Krakow Kings Malik Jackson: Following his football calling around the globe.

Growing up as a coach’s son Malik Jackson has always been around the game. But he never imagined it would take him to five different countries throughout Europe.

“My father was a lifelong coach; I was pretty much a football kid. They literally pulled my dad off the practice field when I was born. If anyone was destined to be a football coach, it was me. It’s what I’ve done my whole life.”

In his earlier years, the California kid always stayed close to home attending nearby California State University. Soon after university, Jackson spent 12 years coaching at the City College of San Francisco, winning four national championships with one of the nation’s top Junior College football programs. Jackson along with other assistants got the chance to learn from legendary George Rush, who finished his career with 326 wins, the most of any coach in junior college football history.

Jackson on coaching at the City College of San Francisco:

“It was amazing! I believe they won two straight championships by time I got there. We were right in the middle of setting a national record for the most wins in a row, but mainly it’s just there’s such a high standard. The standard at City College is to go undefeated and win a championship. The expectation is to win no matter against who.”

Photo: Hamburg Huskies

The excellent coaching staff and high level of organization throughout the program helped Jackson shape his own coaching philosophy, a critical part of developing as a young coach.

“I think I got there when I was 29 years old. I was there for 12 years, so that’s right around the time when you figure out who you are as a coach. I spent that time with the greatest coach in the history of junior college football and with some of the best teams in the history of junior college football. So it definitely moulded me as a coach, it kind of becomes who you are. You expect to show up and you expect not only to coach at a certain standard, but that everyone around you has that same standard. It was a pretty awesome way to come up in coaching to be honest.”

They say life is all about connections and this doesn’t ring any less true in the coaching world. While winning championships at the City College of San Francisco Jackson had coached Swedish player Martin Falk. After Falk’s college football career ended, he returned to Sweden and began working with the management of the Carlstad Crusaders, one of the top football programs in Scandinavia. When the Crusaders needed a defensive coordinator, Falk knew who to call straight away.

“When he (Falk) played for us, I would always make jokes about coming to Sweden, then one day he called. Life just lined up where I could go. I thought it would be a onetime thing.”

Carlstad Crusaders HC Malik Jackson (left), Kirk Heidelberg (middle) and OC Dan Hawkins (right). Photo: Carlstad Crusaders

Jackson’s first year in Europe featured a rotating door of coaches as head coach Duke Iverson left early in the season, leaving Jackson to become the team’s head coach. The team’s offensive coordinator role was filled with a cast of coaches coming and going, including current UC Davis head coach Dan Hawkins. Despite the coaching roller coaster, the Crusaders well run organization helped Jackson succeed on and off the field. While the California native was far from home, the Crusaders helped him adjust to football and life in Europe, welcoming him with open arms. Jackson and Crusaders finished the season with 17-1 record and were Swedish national champions while also winning the European club title.

“The standard we had at San Francisco, was the same that they had at the Crusaders, so it was a good fit for me. For my first European experience going into an established place, it was an easy transition. For being new to Europe I couldn’t have landed a situation.”

The summer in Sweden did more than fill up Jackson’s passport and vacation albums; it helped open his eyes to the growing American football culture in Europe. Jackson spent the next four seasons coaching in Switzerland, Serbia, and Germany, winning a Swiss championship with the Bern Grizzlies in 2016. The experience of moving around Europe and coaching has been something Jackson never imagined after spending so much time in California.

“It’s been life changing, it’s been amazing! Coaching is about the people, it’s about the players. I’ve lived in northern California my whole life and now I’ve seen Serbia, Kiel, and all these different cultures. I’ve been treated with nothing but kindness, whether it be the people making my food, the fans, the staff, the families, the players, you meet all these amazing people. The sad part is, you hang out for 6-7 months to a year than you leave.  That’s been the hard part. In some ways you’d like to stick around one place. I’ve met so many wonderful people who have treated me so well and have been really good to me. It can be heart-breaking to meet amazing people that you have to say goodbye too. But on the other end, I wouldn’t trade it. Like who would have ever thought Belgrade Serbia would be one of my favorite places on earth?”

In 2020, Jackson accepted the head coaching position with the Krakow Kings, just before the pandemic hit. Obviously, the year didn’t go quite as planned. After the season was postponed, the Kings opting out of playing in the delayed and shortened Polish season held later in the year so the six-team league continued without them. With no football to coach in Krakow, Jackson joined the staff of the nearby Tychy Falcons, helping guide them to the playoffs. With strict COVID restrictions in place, Jackson bonded quickly with the Falcons players and staff as they spent so much time together.

“They were wonderful. I was sitting around watching Netflix hours a day. When I got there, they were great, we bonded quickly, and I ended staying with the players in the hotel. I was like twice their age, but we did a lot of hanging out in the pandemic. We grew very close very quickly.”

Malik Jackson on sideline as HC of Sweden’s Carlstad Crusaders Photo: Hans Cullberg

After the Krakow Kings returned, there were some key parts of the organization that needed restructuring. Both the kings and Jackson agreed that long time Kings player and coach Zygmunt Łodziński was a better fit as the head coach in order to help recruit players and facilitate a return to play. Jackson was excited to just focus on defense as he stayed the Kings defensive coordinator.

“He was a better fit for the situation. So, it was an easy call, we got along well, and I like coaching defense so it’s worked out well.”

Under coach Jackson’s guidance the Kings defense has played very well this season. A clutch stop on a two-point conversion helped Krakow win its season opener 22-20. Jackson’s defense features an experienced group of players that play with passion and will excite the crowd with big hits. Jackson can often be seen jumping up and down celebrating with his players after a big play. Jackson on the passion that can be seen on the Krakow defense:

“They are a tight knit group to begin with, the core of the team played together for six or seven years, they were juniors together. They legitimately like each other. I’ve been pleasantly surprised; they are just a physical group. A lot it comes from them playing together and a lot of it comes from just missing the game.”

This weekend Jackson and the Kings will face off against his old team the Tychy Falcons in a highly anticipated matchup between two experienced teams in the Polish Football League. While Jackson knows the Falcons’ organization well the inside knowledge goes both ways.

“At the end of the day the players will get out there and have their fun. I’m sure there will be a lot of talking on both sides. I haven’t been this nervous for a game since 2013, its been a while since I’ve gone against people that I really like. I mean I spent Christmas with the offensive line coach there!”

Look for Jackson and the Krakow Kings defensive celebrations as they host the undefeated Tychy Falcons this Sunday at 12:00 CET on AFI.TV

 

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 stories from across the globe.