Interview: Swarco Raiders' Shuan Fatah

Photo: SportReport
Shuan Fatah is one of the Top 5 Head Coaches in Europe. This will be his 3rd season leading Austrian, and European, top team. Swarco Raiders. GFL Coach of the year 2009. German bowl Champion with Berlin Adler in 2009 and Eurobowl Champion in 2010. Won Austrian bowl with Raiders in 2011.

You are the HC of one of the best teams in Europe, how much effort a man needs to put in his work, team and players to get there?
Obviously the Raiders have been one of the top teams in Europe before I arrived here in Innsbruck. Nevertheless, it surely takes a lot of effort and hard work of everybody involved to keep the ship going in the right direction. Most important are the players, who are the backbone of the program and who ultimately 
make or break the whole thing. We are very fortunate, to have a great bunch of guys, who are willing to put a lot of time, blood and sweat into this whole thing. They are tirelessly working on their game and one of the first things I recognized when I arrived two years ago, was the work ethic and commitment of the Swarco Raider football player.

What makes a good offense and defense like you have?
An old Ball Coach told me once: "It´s not the X and Os, it is the Jimmies and Joes:" And I feel this is exactly what makes your offense or defense go. If you have smart kids playing for you and if you are lucky enough to have some athletes on your team, then it does not really matter what system you are utilizing. They have to buy into it and believe in what you are doing. I always smile at the notion of the media or fans that some coach is a Genius or that there is a Mastermind at work, and that is the only reason his team won. Football is simple. If you have the better athletes, you should always win, if you have similar or less talent, then you better work your butt off and hope for the best.

Who are the best European players and coach in your opinion?
This is a tough question. I think Laurinho Walch, WR of the Vienna Vikings is a special player. Also RB Andreas Hofbauer of the Swarco Raiders is a great young athlete, but the one player who I really think stands out as a special and highly gifted athlete is Swarco´s OT Michael Habetin. At his young age and his size/strength and speed ratio, he is by far the best player I have seen in Europe so far. 

I think one of the brightest young coaches in Europe is Patrick Esume, a Hamburg native who has built the GFL´s Kiel Baltic Hurricanes into an absolute powerhouse in the GFL. They have dominated the German league the last 3 years like nobody else and there seems to be no end to this in the near future. Patrick has a coaches on every level and is in my opinion one of the best coaches I have ever coached against.

Toughest game you had in Europe?
Obviously we had a very hard and tough game against the Calanda Broncos last year. They had definitely the best collection of players together that I ever saw in Europe. No good memories there. But really the toughest games were the games between my old team the Berlin Adler and the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes. Talking about intense and tough? There, you have it. Great games and unbelievable intense memories.

Any moments you regret? What are the happiest moments you had throughout your career?
I regret the moment I took the Berlin Adler Head Coaching job in 1996 as the youngest Head Coach in the GFL at that time. The Adler where in some sort of rebuilding phase and knew they had to make major budget cuts. I had no idea about those plans and jumped on the offer the moment the job was presented to me. I was so excited; I did not even see it coming. I had to fire 7 US imports of the year before (including the best US QB at that time in Europe, Cliff Madison) and was able to rehire 2 new ones. Young new bee Head Coach, no money, new players, a perfect recipe for failure. 

If there was one really happy event then that must be the Eurobowl Championship with the Berlin Adler in 2010. We won the final by kicking a 53 yard FG with time running out, to beat the Vienna Vikings at their place. We did all that after we had beat the Swarco Raiders two weeks before in the semi-final at their place and the Finnish Champs Provo Butchers a couple of weeks before that at their place in the quarter finals. So we had to travel to all those places which were known as secured strongholds and did the impossible.

Can you compare the level of football from EFL or EFAF cup with some level in USA? How far are we behind?
I´m pretty sure, there are a number of teams in Europe, who could compete with some NCAA Div. III non scholarship institutions. Other than that, I don´t think we can stand much of a chance. The moment you get into scholarship programs, the level of competition would be too high for European teams. It is just a matter of how much time a player from the US and a player from Europe has at hand to develop his skills and overall athletic abilities. For example, we are far behind in Europe when it comes to weight room culture. I know of a bunch of teams who compete on EFL level, where 2/3 of the roster is not in the weight room. That is a mindset which is hard to change, because they could get away with it for so long and be successful. I´m very hopeful, that teams like Vienna for example, can set the bar for the overall athletic appearance for European football teams, and that the young players start to accept the preparation in the weight room as a necessary evil to stay healthy and competitive in this potential dangerous sports.

Recipe for AFL fast progressing, becoming one of the strongest leagues in Europe?
I don´t think I have a recipe to this question. All I know is that Austria started to really be protective when it comes to players from outside of their country which made it almost impossible for a player from another EU country to play in Austria without being labeled an US Import unless he is willing to move completely to Austria starting a new existence while leaving everything behind. I´m not sure, if this is the path to becoming the strongest league in Europe.

A few words about the potential new Import players from USA in Europe?
We will try to continue working with most of our imports from last year. We will bring in a new face but it would be too early to mention names.

Nikola Davidovic