Fred Armstrong’s push for a third European League of Football team in Austria

With the playoffs and championship game just around the corner, anticipation is beginning to build around where the next European League of Football (ELF) franchise should be. But for European coaching veteran Fred Armstrong, the decision should be an obvious one.

Armstrong is coming off of a highly successful season as head coach of the Danube Dragons in the Austrian Football League. The former head coach of the Leipzig Kings (2021-2022) took over a Dragons squad that won the AFL title for the first time ever in 2022 and then led them to the championship again.

Given his coaching history and background, it should not have come as a surprise.

“It was a great season and I loved working with the club and the team.”

Originally from New Jersey, Armstrong began his European coaching career in 1991 in Stockholm with the Solna Chiefs winning a Swedish National Championship in his first year. Since then, he has gone from strength to strength tallying up five national championships in Sweden, (two with the Stockholm Mean Machines in 2018 and 2019 as offensive coordinator), as mentioned a national championship in Austria with the Danube Dragons, has led both the Czech and Swedish national teams in successful campaigns, built the ELF team Leipzig Kings out of nothing, and taken GFL teams deep into the playoffs. In fact, Armstrong was awarded the European Federation of American Football Coach of The Year in 1998 for his time with the Stuttgart Scorpions.

Photo: Danube Dragons

Armstrong has been equally active stateside in high school, college and even in the NFL. From 2011–2016, he turned the Bonneville HS, Idaho, program around and took them to their first playoff appearance in over 10 years. Since 1994, Armstrong has coached at almost every level of collegiate football, proving a diversity in approach and adaptability. In 2006 and 2015, Armstrong spent time with both the New York Giants and Jets respectively working with running backs, receivers and tight ends. He has also been involved in a number of outreach programs aimed at helping high school students combat various social issues.

Armstrong’s resume speaks for itself in both coaching prowess and organizational foresight. His ability to assess and manage the organizational structure of football clubs in Europe has led to him taking stable coaching positions time and time again, something clearly shown through his 30-year career in Europe.

Armstrong’s two-year stint in the ELF with the Kings ended with a 9–13 record, which could have easily been 13–9 if a few more decisions went his way. Of all his time in Europe, there was something about building up a new team in the ELF that ensnared him and led to Armstrong seeking similar opportunities elsewhere.

‘My time in Leipzig was messy, but I loved it. Yeah, we didn’t do everything right as an organization, but the people there cared. We wanted to grow the sport and be successful, and we succeeded to a certain degree. I then started to look further afield and find the next team that could come into ELF and make an impact, that’s when my interest was sparked by the Danube Dragons in Austria.’

At the beginning of 2023, Armstrong was announced as the head coach of Danube. He immediately recognized the talent on the team and the strong infrastructure surrounding the Vienna-based squad. This is when he began speaking with ownership and the league about making a push for the ELF

‘We have a ton of guys in ELF and the GFL at the moment. As soon as we enter the ELF, they’ll come back. I’ve built plenty of connections with players over the years, and with a few extra Americans and Euros, we’ll compete day one. We’re coming off two back-to-back national championships, we’d be top six in the league year one.’

Armstrong spent part of the 2015 season with the New York Jets

It is hard to argue against Armstrong’s logic. The likes of Philipp Haun, Mathias Rebl and Chad Jeffries all have their roots deeply entrenched in the Danube Dragons. They would no doubt return to their home team in a heartbeat if they were to make a push for the league. 

Austrian teams have also shown a level of unfounded stability across Europe with the top teams all boasting 30+ years of high-level operation in the AFL. In the last year, with Armstrong’s old team, the Kings, folding, along with the Istanbul Rams (2022) this now has to be a serious consideration for all incoming franchises.

There are plenty of teams in Europe who claim they deserve to be in the ELF. But as the league has shown this year, many do not belong on or off the field with the league’s grossly high financial requirements. Armstrong has been coaching in Europe for longer than many of those still involved in the game have been alive. It is for this reason that his call for a third team in Austria is more than just hot air.

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who works in journalism and communications in the third sector. Daniel began playing football for the London Warriors and Team Great Britain and has since played across Europe.