Why I Do What I Do: How Coaching In Europe Rekindled A Passion For American Football

Prior to coaching in Europe, I had coached at almost every level of football in the US, from high school to NCAA Division I, and quite simply I had gotten burned out. I was never able to find the right chemistry of passion/competiveness, while realizing it was still a game. My career was on an upswing, but my love for the game was on a major down swing. I had just been a part of three record setting seasons and was in talks with a NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision team to join their staff. But I was tired of it all.

Gavin Campbell - Sopot

I was tired of dealing with the parents (at the high school level), dealing with the administration (who expected great things, despite cutting funding & support), dealing with my fellow coaches (who either pitched off responsibilities to others or complained about being the one doing someone else’s work), but most importantly, I was tired of my players (many of whom were not playing a game they loved, but rather had a “what can football do for me” attitude). One day, I had, finally, had enough and I walked away from the game, with the intention of never returning.

After two years of working for nonprofit organizations, I was wanting to relocate to Europe, but squeaking by paycheck to paycheck made it impossible to save the money needed to get to Europe. So I decided to swallow my pride and take my whistle back out of the closet. All along those closest to me kept reminding me of what I had said as I left the game two years earlier.

After a month in France, I could feel a change in my attitude towards the game. I tried explaining why my love for the game was rejuvenated, but the right wording didn’t exist, at least not in my vocabulary. As hard as I tried, I struggled to accurately describe the passion you feel at an October practice (FYI that is off-season), the sense of community you see when a Defensive Back and Wide Receiver give each other a little fist bump before a play, or the fact that the “next step” most Junior players in Europe are dreaming of is to eventually suit up for Seniors and contribute to the team’s success.

It wasn’t until my second season, in Europe, that I was able to obtain an explanation for my new found love of American Football. I took a trip to Belgrade, Serbia to see the Belgrade Vukovi team host the Kragujevac Wild Boars, and I was able to snap this picture that, for me, encapsulates the European game. This one moment in time, will be frozen, in my mind, for the rest of my life, as a single example of the game in Europe.

Serbia - Vukovi-Wild Boars collaborating

A little backstory, the Vukovi and Wild Boars are the perennial powerhouse clubs in Serbian football, and there is a sense of mutual respect with a twist of animosity, not unlike one would expect to see between the Cadets of West Point and the Midshipmen of Annapolis. It was halfway through the 2nd quarter in a close game when the Wild Boars ran the ball up the middle for a few yards.

Before the pile had cleared, one of the Vukovi players was signaling for the Wild Boars trainer to come out and assist a downed player. After a minute or two of working on the player, the trainer realized this injury was going to require a trip to the hospital. So a member of the Vukovi defense started signaling for the paramedics. Thinking that they were taking too long to bring the stretcher a different Vukovi player ran over and grabbed the stretcher from the paramedics and started wheeling it over himself, and was joined by a Wild Boar player and another Vukovi along the way.

Although it is unsettling to see anyone need to be taken off the field on a stretcher, it was the actions of the four Vukovi players involved that encapsulates what American Football in Europe is to me.

I may still not have the words to explain the rejuvenation, but at least now I have this picture to show all those that ask me “why do you do what you do?”

Gavin coached in all levels of NCAA, before coming to Europe in 2013. Gavin is the founder of 3D Football and is currently the Special Teams Coordinator and Defensive Coordinator for the Silesia Rebels in Poland's PFL1.