Frustrations with GFL led Jordan Neuman to leave champion Unicorns for ELF’s Stuttgart Surge

When the European League of Football announced their foundation two years ago, it sent shockwaves across the continent and left the German Football League scrambling for a response.

As many big-name players and teams jumped ship, among those circling the GFL wagons was Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns head coach Jordan Neuman. As the leader of one of the league’s marquee franchises, he questioned the viability of the new entity and publicly defended the GFL’s status as Europe’s top football league.

Now, one of Europe’s most well-respected coaches has changed his tune, leaving the Unicorns after close to a decade of service to assume head coaching duties for the ELF’s Stuttgart Surge. It was a decision that Neuman did not come to easily.

“I still love the Unicorns and, to be totally honest, even now to this day I don’t want to leave the Unicorns,” he said in an interview with AFI this week. “But I do want to leave the GFL and so this was an extremely hard decision because of my love for that program.”

“Three years ago, I was all up for the competition. I was ready for the battle but there’s only so much the Unicorns can do if the league is not going to offer do its part.”

Fresh off earning his third career German Bowl title in October, those words carry added weight coming from Neuman. Synonymous with success throughout his coaching tenure, the 39-year-old has grown increasingly tired of the GFL’s political in-fighting and unwillingness to innovate. As the ELF has pushed its product to the brink of what many thought possible for football in Europe, the old guard has failed to adapt.

“Simply put, I think that the ELF has dreamed big, has a big vision for itself and is willing to get in there and go after it,” Neuman said. “I feel like the GFL has played it extremely safe, I would say, to its detriment.”

The GFL, he believes, is too large and unwilling to separate the wheat from the chaff. Its conferences are not properly aligned, and its product has not yet been effectively packaged. After years of bubbling frustration over inactive leadership and member clubs determined to only look out for themselves, there was no longer a purpose to fighting the losing battle.

“At some point, you have to give credit where credit’s due and say the ELF did a great job,” Neuman explained. “There’s no point in digging your heels in just to try and be right when at the end of the day, the ELF has done a phenomenal job for European football.”

Having first joined the Unicorns in 2005 as the team’s quarterback, the news of Neuman’s departure after eight seasons coaching with the franchise — the last five as head coach — took many by surprise. The separation was ultimately an amicable one and the coach remains incredibly proud of what he was able to accomplish during his time in the small German community.

“No matter what happened, we always just kept coming back. It didn’t matter the result of the previous year’s German Bowl. We just always had so many coaches and players that it never deterred them, which is why we were always in the mix for a decade of competing for championships,” Neuman said. “Won some, lost some but I think that’s the thing I’m proudest of; our absolute consistency of being right there in the mix, competing at the highest level every single year.”

Determined to always compete against the best, it was simply time to close that chapter of his coaching career. However, Neuman remains deeply attached to the organization and intends to continue working in partnership with their youth program going forward.

Now his focus shifts an hour south to Stuttgart. A desire to prevent unnecessary displacement for his family ultimately led Neuman to choose the Surge over other ELF suitors, though there were other factors that intrigued him.

“I wonder if Stuttgart is a sleeping giant that just needs to be woken up and that’s something I’m going to find out soon,” he mused. “They didn’t have a lot of success on the field the last couple of years, but it still seems like there’s a lot of support from fans and in and around the program.”

In two seasons under Martin Hanselmann, the Surge stumbled to a 2-20 record. However, few know the local recruiting area better than Neuman and he believes there is still talent to unlock. His challenge will be to create a team culture similar to that of the Unicorns, one that will keep players and staff buying in season after season.

With defensive coordinator Johannes Brenner and assistant Cody Pastorino following him from Schwäbisch Hall, the momentum has already begun to swing in that direction and the interest from players has been noticeable. There is certain to be other Unicorn defectors as well, though Neuman insists the numbers will be smaller than many expect due to the ELF’s stringent roster rules.

Jordan Neuman (right) holding German Bowl trophy, and his mentor, Siegfried Gehrke

As for the GFL, the coach believes his old league is at a crossroads. They can either concede the upper hand to their multi-national competitor and find a way to co-exist symbiotically or make daring changes to restart a fight that seems already lost. Either way, the status quo will not suffice — a fact that many leaders in German football simply don’t want to acknowledge.

“I think the GFL needs leadership to dream big and be bold and implement new and exciting ideas,” Neuman stressed. “I think that one of the main things that the GFL has to do is get out of their comfort zone and really shake things up, but the thing is, there are always two sides.”

“There’s the league, but there’s also the teams that hold a lot of weight in the GFL to make a lot of those decisions. At some point, you need to get all these teams excited about new ideas.”

Now in a league where teams are excited about the future and focused on advancing the collective, Neuman appears to have a renewed energy. Once a vocal skeptic, he’s fully bought in to what the ELF is selling and is thrilled to finally be a part of it.

“I almost feel like sky’s the limit,” Neuman grinned. “Honestly, the more I got in and started listening and hearing the visions for the future and what these guys are doing; I don’t know where it could go because it seems like there’s just a whole different level of vision from the people running this league.”

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.