Finland: Catching up with Hämeenlinna Huskies HC/QB Stan Bedwell no easy task

If ever a player/coach could be called a veteran of American football in Europe, it would be Stan Bedwell. Since arriving in Europe in 2006, he has returned every year since and played or coached for 13 different teams, a number of them twice. Now in his second season as the head coach and starting quarterback for the Hämeenlinna Huskies playing in Finland’s top division, the Maple League, Bedwell is getting set for season #12 in Europe.

The list of Bedwell’s accomplishments defies the definition of long. Starting with his current team, the Huskies, who he helped advance to the Maple League in 2016, to Italy’s Lazio Marines who he also coached in 2016 and 2015 and took to the playoffs for the first time in many years, he has been making a difference wherever he has gone. He quarterbacked the Kragujevac Wild Boars in Serbia to the Serbian championship and a couple of years later took them to the European Federation of American Football final.

He has coached college with the North Dakota State College of Science and Belhaven University under the architect of the Air Raid offense Hal Mumme. He has even coached in India with the Elite Football League of India helping teach new coaches in that country about the game of football.

His record of success speaks for itself. As a head coach in Europe he has a 66-15 record, as as head coach/quarterback/offensive coordinator it is 39-3 and as a quarterback/offensive coordinator 81-15. Whew1

His passion for the game of football is obvious.

Coaching two teams in the same season as he did last year while not unusual for American coaches who coach high school or college and come to Europe for a spring season, is unheard of in Europe.

Nevertheless, he is back facing a new season with the Huskies with the same enthusiasm as he had in his first year playing for the Basel Gladiators in Switzerland in 2006.

American Football International finally managed to catch up with the never-still Bedwell as he gets his team prepared for their first game in the Maple League May 14.

American Football International: You are coaching only one team this year. How much of an adjustment is it?

Stan Bedwell: This has been the first season since 2013 that I can focus strictly on one team and not a second European team and/or a college team in the States. It’s great to be able to put all of my team and resources into the Huskies. I’m still wearing quite a few hats within the organization, but it’s not near as stressful as it has been the past several years. I’m really happy with my situation here.

AFI: You are one of the most experienced coaches/players in Europe. How has the game changed since you first arrived?

Bedwell: One thing that really stands out to me is how much more developed teams offensive and defensive systems are these days. When I first came over, things seemed watered down…now you’re seeing teams here implementing advanced systems that are on par with the University level in the States. Another thing you see now is a lot more imports on teams (not just American, but EU as well). Back in 2006, there was only a handful of teams that you would have more than 2-3 imports…now it’s normal to have a lot more. I think the average in the Maple League in Finland this year is about 7-8. Teams are clearly putting in more money to be successful than they were in the past. Lastly, and maybe most noticeably is live streaming games. That is now becoming the norm, where 5-6 years ago there was only a few teams that were showing games online. Thonon-les-Baines Black Panthers and the SWARCO Raiders are the only two that I can remember showing games back around 2010-2011.

AFI: Which season was the most memorable?

Bedwell: Man, that’s a really tough one! I had some great seasons in Serbia with the Kragujevac Wild Boars. When I first went there in 2008, they were coming off of a winless season. To be able to lead the team to a championship win over Belgrade Vukovi that summer was really special. When I returned there in 2011 and we advanced to the EFAF Cup Final after defeating teams from Austria and France… that is something that will always stick with me. If I had to say one season though, it would be 2013 with the Turku Trojans in the Finland 1st Division. I had the opportunity to play alongside my close friend Aki Jones in his final season in Europe and help him go out a champion. Not a game goes by that I do not think about him and I will always do my best to honor him when I step on the field.

AFI: You have coached in Finland before. What is it you like about playing and coaching in Finland?

Bedwell: I love it here. Finns are really smart and have a high football IQ. It’s quite easy to teach these guys and they’re always willing to learn. I believe the level of the domestic coaches here is really high as well…these guys know what they’re doing. The management groups here are always on top of things and take really good care of their imports…you never have to worry about salary being late or not receiving what you’re offered in your contracts. They do things by the book here. Outside of football, the weather is amazing here during the summer months, the nature is breathtaking, and the people are some of the most genuine you will ever meet. Finland is not only my favorite country to coach and play in, it’s also my favorite country to live in.

AFI: You have assembled an interesting team including a Belgian connection. How do you go about finding players?

Bedwell: When we made the decision to move up to Maple League last September, I met with the coaching staff and our management and was very clear about what I thought we needed to compete for a championship in year one. The first thing I wanted to do was build up the largest roster in Finland. With my experience coaching college ball in the States, nothing bothers me more than coaching a team that only has 20 guys at practice. With a large roster, we know that we can have a great practice every time we step on the field. In order to do this, we initially said that we wanted to build our team with top Finnish players and then find a lower division team that we could collaborate with to get numbers and young talent. When communicating with players, we prefer to do it face-to-face or by telephone at the very least. It seems that in this day and age, social media might be the most common way that players/teams communicate, but it’s really hard to get a feel for who someone is or how you will mesh with them until you are able to look into their eyes.

With this approach, we signed about 15 Finnish players from other teams (several national team members) and we made a deal with the Hyvinkaa Falcons to be our 2nd team. When we were looking at imports, we were very methodical about who we were going after. Belgium national team WR Ruben De Ruyter is a guy I’d been talking to for over a year, he is the one who eventually connected us with fellow national team RB Arkadi Meerschout. Roman Runner is an American import that has been one of the best imports in Finland the past three seasons…we felt like if we could sign him then that would most likely get us his former Turku Trojans teammate James Perrineau (British DL). Both of those guys have combined to play on five Maple League teams over the years, so they helped us securing signatures of some top level Finnish players as well as standout EU imports like dual-pass superstar Niko Lester. James was also instrumental in signing three top UK players from the London Warriors. We honestly never planned to sign as many imports as we did, but we’re happy with the guys we have and the team we’ve built as a whole. All of our players are 100% bought into our system and the way we’re doing things. We feel like we’ve set a standard for who the Hameenlinna Huskies will be going forward and we’re extatic about kicking off our season on May 18th.

AFI: What are you expecting from your first year in the Maple League in Finland?

Bedwell: We expect to compete every time we step on the field. We feel that we have the coaching staff, the players, and the mindset to compete with every team in the country. The Helsinki Roosters have won the Maple League title five straight seasons and the Wasa Royals are a team that is quickly catching up with them. Most in Finland are predicting us to be right there fighting with those teams for a spot in the Maple Bowl…I hope they’re right.

AFI: What do you bring to a team as a coach?

Bedwell: Confidence, enthusiasm, and experience. I’ve been doing this for a long time and have been fortunate enough to help build some very successful football teams. We have a system and a certain way we do things that is quite different from most teams, but we’re happy with being unconventional. We don’t want to fit in, we want to stand out. I feel my #1 biggest strength is building a team that believes. They believe in themselves, in their teammates, in the coaching staff, and in the system. When you have a group of 80-90 men that are on the same page, you have the potential to do some pretty amazing things!

AFI: What to you is the most important aspect of coaching?

Bedwell: Having a system, a way of doing things. Standards of what you will and will not accept as a coach, a player, and a person. When your fellow coaches and players see that you know what you’re doing, it’s easy for them to buy what you’re selling. We have a philosophy that we believe in. We have a certain way that we practice and gameplan. Everyone in our organization knows who we are, what we do, and why we’re doing it. We do not bend or stray from who we are one bit. We will always lose some players because of this, but the ones that stay are guys we know we can count on.

AFI: Who are you coaching mentors?

Bedwell: It goes without saying that my mentor is my good friend Hal Mumme, the inventor of the air raid offense. I’ve learned a ton from him and it’s easy to see the similarities in the way we do things. It’s damn near a carbon copy. Another coach that I owe a lot to is North Dakota State College of Science Head Coach Merle Johnson, who gave me my first college offensive coordinator job at Northland College in Minnesota. I learned a ton about leadership from him. Trinity Bible College head coach Eric Slivoskey is another one that I will always give credit to. He’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever met and someone that I’m happy to call a mentor. He coached me in college, then we had the opportunity to work together in India in 2012. We still talk often. I’m hoping (and expecting) for Coach Mumme and Coach Slivoskey to both visit me in Finland this summer.

AFI: How much longer will you continue?

Bedwell: I will continue playing until I’m no longer effective on the field. When I feel like I’m not contributing to the success of my team and we’re not competing for championships, I’ll hang up the pads and pull out the whistle and clipboard. When will I quit coaching? Probably, when I’m dead.

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Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.