Lars Carlsen steps down as Team Denmark head coach after 28 years

The Danish national team is saying goodbye to the only head coach the country has ever known.

After 28 years of spearheading Denmark’s national program, Lars Carlsen has announced he will be stepping down from his role with the men’s program. The decision comes after Carlsen was appointed CEO of the Danish American Football Federation in 2020, a position which now eats up much of his time.

Carlsen, who stepped away from his role with the U19 program at the end of 2019, was allowed to continue on as head coach after taking the top job at DAFF. However, he now feels he can longer do the team he loves justice.

“There was nobody telling me anything. It was myself coming up to say, this is not good,” Carlsen said in an interview on Tuesday. ‘I could probably stay, but the national team program will not get the attention and the hours needed to be put into that. So, for the sake of the team, I had to make this decision.”

Already one of the most respected young coaches in Denmark thanks to a stint as an assistant at Wagner College, Carlsen was originally approached to coach the countries newly formed U19 national team in 1994 while he was working for the Kronborg Knights. He jumped at the opportunity, facing a wildly different type of program from the one he has since built.

“Back in 95-96 or whenever it was, I remember coming into camp and there were maybe eight coaches, and when we were done coaching, we ran in and then we prepared dinner for the players because we were also the ones who had to cook the pasta and the meat for the dinner,” Carlsen chuckled. “It was different times.”

The senior men’s national team joined the fold in 2000, building itself up from the bottom of the IFAF European rankings. In 22 years as the Men’s head coach, Carlsen has plenty of fond memories, but none will top the moment when Denmark claimed the European-B Championships in 2013.

Building off a stunning victory over the USA Eagles the year previous, the Danes took on Team Italy in a packed Milan stadium, silencing the home-side with a 49-20 upset that catapulted them into Europe’s top tier. While the victory was sweet, it was the two weeks the team spent in Italy that Carlsen remembers most fondly.

“All those days in camp, we were getting better every single day, getting closer and closer. Going into the tournament, we made sure that we didn’t leave anything untouched,” he recalled.

“Italy was just this feeling that we were doing everything right and everything would work out for us. The time schedule, the buses, the way we arrived at the stadium, it was one of those almost perfect situations.”

It will be times like those that Carlsen misses most as he steps away. Longer tournaments and training camps offer a chance to connect with players in a way that the typical schedule of one-off games doesn’t facilitate.

“The games are fun and I love the games, but I’m going to miss the camps and those days being around the team,” he said. “I’ve thought about that and that’s probably what kept me doing this for so long.”

It is on those occasions where he has most seen players develop and watched team chemistry flourish. It also offers a chance to build team discipline and culture, laying a foundation that his players will use throughout their lives. Ultimately, it is that fulfilling aspect of coaching that drove him to take the job in the first place.

“It seems to be the better football players are also the better men. Maybe I’m one of those romantic coaches, but I still believe that,” Carlsen explained. “This is so much more than just football. Football is sometimes the tool more than the goal.”

He will now hand the reins of the program he built to another and as the director of the federation, will be in charge of finding his own successor. That process will be challenging in and of itself for someone so deeply invested in the team’s continued success and Carlsen is heeding the advice of others aiding in the search; allowing a replacement to grow into his shoes rather than fill them immediately.

“There’s not going to be a new me. I’m not trying to put myself up there where I don’t belong, but there’s not going to be anybody with as much experience,” he admitted. “We need to be aware of that and find a guy that has most of the qualities that we want in this position, knowing that nobody will have all the qualities that we want.”

That process will get underway shortly and Carlsen will have plenty to occupy his time. He hopes one day to return to the sidelines somewhere but will now focus on leading Danish football from the top. Should the national team program ever need some added assistance, he’s just a phone call away.

“I’ll still be the head of the Federation. I’m not saying that I’m going to step in and look somebody over the shoulder all the time so they can’t do the job, but I’m not that far away,” Carlsen grinned. “I’ll be here for advice and all that stuff.”

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.