George Contreras excited to return to Europe as DC for Spain’s Gijon Mariners

The Gijon Mariners have announced that after a four year absence European coaching icon George Contreras is returning to the sidelines in Europe as defensive coordinator of the Spanish club.

The news was welcomed throughout Europe and well beyond.

In fact, there are not many coaches who have had such an impact as California native Contreras. Over the course of dozen years, Contreras became ingrained in the European game. His popular blog “Coaching for Pizza” became a favorite among coaches and imports, even though the name eventually became a misnomer. While pizza was prominent at the start of his European adventure in 2008 and 2009 with the Sicilian Catania Elephants, stops in Sweden with the Hässleholm Hurricanes and Wasby Warriors, Switzerland with the Thun Tigers, France with the Bron-Villeurbanne Falcons (where his team captured the Div. 3 title), and Spain with the Murcia Cobras, Osos Rivas and Guadalajara Stings, each offered very different cuisines. Ultimately, his final stop in Varese brought it all full circle to the Italian staple.

AFI asked the popular coach about his decision to return to coaching in Europe and about his heritage

AFI: You have been “retired” from coaching football in Europe for four years. What prompted you to return?

Contreras: Oddly enough, these lyrics from the Journey song, “Don’t Stop Believing” has been rummaging through by brain for over a year:

Workin’ hard to get my fill
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin’ anything to roll the dice
Just one more time

Then I started watching my grandson Jacob’s Pop Warner practices a few weeks ago and their Offensive Line Coach asked me to watch him as he coached and to please give him any advice that I could. It was a tremendous feeling to analyze, advise and see him be willing to make changes.

I had already been at work for a few weeks helping the Gijón Mariners President, Enrique Prado Alonso, who I knew from our shared Europe Warriors days, recruit players and a DC for the 2025 season.

Finally, after talking it over with my wife Laurie, I opted to reach out to Enrique and tell him that I was interested in the Mariners DC job. After a couple of good, extensive Zoom meetings with Enrique and Mariners Head Coach Nacho Valdés, they offered me the position and I happily accepted.

AFI: You are going to coach with the Gijon Mariners. Is that the same part of Spain where your family is from?

Contreras: Yes, it is. My maternal grandparents were both born and raised in the Spanish Province of Asturias not far from Gijón. On previous trips to Asturias I have been able to meet long lost second cousins so, needless to say, family reunions were a factor in making the decision to become a Mariner.

AFI: Tell us a little about your Spanish heritage.

Contreras: Growing up in a household where our two maternal grandparents lived with us full time, the stories, culture, traditions, language and cuisine were always close at hand. My two sisters had both spent a summer living in Asturias with our cousins as teenagers, something that I could never do due to my commitments to football. They would tell me grand stories of the wondrous life there on numerous occasions.

When I first started coaching in EuroBall back in 2008, they somehow found out that there was an American football team based in Gijón and made a strong suggestion/demand that I MUST coach there someday.

The Catania Elephants in Sicily was George Contreras’ first coaching gig in Europe in 2008. Here, Contreras is seen with his QB Jason Johnson in discussion with the referee

AFI: How active have you been in football home in California in the last four years?

Contreras: I did have one awesome time coaching on the field in the Spring 2022 when the Brazil Onças Head Coach asked me to be the LB Coach for their one week National Team Camp. I will also be the Onćas Special Teams Coach for our South American Tournament in São Paulo next December.

Mostly though I have been involved in breaking down and doing analytics data gathering for coaching friends including California’s Buena H.S. (HC Ryan Bolland) and El Camino Real H.S. (HC Jason Sabolic). I have also done this for EuroBall clubs these past four years including the L’Hospitalet Pioners (HC Bart Iaccarino), the Mallorca Voltors (HC Jesús Sánchez) and the Varese Skorpions (HC Nick Holt).

To keep active and current during the 2023 season I attended a total of 47 college, high school, Pop Warner and middle school football games.

I know, I need a life.

AFI: How much do you feel the game has grown in Europe since the last time you coached here?

Contreras: Overall, I think that the game continues to grow in a positive direction, especially with the advent of many more coaching clinics and player camps to improve both knowledge and skill levels.

The European League of Football has been both interesting and needed. I still worry though that the ELF is diminishing, to some degree, the importance of each individual country’s DI leagues, especially Germany’s and Austria’s.


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