ELF: Tough week for head coaches, Dragons players boycott 2nd half

The Barcelona Dragons announced Friday that they have parted ways with head coach David Shelton following a sluggish start to the 2024 European League of Football season.

The same fate befell Wroclaw Panthers head coach Dave Christensen just the day before.

The timing of both coaching changes was unusual. Teams would normally make the decision as early as possible so as to allow for the least disruption to game preparation as possible in an already tumultuous situation. This clearly was not the case for the Dragons and Panthers.

Shelton was released the day before the Dragons game against the Munich Ravens. The response from the players was unprecedented. Trailing 54-0 after only two quarters, the Barcelona players refused the play the second half and the team then announced they were forfeiting the second half.

This suggests that there was more to the departure of Shelton than simply the results on the field.

Shelton took over a Dragons team that had undergone a complete overhaul in the front office and coaching staff following the 2023 season. Barcelona finished 2-10 in 2023 with the final two games lopsided losses to Paris and Munich. Then another Spanish team entered the league with the admission of the Madrid Bravos to ELF. So the situation for the new head coach was perhaps not ideal

Barcelona opened the season with a win, albeit against a hastily-assembled Helvetic Mercenaries team from Switzerland. They then lost badly to the Bravos and Raiders Tirol before defeating the Mercenaries again. They lost twice more – to the Milano Seamen and Raiders again – and this would seem to have sealed Shelton’s fate. All coaches realize that their jobs are at risk, especially in a losing situation. However, the players’ response would seem to indicate that there was more to it than that. The hiring and firing of coaches is part of the game at this level. Players can be unhappy to see a coach leave but they still have to play the game.

What happened in Barcelona?

Wroclaw head coach Dave Christensen suffered the same fate just the day before. The Panthers announced on July 4 that Christensen was being replaced by defensive coordinator Craig Kuligowski. The team has stumbled out to a 2-4 start to the season and effectively are already out of playoff  contention. Aspirations were high going into this season after Christensen took over in 2023 and improved the team from 5-7 in 2022 to 8-4 and a playoff game in 2023.

Again, it was not the firing of the head coach in this situation that raises questions but the timing of the move. Why wait until just a couple of days before a game (in this case three days before Wroclaw is scheduled to play against the Prague Lions) to release the head coach?

Admittedly, other factors can come into play behind the scenes that can make it impossible to orchestrate a coaching change in the best fashion.

Still, these coaching changes, coming so close together, are stark reminders that the ELF is a pro level league.


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