Gladiators Football names CFL legend Adam Rita first head coach in franchise history

At 73 years old, Adam Rita still can’t kick the coaching bug.

The long-time CFL coach and general manager is back at it again, signing on with Gladiators Football of Spain to become the first head coach of the fledgling European League of Football franchise based 90 minutes outside of Barcelona.

The eight team ELF, billed as the first professional-style American football on the continent since the departure of NFL Europe, is projected to begin play in July of 2021. In addition to the Gladiator, the Stuttgart Scorpions, Lower Saxony German Knights 1367, Ingolstadt Praetorians and Wroclaw Panthers of Poland have confirmed their involvement. Franchises in Hamburg, Berlin and Frankfurt remain unnamed.

The league recently announced a TV deal with major German NFL broadcaster ranSport and is looking to raise their profile with a number of key professional caliber additions. Rita does exactly that for the Gladiators.

“Adam Rita’s profile is the one that suits perfectly what we were looking for,” Gladiators general manager Bart Iaccarino said. “He is a person with a lot of experience who can help us a lot, more than thirty years in football guarantees that. In addition, on two occasions he has helped build a franchise by contributing his vision and knowledge.”

Toronto Argonauts, QB Damon Allen and GM Adam Rita, during team practice, August 16, 2006. (Tannis Toohey/ TORONTO STAR)

Rita first broke into the CFL in 1983 as an offensive coordinator for the B.C. Lions under legendary coach Don Matthews. He would go on to work almost continuously in the league until his retirement in 2010, only interrupted by a one year stint as UBC Thunderbirds head coach in 1989.

Rita was named head coach of the Toronto Argonauts in 1991 and won the Grey Cup in his first year, only to be fired after a 3-8 start the following season. He served a Ottawa Roughriders head coach in 1994 and with the B.C. Lions in 1997-98 and 2002, while also seeing time as a coordinator for the Memphis Mad Dogs and Edmonton Football Team.

Rita switched to the personnel side starting in the late ’90s, serving as B.C. Lions general manger from 1997 to 2002 and finishing his career as Argonauts GM from 2004 to 2010.

“We can learn a lot from a person like him,” Iaccarino emphasizes. “From the first day we started talking and working on this project, he has shown us his professionalism and humility.”

After retiring from the CFL, Rita turned his focus to Europe and has become a fixture overseas. He began as head coach of the Prague Panthers in 2012, then coached the Calanda Broncos of Switzerland from 2013 to 2014 and Bergamo Lions of Italy from 2017 to 2019. In between, Rita has served as an assistant with the Clarkson Football North high school program in Mississauga.

Rita was originally signed on to coach Germany’s Berlin Adler in 2020 until the pandemic forced the cancellation of the German season. Germany’s loss is now Spain’s gain, as the Gladiators look to make noise in the new, upstart European 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.