Superserien 2014: Q&A with Sweden’s American Football Coaches

Sweden’s 2014 Superserien kicks-off this weekend!

Friday was the start of the 2014 Superserien season, the top league American Football league in Sweden. In the startup media conference for Superserien, the premier Swedish football division, the coaches got a chance to express their views going into the games.

From Left to RIght: Matt Adkins, Carlstad - Jon Walker, Kristianstad - Mike Caniglia, Örebro – Philip Minja, sportchef Tyresö - John Trana, Limhamn - Nicklas Lindström, Stockholm - Per Nilsen, Uppsala - Todd Ferguson, STU - Ville Korhonen, Arlanda Foto: Sandra Jansson

From Left to RIght: Matt Adkins, Carlstad – Jon Walker, Kristianstad – Mike Caniglia, Örebro – Philip Minja, sportchef Tyresö – John Trana, Limhamn – Nicklas Lindström, Stockholm – Per Nilsen, Uppsala – Todd Ferguson, STU – Ville Korhonen, Arlanda
Foto: Sandra Jansson

Martin Soderberg, who is responsible for the Superserien in the Swedish American Football Federation (SAFF), said:

“Glad to see that so many of the teams have improved their confidence and believe in themselves. Many teams have raised the bar both in their playing squad and organizationally, including Arlanda Jets and the Stockholm Mean Machines. This looks to be the most uncertain series in a long time – never before has there been the lack of a clear favorite before the series starts.

Of course the reigning champions Carlstad Crusaders are the team to beat. They had a good off season in terms of attracting and recruiting new players, which comes with being the champion. They missed out on the Champions League playoffs, by the loss in the final round of the group to the Helsinki Roosters. This means that quarterback Anders Hermodsson, coach Matt Adkins and the rest of the organisation can fully concentrate on winning the Swedish championship for the fifth consecutive time.”

Örebro Black Knights, head coach Mike Caniglia (first year) :

Q:  You have a background from several football programs including in Wyoming and Arizona state, What is different in Sweden ?

 A: “It is obvious that there is a big difference between being in the U.S. and here in Sweden, in every possible aspect. I took this job for the challenge, to challenge myself. The U.S. is largely everything is served for you, in every way. And although the organization of the Black Knights have been very good it is of course not to the same extent. This means that I get more chance to coach individuals, one by one. It feels good for me that I have a direct hand in shaping, developing the organization and the team and especially to improve the players. And that is the big reason that I decided to accept this challenge,

 Q: Last year you lost to Carlstad Crusaders in the final, what do you need to change to go all the way this year?

 A: “It is fact that the Black Knights have not been successful in the matches against Carlstad Crusaders, not for a very long time, since 1999. Crusaders have dominated the series, and they have overshadowed what we have done and accomplished in the Black Knights program, It’s a shame that it has almost become an invisible barrier that we have to overcome, if we will able to get to the next level. We must make sure our players understand that matches are won during the week leading up to the match, not just on gamedays. That is the type of football program that I want to implement and that kind of attitude we have in the Black Knights this year. It was perhaps not as evident before. Carlstad Crusaders has built a dynasty in Sweden, it is our job in the Black Knights to take down the dynasty again.”

 Carlstad Crusaders, head coach Matt Adkins (second year, first as HC)

 Q: What is it like to take over as head coach from your father, coach Doug Adkins, who had the role last year?

 A: There is nothing special in it, really, what I’m trying first and foremost is to continue doing many of the things he did. I do not think there is a big difference in how we see things as coaches. Crusaders is a real good organization, from top to bottom of the organization, so it’s nice to come in as the new head coach under those conditions.

Q: How do you motivate an organization that won the national championship four years in a row, you’re the team everyone wants to beat?

A: “It’s simple. We wish to previous years’ wins can help us, but unfortunately they do not. In each new game, there’s always room for a new winning team, The opponents do not care about what we have done in history. – It’s nice to have the season start out of the way thanks to the games in the Champions League. Because I know it always will be the first match-errors, and so it was now as well. So it is done, which feels really good. We’ve got some hefty setback because of injured players, which frankly are not directly replaceable. But that’s part of the game and the other guys get the chance to step forward, But yes, there will be changes. We will get better and better the longer the season goes on.”

Q: So you feel pretty comfortable now for the season?

A: I do not know if the coach ever get comfortable or satisfied. I found out that as the offensive coordinator last year, we had what I felt as a pretty good semifinal (editor’s note: against Uppsala loss with 81-57 ​​). But then I put on the gamemovie afterwards and I got angry and unhappy about the many things I saw that we could have done better. It is natural if you are a coach, I guess. We are pessimistic, because we want to continuously improve ourselves  and our teams, but it is perhaps true for most coaches.”

Superserienlogo300x345Arlanda Jets head coach Ville Korhonen (second year as head coach):

Q: You had a tough season last year and a thin squad. What does it look like this year?

A: “We will be much better this year than last year. We have a much larger squad, some players that are making a comeback and we look strong. We will not be as bad as the social media says we are. How good it is? I will not stick out my neck like I did last year, I am not that stupid, I’m not.”

“We have not played that well for many years, since 2008 when we were in the national finals. 2009 was okay but since then we have not been so good. So this year, we hope that we will develop a new and better version of the Arlanda Jets.”

 Limhamn Griffins, head coach John Trana (first year)

Q: You’ve been around in several parts of the U.S. and coached, and have even had chance to go to Moscow and Croatia. How do you see the sport outside of the U.S.?

A: “I like to coach outside the U.S., I want to be an ambassador for American football, it is a fantastic sport, the best on the planet. It’s the only sport I know that combines the mental, the physical hardness with strategy and teamwork. You have to be good at all of the areas to be a fantastic football team. – American Football really get individuals to grow. It does not matter whether it is young kids or a little older, if it is in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world. It is always the same, individuals grows with American football. And I love to be a part of it. – I ‘m happy to be in Sweden, the city of Malmo has really opened their arms to me, very friendly and welcoming.”

Q: You are newcomers in the Superserien this year, how will you handle the situation with that in mind, no one has the experience from playing at the highest level ?

 A: “We will go into every game as the underdog, and as everyone knows, in every good sportsmovie it is about the underdog, Each workout and practice is about preparing us for this. Our motto is ” Solid hard together”. And we realize that our program, especially coming from underneath team spirit is extra important, you have to stick together as a team all the time. – We have to play with heart and have the right attitude, which I think the guys have shown. – We have a number of really good players, and it will be fun to see how they handle it now that we will have really good competitive game every weekend during an entire season.”

“There are many good teams, so it will be competition oriented. And that’s the best way to highlight the sport, through good and tight matches, which will make the audience want to come back to see more of.”

Q: You will meet Kristianstad Predators, which is particularly interesting because it has not been two teams in Superserien from that region since 1999. How does the rivalry you?

A: “Rivalry can only be good for the sport. The more rivalry, the more energy before and during the games and to hear the people in the stands cheering on his fantastic and is one of the best things I know. – I look forward to those games especially, hope it is smooth and tough games but that one also after the game you thank your opponents, your brothers. – Everyone are good friends, not only in those matches, but generally between coaches there is great comradery. You work hard to win games, but afterwards you help each other. That is one thing that is so great about coaches, the willingness to share and talk about their experience, what has worked and not. – There is one thing that separates football from other sports, the desire to help each other in the other teams to help everyone to get better.”

 Tyresö Royal Crowns, sporting director Philip Ninja

Q: It has been pretty quiet about you in the Royal Crowns during the preseason, but you ‘ve lost some players. What is the situation with the team ?

A: “It’s pretty good. We lost some players, yes, but we have also gained some new. And we have brought some players from our youthprogram. Our defense is almost intact on starting positions which is good and we are pumped up do just as good job as last year. Last year we had less than one touchdown scored against us in the regular season.”

Q: Can we expect you to play as good as last year, when you won the regular season and had nine wins and only one loss?

A: “I expect us to play better. We have a new quarterback Billy Greene, and even though we lost a few players, there are others that will step in. For example at running back, where we have a newcomer Joseph Stuff and moved up Emil Knutsson from our successful U19 team, We have improved on defense, I think. On offense, we have the same head coach as last year, Terry Kleinsmith, and the same game philosophy, so it should not be too many big changes there. Leadership is important, both for players and team officials on and off the plane. I eagerly look forward to the season, says Minja.”

Kristianstad Predators, head coach Jon Walker ( third year )

“We had a lot of fun last year. We came up from Division 1 and the players had been told they did not have what it took to play in the Superserien. – And even though we made some mistakes in the beginning and did not get a really good start, it was still the predominant feeling that we had what it took, that we belonged here in the Superserien. And from that moment, it was like we were a whole new team”

“My philosophy on both sides of the ball is to push, be aggressive, tackle hard and it was fun to see the players live up to it and get better every week, They made a lot of big plays and big games.”

Q: You almost reached the playoffs last year. Had the same results (5 – 4) as Örebro, who finished fourth, but lost the playoff due to the loss against Örebro. What is needed to make it to the playoffs this year?

A: “We need to be more consistent this year. Over the whole team, Our quarterback must be consistent, our runnings backs and so on. We had a lot of good defense last year, but fell through at some games. We have had it in our focus when we recruited new players, but also in practice we focus on that, says coach Walker.”

Q: You have signed a contract with a player from Kuwait, Saad al Sayyer, How did that happen, why did you chose him to join your squad in the Predators?

A: “I coach the offense in the Swedish national team, and we were in Kuwait for camps and friendlies with Kuwait’s national team. They had a receiver that was very quick and talented, We got to know him a little bit and checked if he was interested in coming to Sweden, There are questions whether he has the tools needed to play at this level, and if he can be ready for this challenge, I think he has it, but it remains to be proven, He fits in well into our attack with his speed, ends coach Walker.”

Stockholm Mean Machines, head coach Nicklas Lindstrom ( second year ):

Q: You’ve been a dominant factor in Swedish football with 10 out of 12 championships between 1998 and 2009, but recent years have you fallen and not been in the playoffs. What is the reason or background for this?

A: “We did not focus on the younger players, U19 and the other age groups, we did not continue to deal with recruitment in a structured way that you need, says coach Lindstrom, We were privileged to have many players who came to us because we were good and they wanted to play in a good team. This meant that the organization did not focus on this, and finally it collapsed from within. Then we had a lot of players quitting due to age and had no one to lift up from their own ranks, – But since a few years back, we have it in place again. Rreally from when Fredrik Pilbäck took care of our Pee-wee team, so we now have a consistency through all the teams in our program, We have 53 players on our U19 team, and some of them will certainly come up to the senior team next year. – We also have a joint training with the U19 team, every week, to ensure that the transition is not so advanced, Many players believe that it is a big step to move up into the senior team, but if we have done right with our program setup, and the players trained well, it’s actually not such a big step.”

Q: You guys had a long term strategy started last year, with a swedish quarterback, Emil Sundström Edland, but this year he has gone to the STU Northside Bulls. What happened to what seemed to be a long-term venture, now instead you have an American?

A: “It is first and foremost Emil’s own decision. He returned to STU where he played his junior football. We want to have a Swedish quarterback, who can be with the team throughout the year at training, but there are only a few Swedish quarterbacks so far that has what it takes to win games, unfortunately.”

Q: You have a lot of players back, and it seems that a lot of good things have happened with the squad. Are you a playoff candidate this years?

A: “Yes, it is our ambition. I think we will be good enough to surprise a lot of the other teams, We were 1 and 9 last year, but we still maintained a positive attitude. Despite the problems we had, it was still fun to be a part of the team, and it spread to other players. And several former players have returned to us after that. We alow people to make mistakes, learn from them, It was one of the winning recipes from our glory days. So we will come back.”

Uppsala 86ers, head coach Per Nilsen (second year)

“It was a real roller-coaster last year, says coach Nilsen. We made a big recruitment with a quarterback with NFL experience, but he got injured in the second play of the season. Yet we ended the season 8-2, but lost the semifinal against Uppsala. We must avoid being so much up and down, on offense, defense and special teams.”

Q: It has been pretty quiet from you during the preseason, as with Tyresö ?

A: “The status of the team is good, says coach Nilsen. We are building a program that will work long run. We are entering our third year in the Superserien now since our comeback, and we have improved every year. Sure we have lost some top players like Matt Bassenuer and Gustav Kierebinski who made great games for us last year, but we also have new players coming into the team, We have not gone out in the media so much because we had a lot to do with the University World Championships. We work especially with boosting up the coaching staff, because if we have good coaches, we get better players.”

Q: If there should be a similar season as last year and you meet the Crusaders in the semifinals again what would do you do differently to go all the way and win?

A: “I would like to replay last year and have a semi-final at home against Carlstad Crusaders. We beat them twice in the regular season, though obviously we lost the most important match. We need to improve our defense and our special teams, But even in the attack, we need to become better at controlling the clock.”

STU Northside Bulls, head coach Todd Ferguson ( fifth year )

Q: STU is a team that plays good football and are a good team, but lose many and especially tight games, games you could have won. Why is that?

A: “Yes, it is really, says coach Ferguson. I felt like we lost several tight matches, but that’s the way it is, and hopefully we learn something from the experience in such matches and improve ourselves going forward. I thought it was a pretty good level on the team last year, but this year seems we have increased even a bit more, so it’s possible this year we will win tight games.

Q: You play with Swedish quarterback, Emil Sundström Edland this year. What are your plans, how patient are you?

A: ” You always try to plan ahead and for a long time but you never know what happens. We want him to be a long term solution for us. He has come up through our junior program in Täby Flyers. Emil is clever, a good quarterback who can get even better, a good tough athlete and a good person so we hope that he wants to play for us for a long time.

Q: Will you make it to the playoffs this year?

A: “It is our goal for this year, to go to the playoffs. We’ve been close many times, although it is not always seen in the standings. We have many exciting player with great physics, so I think we have every chance.”

Moderator: Henrik Sjöstrand.

Superserien starts on Friday, May 23 with the Arlanda Jets against Carlstad Crusaders, and then remaining games of round 1 on Saturday, May 24.

Stockholms Mean Machines vs Uppsala 86ers

Kristianstad Predators vs Tyresö Royal Crowns

STU Northside Bulls vs Limhamn Griffins

Superserien, schedule and standings


John McKeon is a former professional and collegiate American Football player and coach now living and working in New York. His goal is to spread news, information, and opinion on the global growth of the sport he loves.