The adventure continues for Michael Wood

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 Michael Wood has been kind enough to share his import experience with me.

BIOGRAPHY

Michael Wood is a 55 year old Head Coach from Syracuse, New York. Photo Credit: Dario Fumagalli

Michael Wood is a coach with more than 16 years of experience, primarily at the college level in the United States. Wood is originally from Syracuse, New York where he played football at Liverpool High School and was a New York State Section 3 Champion. He spent a year at the United States Naval Academy Preparatory School before walking on at The Ohio State University (Go Buckeyes). Michael Wood was eventually awarded a full athletic scholarship at Ohio State, playing defensive back and special teams during his career. He was a winner of 3 of 4 Bowl Games during his time with the Buckeyes.

Michael Wood has spent his entire career coaching the defensive side of the field. He was the defensive backs and Special Teams Coordinator, while coaching at Ithaca College. Wood was positioned as a graduate assistant at Columbus University, and coached Linebackers, Defensive Lineman, and Special Teams, during his time at Chapman University. He also spent time as the Defensive Coordinator at Pomona-Pitzer.

Wood began coaching in Europe with the Kempten Comets (now Allgäu Comets), as a player-coach in 1989. I was the first paid import that the Comets brought over, before me they had guys that were stationed in the military as their import players.” Since then, Michael Wood has coached in multiple countries in Europe, including FranceItaly, and Austria. In addition to the Comets, he has coached the Paris MousquetairesLa Courneuve FlashBolzano GiantsDanube Dragons, and recently the Milano Seamen. He also has vast experience coaching teams for international competition, having coached teams playing in the Euro-BowlEFLCEFL, and even coaching the Italian National Team. Wood has also been fortunate enough to be a part of the Europe Warriors Coaching staff that has played 3 games in Mexico in the past 2 years.

Michael Wood has been exceptionally successful during his career in Europe. He has had winning seasons every year he has coached in Europe. Wood has participated in 13 semi-final games in France, Austria, Germany, Italy, the Euro-Bowl, and the EFL. He is the winner of the 2009 and the 2018 Italian Super Bowls, with two different organizations. Wood is also a part of European history, coaching the Italian National Team in the 1st World Cup of American Football in 1999.

COACHING INTERNATIONALLY

How many seasons/years have you been coaching in Europe/overseas?

This will be my 16th season in Europe. I started in 1989 and have gone back and forth over the last 30 years coaching college and European ball.

Which team was your best experience?

I’ll be absolutely honest, I have had a GREAT experience in every place that I have been.

The best experience I have had, is the opportunity to meet people that have the same passion that I have for this great game. I really appreciate the friendships and brotherhood that I have developed with the players and coaches that I have met on this journey. Something about the way that the teams and players bring you into their family is an important factor. Guys have gone above and beyond to make me feel comfortable. The opportunity to live, work, and play in some of the most beautiful places in Europe, and get exposed to the culture from a local’s point of view adds to my perspective. I couldn’t possibly have dreamed of all the places that I have been, the people I have met, and friendships that I have made because of the European football community. I have enjoyed, and cherish each person that has had a hand in making my life, the adventure that it has turned out to be. Thank you, Merci, Danke, Grazie to all of you I consider my family.

Which country was your best experience?

I have had some unbelievable experiences during my time overseas. I have played or coached in some crazy games. I was part of ending Bergamo’s 79 game winning streak with a Hail Mary (Ave Maria) in the Italian League. Winning the first and only Italian championship with the Bolzano Giants, Losing the French semi-final after 2 late penalties and another Hail Mary great catch with no time on the clock and 2 untimed downs. Winning the first GFL playoff game in Allgäu history after losing to Kiel Baltic Hurricanes in the EFL Final up in Kiel, and then finding a way to upset them in the 1st round of the playoffs in front of a crazy home iller stadium crowd. Doing a football camp and clinic in Normandy on the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Camp A (Arizona) in Carentan, France. Visiting historic sites such as the Eagles Nest, Omaha Beach, Dachau Concentration camp, The Coliseum, The Louvre, The Alpes, Neuschwanstein Castle, Linderhof Castle, St. Peters Cathedral, Oktoberfest and Leonardo de Vinci Last Supper. I have been fortunate to do and see many more things with some amazing people that opened their lives and homes to me. Again, many thanks to all.

Photo: Dario Fumagalli

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

After the 2016 season the Head Coach of the Milano Seamen decided not to return, I had been the DC in Bolzano that year. Mr. Mutti, the President of the Seamen, contacted me because a number of his assistant coaches who played on the Italian National Team when I had coached them recommended that he find out what I was doing the following year. It was a relatively short negotiation and next thing you know I am the Head Coach of the Milano Seamen. Grazie Luca, Paolo, Pepe, and Marco.

Just about every job that I have had was because of someone recommended me or knew me from playing or coaching against me. I try not to burn any bridges, I appreciate the opportunities that I have gotten. An old coach of mine told me along time ago that there are 2 types of coaches: one’s who have been fired, and one’s that are going to be. People expect a couple things from the people that they pay, production and honesty, I really believe that. I try to be as straight as possible with the players and people in the organization, I respect their opinions, I listen, and I then make the best decision that will benefit the whole team. It is never about the individual, it’s about what will make us better as an organization.

I try to find every guy a role that will make him feel his contribution is important. Everyone has different things that motivate them, and you find these things out by getting to know your players both on and off the field. I try to connect on a personnel level with the players, I understand what it is like to be on the sidelines waiting for your opportunity, I was a Walk-on at Ohio State. My number in practice was #104 practice jersey. That’s pretty far down the depth chart when you have a 3-digit number. But I worked hard, stayed the course, and by my junior year I earned a spot on special teams. So, when a guy is frustrated by his playing time or spot on the depth chart, I sit down and listen to him and try to map out what and where he needs to improve, and where he can help to make us a better team. Sometimes that is being the best practice player that you can be, outworking the guys at your position, and giving great effort in practice. As a coach, if I see a guy who has a great work ethic, passion, heart, and is giving it everything he has, I am going to find a place where that guys feels rewarded. I like to rotate a lot of players in and out of the game. This keeps everyone motivated and fresh. It is a long season, and you are going to need all your players to make contributions if you are going to be successful.

LIFE IN EUROPE

How do you like it in Europe?

I really have enjoyed my time in Europe, I have done a lot of traveling, I have made so many friends, and with social media it makes it much easier to stay in touch. I am a big history buff, so getting to see and experience what most people only read about is incredible. The food is outstanding, the night life is awesome, and the scenery and women are beautiful, the friendships that I have made will last a lifetime.

How do you like the People in Europe?

I have met so many good people during my stays that it is hard to pinpoint anyone individually.  I have had a number of people visit me in the states and I have visited many former teammates and players that I feel like I have a number of second homes in Kempten, Bolzano, Paris, Vienna, and Milano. Friendships that were forged by spending time together, working towards common goals, enjoying the thrill of victory and suffering agonizing defeats, that is the essence of sport and the basis of true friends.

Wood played college ball at The Ohio State University. Photo Credit: Dario Fumagalli

What is your go to meal in Europe?

My father is the cook in my family, now that he is retired. So when ever I can sit down at his table and share a meal with him and my mother, that is my go to meal. But I try to eat out most days when I am overseas and I try “today’s special” or the “house specialty”, on the menu of the day. I will try just about anything and I have, I have eaten a lot of things that I didn’t know what it was until after I ate it. I will often ask the waitress or waiter to bring me something. That is taking a chance, but I have gotten the opportunity to try a lot of different things. I weigh 255 lbs (over 110 kilos), so it is not like I have missed a lot of meals.

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

I try to get out of the apartment every day and do something, I try to meet the local people in my neighborhood, local coffee shops, and bakeries. I will always make myself available to the players and coaches if they have something going on. I enjoy going to the train station and getting on the next train out of town for a day trip. I don’t make a lot of plans in advance, I usually wake up and decide what fun crazy activity will today bring. I believe that everyday that I am over there, is like being on a paid vacation and I treat it as so. The Adventure Continues…..

FOOTBALL IN EUROPE

What level would you compare the football played in Europe to in the United States?

The top teams in Europe can compete with Division 3 college football, the difference being practice time and overall commitment. If you took one of the European Top 10 teams and they played and practiced the same amount of time, the European team would be able to compete with just about any Division 3 program.

As for most of European ball, it is at a high school level with grown men playing. Big difference in the physical and mental makeup of an 18-19-year-old guy and a 25-26-year-old man. For sure the game is faster in the states and that is because most of the people playing ball in the states are younger, in school, HS, or college and are only going to class and practicing every day. The European guys have families, jobs, and many other commitments that keep them from practicing 3 hours a day 6 days a week. The passion for the game and the heart that people playing the game is very similar it is just the amount of preparation and time that the Americans have. That is why most teams in Europe bring over imports at the key positions, i.e. quarterbacks and skill players. European quarterbacks are few and far between for two reasons: 1) they don’t get the reps at the highest level. Most teams bring over import quarterbacks, so the local guy must play at the lower level and doesn’t get the same experience. 2) The quarterback position takes much more time to develop, coaching, film, footwork, mental reps, reads, etc. The position is much more complicated to master than every other position.

What are some of the coaching challenges in Europe/Overseas?

You have to understand that this is a hobby, the guys don’t get paid, and in most cases, they pay to play. The guys have many other commitments that come before a week night practice. The guys work full time jobs, have wives, girlfriends, and kids, that take priority over coming to practice, as they should. So, as their coach, you have to modify your practices so that the guys who do show up get the most out of it. Schemes need to stay consistent and basic. If you are going to make adjustments you need to make them simple so that guys aren’t having to overthink, and can just play. When you are watching film and making adjustments to technique or scheme, do it so that you are not wasting a lot of time doing it. The more practice reps that you can get in the better. Coach the guys up on the sidelines, answer questions, before and after practice. Don’t waste a lot of time talking, the guys will get better if they are working, rather than listening. If you can have meetings prior to getting on the practice field, that can be a good time to answer questions and make changes. I want my guys to play fast, so we practice fast, lots of reps, so guys learn to react and compete. For the most part, the guys want to play ball, and if they are motivated to work hard and focus on their assignments, they are going to get better.

Wood recently led the Milano Seamen to become Italy’s National Champions in 2018. Photo Credit: Dario Fumagalli

What are some of the benefits to coaching in Europe/Overseas?

Running your program, the way you want to, is a big advantage. In college, you normally are coaching a position and are responsible for your own guys, overseas you are responsible for all the guys. As an import coach, you are expected to have the answers. Your background and expertise are the reason that you are there. You have to be able to solve problems, motivate your players, and have an answer when your team is facing adversity. When coaching overseas, it is also important that you connect with the people all around the organization. You have to develop relationships with your trainers, medical staff, equipment people, sponsors, management, the guys setting up the field, and trouble shoot issues that might affect the club. You have to create a good atmosphere for the fans, and families that support you. As a coach, you represent your team and the people that are a part of your organization, so you want to leave everyone with a good feeling about the club. Part of your job is to help make it a positive experience for everyone.

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

My life is mostly involved around football, so I talk football all the time. I have had some great coaches that have helped and influenced me, and I try to do the same with the people that I interact with. I try to listen more now that I am older. You would be surprised by how much more you can learn by listening rather than talking. That is why God gave you 2 ears and 1 mouth. My experiences have molded my philosophy, and given me a vision of how I see the game. I have an aggressive, attacking style, that tries to dominate our opponents. I try to get our players and coaches to take that same approach. Play fast, play with confidence, and let’s go take it. Nothing worth having is going to come easy. Put the work in, and give your best effort, and good things will happen.

LAST WORDS

Photo Credit: Dario Fumagalli

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

Be humble, be thankful, be grateful. Everyday the sun is going to rise, take advantage of every one of those days.

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

Have patience, not everything is going to go the way you expect it, but somehow things will work themselves out. And remember, there are thousands of guys who would trade places with you in a New York minute. You are one of the lucky ones who have this opportunity.

Can you sum up what American Football means to you?

Love it, Breathe it, Taste it, Live it…. The Adventure Continues…..

The Import Group
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