Right timing, right people attracted DC Dave Likins to take job with ELF’s Wrocław Panthers

For the second straight off-season, the competition for players and coaches between the German Football League and the European League of Football has been the story, with both leagues attempting to attract the best talent and stake their claim as the best in Europe.

Now one of the most respected defensive minds in Europe can be added to the list of names who will working in new ZIP codes next season.

After nine year as defensive coordinator of the Braunschweig New Yorker Lions, it was announced last week that Dave Likins would be heading to Poland to assume the same role with the ELF’s Wrocław Panthers.

In his illustrious career, Likins has helped coach teams to 10 German Bowl titles and seven Eurobowl wins, with the bulk of that success coming from his longstanding partnership with head coach Troy Tomlin in Braunschweig. But after a disappointing 2021 season for the Lions, Likins simply felt the timing was right to consider other opportunities.

“While waiting for the contracts and budget to get ironed out, I just thought it was time to test the waters,” he explained, adding that it took a special offer to pull him away. “As I told Coach [Jakub] Samel, I don’t think the job at Wrocław is a good job. It’s a great job.”

That’s a credit to the professionalism and culture of the Panthers organization. Wrocław came recommended highly to Likins by his friend, current Salzburg Ducks coach Nick Johansen, and the reasons why became immediately apparent on his first visit to the team.

“The hospitality of the administration and the coaches, their obvious commitment to winning there, and also just being good people,” Likins said, listing just a few of the things that blew him away. “The second morning there, Coach Samel and I just sat down and watched film and talked football.”

The Panthers were already a championship contender in their first ELF season and were recently named the sixth best team in Europe by AFI, but Likins will bring with him a wealth of experience to push the team over the top in a crowded Northern Conference.

He first coached in Europe with Braunschweig in 1992 and 1993, before returning from 1998 to 2000, winning a pair of German Bowls and the 1999 Eurobowl as an assistant. He would later join the Hamburg Blue Devils as their defensive coordinator, winning three straight  German Bowls before  heading back to the United States.

Likins returned to Europe in 2008 with Austria’s Swarco Raiders, themselves newly minted as part of the ELF, and won another Eurobowl. In 2011, he was named head coach of the Berlin Adler, before joining the Calanda Broncos of Switzerland in 2012 as defensive coordinator and carrying them to an undefeated Swiss championship and Eurobowl victory.

It was in 2013 that Likins finally returned to Braunschweig, forming one of the continent’s best coaching duo with Lions head coach Troy Tomlin. Over the next seven years, Braunschweig captured five German Bowls and four Eurobowls, earning the reputation as one of Europe’s best run teams.

As he departs, that is a legacy that Likins carries proudly and he’ll always remember the people who made it possible.

“The players, the coaches, the great support people. I think our success was unparalleled. We won at least one championship every year till the last one,” he said. “Troy Tomlin works harder than anyone I have seen. He created a great culture there.”

The effects of the pandemic canceled 2020 season seemed to knock the Lions off their pedestal in 2021, resulting in a 5-5 campaign and a semifinal loss to the rival Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns. Some have argued that the arrival of the ELF has resulted in a general decline throughout the GFL, but as the latest marquee name to make his way from one to another, Likins isn’t interested in weighing the long-term merits of either level of competition.

“That’s WAY above my pay scale,” he stressed. “But, I am excited about returning to international competition. I am not too shot in the ass about that new kickoff, but everything else looks fine. I am studying how to deal with the pro hashes.”

In his opinion, there is no reason why both leagues can’t thrive and be a viable option for players and coaches.

“There are good teams in both leagues. In my mind, Dresden was the best team in Europe last year. I haven’t seen many teams over here that were so complete on offense. I will miss coaching against Robert Cruse,” Likins said.

“I hope everybody can move forward into football in 2022 without as much doubt and fear as we did this past year. To me, football in Europe is better than it has ever been. Better players, better coaches.”

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.