Shuan Fatah, HC of Swarco Raiders discusses Austrian Football League semifinal versus Danube Dragons

As Austria’s reigning champion Swarco Raiders get set for their Austrian Football League semifinal matchup with the Danube Dragons Saturday, July 13, it will mark the 10th straight time the team has reached the semifinals.

These two teams faced each other in last year’s semifinal with Swarco winning the game 49-21. They have played each other once this year and again the Raiders prevailed, this time 34-14.

American Football International talked to Swarco head coach Shuan Fatah about his long tenure with the Raiders and how he prepares his team for this game against a familiar foe

AFI: You are heading into your 9th straight AFL semi final as head coach of the Raiders after maybe your most dominant season. How difficult is it to motivate your team?

Fatah: Yes, this is my 9th straight semi final, but 10th straight for the team which just illustrates how successful the Raiders were even before my arrival. I think it is not always a matter of motivation rather than trying to keep everybody focused on the job at hand. Our team is motivated because you don´t go through what we as coaches ask them to do if you are not motivated. The trick is to constantly remind the team, that there is a price to be paid, if you want to achieve extraordinary things. If you want to leave a footprint, then you have to go through something, and if everybody buys into this, then they have no choice but to put the work in and give it their best shot. Motivation is surely the foundation of everything, but at the point of where we are at now, I would never question anybody´s motivation anymore. We are past that, and are solely focused on the job at hand. We have a chance to accomplish something historically, by having the chance to finish a season with 16 wins and no losses, something no Austrian team every accomplished. We have a chance to win 6 major titles in only two seasons, and we have a shot at reaching a perfect season, something only a handful of teams in Europe every accomplished, and I never did as a coach in all my years. That is motivation enough in my opinion.

AFI: You have the highest scoring offense in Austria and the stingiest defense yet not one leader in any individual stats category. How did you achieve such balance?

Fatah: In all of our really great seasons in the past 9 years, we never had outstanding statistical individual leaders. Sean Shelton can be found somewhere at the top of the QB individual stats year in and year out, but that has to do with him just being asked to spread the ball around and him being an outstanding player. Other than that, we are mainly a cohesive and synchronized group, which feeds of each other. We do stress the point that every player has to expect to be the go-to-guy, if it turns out be his day. We do not like to depend on a single player carrying the whole team on offense or defense. It starts with game planning and putting your personnel in the right spot at the right time and with Sean Shelton buying into this approach and being multi dimensional in picking his targets. We believe, that we are much more unpredictable if we can hit you at a specific spot with a player you don´t necessary expect to be there. On defense, we are constantly looking at match-ups and the individual capabilities of our players to put them in a spot where they can be successful and help the team to win. The constant striving for unpredictability and the element of surprise does not always allow a single player to reach great individual statistical glory, but I think our team is fine with that.

AFI: Is everyone healthy?

Fatah: No, but we are accepting this negative sides of this great sport and also know, that at this point in the season everybody has to live with a depleted roster. We will miss a couple of good football players, but like I mentioned before, we are not depending on one single player to win a game for us, and this weekend is no different.

AFI: In your win in the regular season against Danube, statistically they actually had a slight edge, but they had lots of problems in and close to the red zone. Did you do anything different in those situations?

Fatah: I do agree and think the Dragons actually had a good game against us. Especially on offense they attacked us with multitudes of formations and motions, not really familiar to us. We surely do play situational football and change our approach slightly in the red zone and in goal line situations, but I don´t think this was the reason they could not finish all their drives successfully. We managed to keep our poise and waited for our breaks in the game which came in form of a couple of turnovers and unsuccessful 4th down conversions, which made the difference in this game. It is always 5-6 plays in a game, which make the difference in the outcome and we were able to win more of them that they did.

AFI: Dragons quarterback, Chad Jeffries, is also his team’s leading rusher. How do you plan on containing him?

Fatah: Chad Jeffries is an outstanding QB. He is very quick on his feet and is as tough as they come. I have never seen a QB taking so many heavy shots in one season, just to get back up and looking totally unimpressed. We will have our hands full to contain him but I will not elaborate here on our game plan to slow him down.

AFI: You have maybe the best running back pair in the league. Do you look to use them differently depending on the situation?

Fatah: We always use all of our RBs in multitudes of positions. This is not a secret and an integral part of our offense. Opponents know that our OC Lee Rowland always tries to be unpredictable in his approach, and with his experience he will surely have a couple of new things up his sleeves.

AFI: Sean Shelton is the most experienced and successful quarterback in the league and maybe Europe. How much do you rely on him in calling plays?

Fatah: Lee Rowland calls our offense, but Sean obviously has the freedom to get us out of unfavourable situations, which he did very successful in the past. Sean is such a heady and experienced player and has such a good grip on our offense that he is almost like a coach on the field for us.  Every play call and possible alerts/kills attached to a play are discussed during game week, which gives Sean the chance to get out of every play and into more successful looking possibilities for us.

AFI: You have beaten Danube in playoff games many times over the years. In fact, the last time the Raiders lost to Danube was in the final in 2010. Does that add any extra incentive?

Fatah: This is all in the past, and we are not looking at things that happened in the past. Actually we are not even looking into things that happened last season, because the Dragons are a totally different team this year, one year older, better and faster.

AFI: You are the winningest coach in Europe right now. Do you ever have problems getting excited about games, especially playoff games?

Fatah: I have started to put everything a little bit in perspective. I surely have no problem to get excited about specific games and challenges a long season present to us, but I have also learned to enjoy the moment. We are experiencing exciting times at the moment and I always remind our team to enjoy every second of it. Times like these are never guaranteed and we, as Raiders, have been on the wrong end of thing many times before. The trick is to live in the moment, take it all in and enjoy every second with the people involved in it. Nothing is forever and especially in football, nothing is ever given to you. Realise all the hard work you have put in, and brace for the next big game on the schedule, which this week happens to be a game against a stingy Dragons team.

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