Shuan Fatah – Most Successful Coach in Europe?

American Football is now an international sport, being played in more than 90 countries all over the world! This great sport is taking people all over the globe and introducing them to various cultures in the process. “The Import” series allows players to share their unique travels and experiences about American Football being played internationally, but players are not the only imports involved with football internationally. Coach Shuan Fatah has been kind enough to share his import experiences.

Biography

Shuan Fatah is a football Head Coach from Berlin, Germany. Photo credit: Markus Stieg/Sportpics

Shuan Fatah has an extensive coaching resumé, having coached on 5 different teams in Germany. He spent time on coaching staffs for the Spandau BulldogsBerlin AdlerBerlin RebelsMunich Cowboys, and Dresden Monarchs, before spending a season at Nichols College (NCAA Division III) in the states. Fatah followed that experience with the opportunity to work with the Berlin Thunder and Hamburg Sea Devils in Germany during the time of NFL Europe. He has been the Head Coach of the Swarco Raiders since 2011.Shuan Fatah has 29 years of coaching experience, and is considered one of the best coaches in Europe. As a football player, Fatah played for Berlin Adler in Germany. He began his coaching career in 1989 with the Spandau Bulldogs in Germany’s 3rd Division.  Since then, Shuan Fatah has held multiple coaching positions including defensive backs coachrunningbacks coachdefensive Line coachlinebacker coachSpecial Teams Coordinator, and Head Coach.

Shuan Fatah is a confirmed winner, and has the accomplishments to prove it. Internationally, he is a 4-time World Bowl Champion2-time Eurobowl Champion2-time CEFL Champion, and currently the winner of the only SuperFinal Championship. In regional leagues, Fatah has won six German Bowls and four Austrian Bowls.

Fatah has also been active with the development of the youth in Europe, winning a Global Junior Championship, German Junior Bowl, and Austrian Junior Bowl, during his career.

Shuan Fatah has been selected Coach of the Year in the GFL, and Coach of the Year in the AFL.

Coaching Internationally

How many seasons/years have you been coaching?

I´m going into my 29th year of coaching.

Which team was your best experience?

The best experience I had so far was with the Swarco Raiders Tirol, because the Raiders are a very dependable and professional organization. They are just doing things right. But, I must admit, that my time at Nichols College and in the NFL Europe were very import for my coaching education too. The Berlin Adler will also have a special place in my heart, since my journey started there, and I will always have a soft spot for them in my heart.

Fatah played football for Berlin Adler before he began coaching. Photo:: Florian Schellhorn

Which country was your best experience?

I loved all my experiences so far. Being form Germany, it always felt like being at home, no matter if I was living in Munich, Dresden, Hamburg, or Berlin. Austria feels very similar to Germany, so I was quickly attached to the country and the people over here. Both countries have been the most pleasant experiences in my coaching life.

How did you get to your current position? What’s your football journey?

I was coaching for a long time in Germany as an assistant coach before I got my first shot at being a Head Coach at age 27 in 1996 in the GFL. Being the youngest Head Coach at that time in the league, I paid my dues and failed. From there I knew I had to sharpen my knowledge and skillset in the USA, and got a position at Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts.  I was in my third year with the Bison when the phone rang in the football office and Wes Chandler, newly appointed Head Coach of the Berlin Thunder in the NFL Europe inquired about me. After the interview on the phone we agreed, that I would joining the Thunder coaching staff after finishing my college season with the Bison. I spend almost 9 years in NFL Europe coaching with the Berlin Thunder and the Hamburg Sea Devils.

Life in Austria

How do you like it in Austria?

As mentioned before, I like Austria a bunch, and I am very grateful for being able to work as football coach in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

I feel very attached to the people in Austria who have welcomed my family and myself with open arms.How do you like the people in Austria?

What is your go to meal in Austria? 

I love eating Kaspressknödel, Kiachl (sweet or with Sauerkraut), and Kaiserschmarren to top it all.

Sweet Kiachl

Do you spend a lot of time with local players & coaches or on your own/with other imports?

Having a wife and three kids, I mostly spend that little time I have away from football with them. But I do spend time with my assistant coaches and their families regularly. I mostly leave the US Imports alone, because they seem to enjoy their time away from football not seeing the old ball coach hanging around them.

Football in Austria

What level would you compare the football played in Austria to in Germany?

I think the playing level in the AFL and GFL are very similar. The GFL is a much bigger league with more teams competing week in and week out. This is due to the fact, that Germany is a much larger country with approximately 83 million people, and Austria a much smaller country with approximately 9 million people.

In my opinion, the game in the AFL is faster while the game in the GFL is more physical. Where Germany is much stronger is in the lower divisions. Especially in Division 2, there are some top teams in Germany, that could easily compete with weaker AFL teams. This again has its origin in the pure numbers of active players in Germany, which allows lower division teams to assemble good teams with good athletes, because not every good player can, or will, play GFL football. It´s a trickle-down effect, which you will not see in Austria, where the best players almost exclusively are playing in the AFL.

What are some of the coaching challenges in Europe?

The biggest challenge in Europe is the amateurism of the game, which means, that players have a complete detached life away from the game and the club. Almost all players and most of the coaches have work and school obligations, which a student athlete or a professional player in the US has not to this extent. A college football player´s life is mostly centered around campus, with classrooms, weight room, football complex and practice fields are mostly located on-campus. A professional football player in the US is going to his job and his office is a state of the art facility at one place in town. European players may have to work extra hours at their work places, have to be at University late at night or even on the weekends. Europeans have to sometimes travel more than an hour to get to their practice field. In some cases, throughout the week, practices are located on different fields and spread-out throughout the city. Not mentioning that weight room and indoor gym (if available) are also located at different spots all over the city. Now imagine a multi million city like Berlin and you can envision the challenges. All this does not allow a constant attendance of every player and coach on the team to every practice/meeting, which can create some huge challenges, especially competing on the top level in Europe.

What are some of the benefits to coaching in Europe?

In Europe, almost everybody is involved because of the love of the game. With most players paying a club fee to be able to play and every pay check for import players and coaches being light years away from any salary made for NFL personnel and college coaches, one has to really love this game to put up with all the challenges. This makes the game pure, and most of the people involved in it are willing to give up a big chunk of family life and free time, to play and coach the game they love, for free or a marginal salary. This makes coaching in Europe special. Europe also allows much more room for trial and error. You can really develop your game and coaching philosophy, not being scared of losing your position from one week to the other because you experimented with a system, or you had a down year. Your program is not under such a microscope like in the US, thus it allows you some freedom to build a program and develop the athlete.

What do you see as some of the biggest differences between football in the states compared to Europe?

The average American player spends much more time with the game during his career than a European player. A European player practices 2 times a week (some maybe 3 times) during the season, and then has a game on the weekend. An American player practices at least 4 times a week not counting meeting time, weight room sessions and video study during the season. Time is our biggest enemy in Europe. Every minute counts coaching a European player. Another difference is the athlete a club in Europe has to its disposal. The best athletes in Europe generally are not picking American Football as their sport of choice, which is totally the opposite to the US. The best European athletes are mostly where the overall acceptance for the sport in society is much higher such as soccer, winter sports or track and field. This means our sport does not get the best athletes available as it is, which makes it harder to lift the playing level to competitive international standards. What highlights this is the situation when a crossover athlete who competed on a high level in another sport suddenly joins a football team. They are mostly much faster in catching up with the athletic requirements of football and have in some cases even made it up to the Pros in the US or to a major college football program. There is still no real weight room culture in Europe, with most teams not having a strength and condition coach available, something unthinkable in US college football, where most of the colleges have somebody in charge of weight room and condition. Some of the European powerhouses have closed the gap lately but the overall weight room awareness as a necessity for being successful in football has not settled in across football in Europe. The average US football player starting at High School to college football is a much better football educated and athletic player than the majority of the active players in European amateur football.

How have you personally helped your players and coaches develop their American Football knowledge during your time coaching in Europe?

I have tried to adapt the US system, and have asked my players and coaches to spend much more time with the game than the average player or coach in Europe. We are practicing more than the average football team in Europe. We are meeting and studying film more than the average football team in Europe. We have a strength and condition coach on the pay roll and we have the most challenging schedule in all of Europe. We are doing all this to beat our greatest enemy, which is time. Also we are trying to generate the best competition possible, to make every player the best player he can possibly be. We are aware of the fact, that not every player can/want to invest this amount of time into his hobby, and we are losing players every year who can not work a challenging schedule like we have, but history showed us, that the players who want to commit to the program are bigger, stronger and more football savvy than the average football player in Europe. In general, we are always saying that not just anybody can be a Raider, and that it takes a special kind of person to walk where we walk.

 Last Words

Photo Credit: Florian Schellhorn

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned coaching football internationally?

One of our mottos is that hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard. This is so true, especially in an environment like Europe, where the challenges are great and the possibilities are limited. I have seen great talent come and go, but it was always the most committed and determined player who had the most success in this game. In some cases this attitude has lead great workers into National Teams and some who were gifted with extra talent into the NFL.

What advice would you give to someone coaching football in Europe/overseas for the first time?

Accept the challenges and try to give room for work and studies, and your team will response positively. Our rule here with the Raiders is that family, work and school comes first, and if you give them enough room to breathe, then you can even run a demanding program like we do. Most of the players want to be coached, and most of the players are willing to “go the extra mile”, you just have to find the fine line between football US style and football Europe style.

Can you sum up what American Football means to you?

” 4th Quarter – Last Play”, football taught me that it is never over until the last play was played and so it is in life.

 

The Import Group
Skip to toolbar