Milano Seamen head coach Michael Wood: We’ve got a little spice in our jelly

With Italy’s Division 1 season set to kick off this weekend, we spoke to Michael Wood, the returning head coach for the Milano Seamen.

The Seamen are the defending Italian champions and under Wood have won the last two Italian titles.

Wood has had an accomplished career in Europe over 18 years winning three championships in Italy and appeared in countless playoff games in Germany, France and Austria. He has won over 100 games in Europe alone and never had a losing season as head coach. Wood also has extensive experience coaching high school and college in the US.

Here is what he had to say about football in Italy during the pandemic, his impressive coaching career and the Seamen’s goals for 2021.

When did you get to Italy and how has practice been in the lead up to league kick-off?

I arrived on the March 1. We currently practice three times a week. We try to stay fast and physical. The game is a physical game and weights don’t push back. The team started practicing in February, but this was just conditioning. Zach our quarterback was here so he was active, throwing the ball to our receivers. But the steam didn’t come until March 1st. We got this new Serbian offensive guard from Swarco [Stefan Drecun]; I said ‘Hey Beppe [offensive-line coach], when we give you a new toy, try no to break it’. He ran that Stefan kid so hard as soon as he got off the plane. But no, Stefan is doing fine. We operate with high rotations so players are fresh and going hard. Mental mistakes are fine but hustle and effort are non negotiable. We’re trying to get guys ready for Parma. Almost all football in Europe has experienced 18 months off, that will be a big factor come Saturday.

How has training been since lockdown? How have the team and the players coped?

I’ve just been trying to keep the boat going straight. If someone isn’t hustling during practice our coaches are told to call it out in the film room. Those are the things that set us apart, our practice tempo. We get a lot of reps in. The winners always let the loser know during inside run periods. Once we get into group and teams periods, the bullets are flying. I send all the pressure, we have a deep blitz package. If our offense can protect our quarterback with that, they can in a game. Our offense is in a big spread package, a lot of RPO, we need to have our checks in place otherwise we are getting burnt. I’ve got ten assistant coaches, they all need to know what they’re doing. They’re held accountable. If we had a bad check then it’s their ass on the line. We try to make the playbook easy, but we’re not peanut and jelly, we got a little spice in our jelly.

What’s been the biggest challenge for you guys since lockdown?

That fact that nobody has been hitting each other. We gotta get back to playing tackle football. It’s a physical game. You have to be able to block, shed blocks and make good decisions when you’re tired, they are hard to simulate. The level is going up two or three more notches next Saturday. 

How has support for the team been?

Our president is great. He has put his heart and soul into this team starting it in 81. They got Armani to put money up because they wanted to bring sports to the youth. Late 90’s all the players retired and Armani put money into the basketball team instead. In 2009 the old timers brought football back, in the second league. Second year we won that league and moved up. And now we are where we are, we won five out of the last six championships. Took a couple years to get up to speed but our fans have supported us through it all. We’ve got a huge fan club, we get about 2500 per game. They bend over backwards for us. I’ve been invited to more kitchens and more restaurants than I have in my life, pretty much everyday a week I’m invited out to eat. We have a great football community. I’ve really missed that this year. It’s hard to simulate the off field stuff. 

You’ve had such an accomplished coaching career in Europe, I’m sure you’ve had other offers, what makes you want to stay with the Seamen?

Back in ‘99 I went down to Palermo, chatted to the Italian guys from the Bolzano Giants and just kept coming back to Italy. Came in ‘99, ‘01, ‘06, ‘09, ‘11 and ‘17; had a bunch of years with Bolzano Giants. This is my 11th year in Italy. I love Italy, the food is great. I was in Vienna, Paris twice, played in Allgau [Germany] back when it was Kempton Comets and coached in the 15/16 season. For 17/18 years I’ve been with five teams. I just wanted to live in nice places. I’ve tried to make this a working vacation. The people I’ve gotten to know, they respect what I’ve done. I keep in touch with guys from everyone on those teams. All of my Facebook friends are from the Euro teams and guys I coached in College. College is great from Sep – Nov but from Dec – Aug recruiting and babysitting is a grind. Especially at the higher levels, they put in 80 hours a week, doing what I have no idea. Over here, the coordinators call the plays and head coach calls the shots, that’s it. It’s fun calling plays, that’s why you wanna coach. Defensive Coordinator is a whole lot more fun than being a defensive backs coach. Game day, you’re doing not a lot. Over here this is my team, I figure out what we’re gonna do and when we’re gonna do it. 

How do you think FIDAF has handled covid?

I think last year, you had to shut everything down. Soccer shut down over here. It was obvious that football needed to shut down as well. NCAA; how many teams didn’t play football? FIDAF followed suit. They are being bold but doing the right thing by getting the season underway this year. The NFL had money to throw at the problem, Italy doesn’t but has the commitment to make it happen. Wednesday our entire team got a rapid test, no one tested positive. We take everyone’s temperature before they can go on the field. Everyone has to wear a mask on the sideline. Each coach has to have a sanitizer with them. We have to spray the balls after each drill has finished. We’ve been trying to make the best of a bad situation. One of our guys lives in Torino [William Petrone], he tested positive four weeks weeks ago. He had to quarantine in March. He’s back now ready to play on Saturday. We take the guidelines seriously, we don’t want to put anyone in danger. If you’re not in a drill you can’t stand next to anyone. If someone is too close I throw a ball at them. I think we’ve made a great effort and done what has been asked of us. 

What do you feel Jarey Elder will bring to the team this year?

He’s a stud. He covers a lot of ground and is a great communicator. We install the Defense, watch film from the previous game, and he adds a few different things he learnt from college. He’s like having a coach out there, directing traffic. Making sure people are doing what they need to do. This is Jarey’s first year, he wants to make an impression. You’re supposed to be the best player on the field. Last year [2019] we didn’t have a DB, and we struggled against teams like Guelfi. We couldn’t just put an American DB on Silas Nacita or Hawthorn. Coach Art Briles did a great job manipulating formation.

What are your teams’ aims for this season?

We want to beat the best this year. We lost to Swarco in CEFL so we took their offensive lineman. Now he’s playing for us. Can’t beat them, steal them. One of the reasons we picked him up was because our guy Eagor plays for Serbian national team with him. We want to win the CEFL but we have to take one game at a time.

What are you expecting from the Panthers game next Saturday?

We don’t want to play our starting guys for the whole of the first quarter. We want fresh legs. We are lucky to have that depth. People will run out of gas in the fourth quarter. Next Saturday, everyone will have been knocked on ass at least once. They don’t like us, we don’t like them. New coaching staff and I bet that the new linebacker they have, Santay Brown, will be licking his chops. We’re not gonna out-coach or outwork them. We need to keep everyone hungry. It’s gonna come down to whoever is making plays, whoever is prepared the best. The line of scrimmage is important, we have to run and be able to protect Luke. No one can play 50/60 snaps and be great, it’s about whoever makes those mistakes and how are they capitalized on. They have a new coach coming in so unsure what schemes they are running. This won’t be decided in the first three quarters, it will be a close game. It will come down to someone dropping a ball or a guy missing a tackle.

The Milano Seamen kick their season off this coming Saturday at home against Parma Panthers. Expect sparks to fly. Watch the game live on

Photos: Dario Fumagalli, Beppe Fongaro

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who works in journalism and communications in the third sector. Daniel began playing football for the London Warriors and Team Great Britain and has since played across Europe.