Why the Rhein Fire & Jim Tomsula are winning the European League of Football off-season

Former San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula has committed long-term to the Rhein Fire signing on to be the head coach and the president of football operations back in September.

Now, armed with a multi-year outlook, the former NFL head coach is in the early stages of building a powerhouse program in the European League of Football.

After hosting crowds of over ten thousand at many home games the Rhein Fire just missed the playoffs in their first season. As 2022 approaches, their ruckus atmosphere, top coaching staff, and rich local talent pool give them a legit chance to be ELF title contenders in 2023. 

Preparing a championship team comes down in part to finding quality imports, recruiting and retaining local talent, as well as building an excellent coaching staff. So far ,coach Jim Tomsula and the Rhein Fire are doing just that. 

American Imports – Welcome Back

The Rhein Fire were able to bring back three of their American imports last season securing quarterback Jadrian Clark, wide receiver Nathaniel Robitaille, and defensive back Omari Williams

Offensively, Clark joined the Rhein Fire late last year after abruptly leaving the Lubeck Cougars in the GFL2 for a shot to play in the ELF again. Clark came back with vengeance after being shunned by the league the previous off-season following his 2021 ELF championship loss.

Back in Europe’s biggest league with a massive chip on his shoulder, Clark responded, throwing for 2,118 and 23 touchdowns in only five starts, leading the league with 343 passing yards a game. With that, he proved he can be one of the ELF’s top QBs and will look to cement himself as a top flight passer this in 2023.

Much of Clark’s success came by way of veteran receiver Nathaniel Robitaille. The 30-year-old has played for a long list of teams including the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, Frankfurt Galaxy, and Seinäjoki Crocodiles (Finland). Last year he continued to stack successful seasons putting up 1,183 yards and 14 touchdowns, placing him as the league’s second best receiver in both categories.

On defense, Omari Williams is back, perhaps the most underrated player in the ELF. The former Samford standout brought ballhawking skills, physicality, and electric return ability to the Rhein Fire, making him one of the league most intimidating defensive backs. On special teams, Williams totalled over 1,000 return yards and blocked two kicks. He finished the season with 73 tackles and four interceptions. 

It remains to be seen what Jim Tomsula will do with the fourth and final American import spot although we know it will go to a defensive player. Last year, defensive tackle Christian Van Horn was their second American on defense. He totalled 33 tackles, three sacks, and 10.5 tackles for a loss. No word yet on his return.

International Imports – An easy sell

On the international recruiting side, ELF All-Star Alejandro Fernandez comes over from Spain’s Barcelona Dragons. The 20-year-old had 15.5 sacks, 21.5 tackles for a loss, and seven forced fumbles last year bringing an instant upgrade to the Rhein Fire’s pass rushing unit.

Talented defensive back Benji Barnes also joins the Rhein Fire after playing for the Frankfurt Galaxy and Stuttgart Surge the last two seasons. The 30-year-old veteran brings versatility to a defensive backfield that could be scary next season.

It seems as though playing in front of the league’s biggest crowds and learning from a former NFL head coach is attractive to international players. Expect Tomsula to pull more in talent from all around Europe.

Local Talent: Recruit & Retain

Several Rhein Fire players from last season have already re-signed including veteran offensive lineman Sven Breidenbach, kicker Max Eisenhut, defensive end Eric Adam, receiver Harlan Kwofie, defensive backs Max Richter and Jannic Seibel, and tight end Marvin Pludra. Expect this list to grow as they roll out more signings in the next few weeks.

As far as recruiting new talent, talented German linebackers Maruis Kensy and Flamur Simon from the Cologne Centurions headline the growing list of new domestic players. Kensy has a long history of playing in Cologne and was a CFL Global Prospect back in 2020.

Simon, on the other hand, is an athletic freak who flashed for the Centurions last year, earning NFL IPP Combine invites the last two seasons. For the Centurions, Simon had 76 tackles, five sacks, 12 tackles for a loss, and two interceptions for the nearby Cologne ELF team.

Coaching – Building an NFL standard

Jim Tomsula’s impressive NFL resume has attracted coaches like bees to honey as long-time Cologne Crocodiles head coach Patrick Köpper joined the staff as a linebackers coach. 

Another key signing was the ELF 2022 Coach of the Year Andrew Weidinger who joined the Rhein Fire as an offensive coordinator. Weidinger’s connections, resume, and expertise should take this offense to the next level as he was able to help turn the Barcelona Dragons from bottom feeders to title contenders last season, in part due to an exciting brand of offensive football. Weidinger also spent time in the NFL as an assistant coach for the Atlanta Falcons

The new blood mixes well with the rest of Tomsula’s staff as he retained 12 assistants from last year. However, the team did recently announce that offensive coordinator Martin Tschurer is leaving the team. Former CFL coach Richard Kent will take over as defensive coordinator after holding the same position last year in with the Leipzig Kings. 

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football