that’s backing into the playoffs.  The typical counter-argument to a season like ours is that guys can become complacent and fall into post-season traps.  You don’t have that “wakeup call” game, which I actually think we did have when we went to Ostrava.  They had just brought in their new QB and we had just finished our CEFL games.  We had a few guys banged up and some unable to make the trip up there, were maybe a little overconfident and they punched us in the mouth. That ended up being a one score game that really came down to the wire.  It was a reminder to the guys that this is football, and the teams that are prepared and execute win.  The football gods don’t care about your injuries or personal struggles.  We were fortunate to come away with the W.

I guess as an aside, this is actually PBP’s first 10-0 season, so it’s a cool little bit of history.  But what’s far more important than the record itself is how we are playing right now, heading into the playoffs, and after our last couple of games, that is really what I feel good about.

Photo: Prague Lions

AFI: How do you compare this season with Prague with your championship season in Brazil in 2017?

Levy: Starting with the differences, I guess the first and most obvious one was that 2017 was my second season with Sada (my team in Brazil).  I was able to be there during the offseason, implement my offseason program, recruit some key players, hand pick some coaches who fit into what we were trying to do.  While we were still a very new team, it was 100% my team that I was able to really mold from the ground up.

With PBP this year, I came to the team 6 weeks before the season started.  I inherited this entire roster and staff and had to learn everyone’s names and personalities and feel around for the pulse of the team.  This is a team that has been together long before I ever came here.  In some ways it made things easier; in other ways it made them much more challenging.  As a coach–especially one looking to come in and build a team into a program–you come in with ideas that are maybe new or unfamiliar, on the football side as well as the management side.  People don’t always buy in right away.  It’s human nature to hang onto what you know, your established habits, the things that are familiar.  After all, this has been a very successful team for years in terms of how they play in the Czech league.

So I guess in Brazil, everyone was already bought in by 2017.  I had the keys to the Ferrari and was able to run everything how I see fit.  We are getting there here in Prague, but it’s a slow and sometimes frustrating process.  The main similarity is that both teams have a core group of committed players who want to be the best they can be.  I feel very comfortable that the men here are ready to step up and move this program in the right direction.  I have also had the privilege in both places to coach two very talented local QBs (Alvaro Fadini in Brazil and Jan Dundacek in Prague) which is something that I really enjoy in international football.

AFI: You defeated the Brno Sigrs easily just over a month ago. How do you keep your players from being over confident in the semifinal?

Levy: The message I preach here is that scores don’t matter, the process is what wins.  So whether we are playing a team that we beat by 50 points or 5 points for the second time or third or fourth time, that really doesn’t matter, because it is the process that we have been building upon throughout the season–sticking to it and believing in it–that’s gonna make us champions.  I repeat that in different ways so much because I truly believe it.  Upsets are a part of football and you never want to be that team.  The only way to avoid those pitfalls is to always make sure that your most competitive games are played in practice.  We have to challenge each other and hold each other accountable every practice, every rep.  We can’t wait until gameday to play our best football.

So it really doesn’t matter if we are playing the Brno Sigrs or the Swarco Raiders, our process has to always be the same, and our most challenging opponent needs to always be ourselves.

AFI: The other semifinal looks to be a toss up. You had a tougher time against the Steelers in your last game. Would you rather face the Lions in the final?

Levy: It doesn’t really matter to me, personally.  If I step back for a minute and try to view it objectively, I definitely see the Steelers as the more interesting matchup.  First of all, the final will be in Ostrava.  So from an ‘event’ perspective, Ostrava vs. PBP will be much more interesting than two Prague teams playing.  Secondly, as you said, Ostrava gave us more problems.  They were better prepared and able to really push us right up until the end.  I think they play a more physical brand of football, and they play with a lot of energy and passion.  It’s a tough city and that team kind of carries that identity with them.  And when they lost, I didn’t hear them making excuses or blaming the refs or filing complaints with the league or any other BS.  They talk and get chippy like a lot of teams on the field, but when it’s over they look in your eyes and shake your hand and tell you great game, and they hope to kick your ass next time.

So while it doesn’t matter for me in the sense that we will prepare for whoever is placed in front of us, I definitely think that Ostrava would be the bigger challenge and maybe in that sense, that’s the game that we want.  We feel like we left a lot on the field the last time we played them, and I’m sure they feel like they did too, and both teams would love to have another crack at each other.

Photo: Prague Black Panthers

AFI: Is the team fairly healthy at this point in the season?

Levy: I think we have your typical nicks and bruises.  We are a little thin at certain areas and have a couple of key players who have been out for a while now and we need to get them back healthy ASAP.  But as a coach you have a responsibility to coach up your depth because injuries are inevitable.  I would put our roster right now at 75-80%.  I’m hoping to get that closer to 90-95% by the time the semifinal rolls around.

AFI: Have you thought about next season yet?

Levy: I have and I have spoken with management about it.  They’ve offered to extend my stay through the fall and I will be staying around Prague for most of the year. I will be traveling around some with the Europe Warriors and doing some other football camps, but it will still be helpful to be here to help where I can with the junior season and oversee the offseason program.  I haven’t received a contract for next season yet, and you never know 100% what will happen, but I love the team and love the city.  A few of my coaching buddies and former players who have been around Europe have visited me here, and they all come away surprised at how incredible Prague is.  It’s a clean, safe, vibrant city and there is always a lot going. The team has taken good care of me, so we are very much enjoying life here.

On the football side, there is a lot of room to build.  We will have the possibility of returning to the AFL in 2019, and that right there presents a number of challenges and opportunities.  We had a really tough group in the CEFL, and those games showed me a lot about where we are as a team and a program, and while we are really on the cusp of competing with the best teams in Europe, the coaches, players, and management have to make the decision to move the program in that direction.

So with all of that being said… while I am confident and excited for what the future holds, we still have a season to finish and a championship to win.  After that, we will see what happens.

American Football International is your source for news and updates about American Football outside the United States!