Germany: Christos Lambropoulos leads Saarland Hurricanes to historic success

For the first time since 2016, the Saarland Hurricanes are back in the German Football League playoffs. After early post-season exits in 2015 and 2016, Saarland takes a different playoff route this year. For the first time in the club’s history, the Hurricanes will host a playoff game after the team’s best regular season to date.

Fans may be wondering what has led to the team’s meteoric rise. Without a doubt, one of the catalysts has been their first-year head coach Christos Lambropoulos.

When Lambropoulos first came to Saarbrucken, the Hurricanes were in a peculiar position, bouncing back and forth between the first and second league for much of the 21st century. The team with a proud football history beginning in 1983 has found itself the country’s second league once again in 2018. After a 9-3 regular season in the GFL2 the following season, the Hurricanes narrowly missed the chance to move back up into the GFL.

Saarland Hurricanes players and coaches celebrate a historic 2021 regular season Photo Credit: Demmer Fotografie

However, they got a lucky break as the Ingolstadt Dukes transformed into the European League of Football franchise the Ingolstadt Praetorians, giving up their place in the GFL south. The Hurricanes were next in line and gladly took the chance to move back into Germany’s top league. Saarland’s first-year head coach on the sudden promotion to Germany’s top league:

 “As a coach, you are thinking, are we ready? This team didn’t even win to move up. We will have to do what we have to do to compete. GFL1 or GFL2 we will prepare the best we can.”

Before the 2021 season Lambropoulos kept his expectations low:

“I thought 5-5 would be a miracle. I was thinking if we win two games and remain in the league, I did my job.”

The Australian with Greek family heritage first came to Germany after a long career coaching in Australia. Lambropoulos started coaching for the Sutherland Seahawks and eventually worked his way up to the Australian National team staff. In 2019, the 30-year-old took a chance joining fellow Aussie Jon Leijten, coaching with the Dusseldorf Panther in the German Football League. However, things didn’t quite go as planned as the Panther were relegated to the second league and their contracts were not renewed. Despite a dismal record, there was a silver lining as the European game made an impression on Lambropoulos, as he eventually chose to return to Germany.

Lambropoulos being interviewed Photo: Demmer Fotografie

“To be honest I was looking anywhere, Dusseldorf was my first job, no one really knew me, and I was wondering who would hire someone that was unproven. I kept trying to reach out to people and then Bremen offered me the defensive coordinator position.”

Initially, the former Sutherland Seahawks coach joined the staff in Bremen before Paul Zahlen of the Hurricanes offered him the offensive coordinator job in Saarland. However, things changed again as Zahlen’s work commitments increased and Lambropoulos quickly became the Hurricanes, next head coach, in early 2021.

Lambropoulos looks back at the process of becoming the Hurricanes head man:

“Now after much of the season, I think we all got lucky. I was lucky that someone gave me a chance and lucky for them they gave me a chance I guess.” He said, “I just jumped at the opportunity, I was thinking I might not get another chance after Dusseldorf, so I’m gonna make the most of the situation.”

Christos Lambropoulos addresses his team after a win Photo: Demmer Fotografie

This season, Saarland stormed back into Germany’s top league winning their first two games by a combined score of 118-6. Led by their new head coach and a strong core of Germans complemented by talented imports, the Hurricanes sustained their success all season. The team seemingly came out of nowhere shocking many fans and opponents alike. After the dust settled, the Hurricanes finished the regular with an impressive 8-2 record earning the club’s first-ever home playoff game.  Yet, wasn’t until the fifth week of the season that Lambropoulos knew he had a team poised for the playoffs:

“When we played and beat Allgäu I knew we were going to be competitive. That’s when I thought we could play up with those teams.”

The key win in Kempten also helped change the entire team’s mindset toward winning:

We were winning but we weren’t acting like a team that had been there before. Because we hadn’t. We are actually competitive we don’t have to celebrate everything. We are supposed to beat Munich and Allgäu. I think that flipped after the Allgäu win.”

One of the keys to the Hurricanes success has been a dynamic offense. The league’s second-best scoring unit is quarterbacked by Colorado University (NCAA D1) product Josh Goldin. However, Saarland’s star is no typical division one import. The GFL’s third-leading passer is a former Colorado equipment manager turned walk-on quarterback. After years of holding a clipboard in college Goldin has shined this season, finally getting an opportunity to lead a team. Together, Lambropoulos’s and Goldin’s offense has been one of the best in Germany putting up 419 yards and 33.2 points per game.

Lambropoulos on finding a hidden gem in quarterback Josh Goldin:

“We had to find people in an untraditional way. We sort of isolated people no one else was looking at. After I spoke to him, I realized, what this team needs is the right person. Not just someone who can throw it 70 yards; I need a guy who is going to run the system and believe in what I’m doing.”

Lambropoulos and his quarterback Josh Goldin in Allgäu  Photo: Sarah Phillip

For Lambropoulos, giving an opportunity to someone unproven felt like the right move:

“He didn’t play at all, he was a holder, a nobody. But I thought you know, someone gave me a chance. If I gave someone a chance, they would be willing to prove themselves. He had something to prove, it was about football for him.”

Now that Saarland is back in the playoff for the first time in five year’s they’ll host a talented Cologne team. The visiting Crocodiles come to Saarbrucken also boasting of one of the best passing attacks in Germany. Cologne’s quarterback Christian Strong leads a potent offense averaging 321 passing yards a game. With two of the country’s most explosive offenses facing off Lambropoulos expects a tight game:

“It may be a barn burner, or it could go the other way. Both defenses could be streaky. I expect a really weird momentum-swinging game. We need to keep up with them, to be honest. Their offense is ridiculous.”

Lambropoulos making adjustments on the bench Photo: Demmer Fotografie

In an interesting twist, Lambropoulos will coach against his former quarterback Christian Strong. Since the 2019 season in Dusseldorf, Strong has added a UK passport giving Cologne another American to use on offense. Lambropoulos takes partial credit for Strong’s  success this season with a smile on his face:

“I told him to get him a dual passport and now it’s biting me in the butt. How the hell was I supposed to know he was gonna go to Cologne and we were going have to play him?”

Turnovers will be at a premium in this matchup as two of the league’s most explosive offenses meet in this one. Fans, players, and coaches alike expect this to be a thrilling and high-scoring game between two teams hungry to break into the semi-finals. Make sure to tune in and see the Saarland Hurricanes first-ever home playoff game against a dangerous Cologne Crocodiles squad this Sunday afternoon.

Watch this matchup and all the GFL playoffs on AFI.tv this weekend: Cologne Crocodiles @ Saarland Hurricanes, September 19, 15:00 CET (3 pm, 9 am ET)

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football