EXCLUSIVE: Coach Lonnie Hursey Talks About India & EFLI

Coach Lonnie Hursey spent 5 weeks in India helping the program grow. TDEU already wrote about EFLI, but, since India and American football are still hard to imagine, and EFLI is rather unknown in Europe, we asked coach Hursey to share his story about the whole experience - and there you have it - the good and the bad - first hand!

Also, Coach Hursey has shared photos and videos from India - when you're done reading, it's right there waiting for ya!

"Road" to India
A high school coach Jerry Campbell who has coached all over the place - California, Texas etc., posted on his FB page that they're looking for coaches to go to India. At that point I already spent 5 years coaching in Europe, and I thought to myself, if I can go to India - why not! I sent my resume, but, there was no response for over a month. But, all that changed with one phone call - I was in India 10 days later.

The whole thing did sound like a scam, especially because you see a lot of scams on Football Websites. I was waiting for them to say: "Now you need to spend this much money.", but they gave me the instructions that I need to get a visa and that my plane ticket is on it's way. Everyone back home in The States thought I was crazy. Most Americans who haven't really traveled think for most countries that they are 3rd world countries.

The guy who was our boss there was Doug Plank, he played for the Chicago Bears in 1985. 4-6 defense was named after him. It was great meeting this guy, he was telling us the stories from the Chicago Bears and so on. Doug Plank was actually the first coach to arrive there. After that it was Stan Bedwell, Deante Battle, me etc. We were the first group.

I've traveled a lot, so not a lot can surprise me. However, when I landed in India - it was a culture shock! It was a completely different place! As soon as I got out of the airport, there were thousands of people with signs and I had to find the one who's my driver. The roads are 3 lanes wide, but there are no lanes! Everyone was driving how they wanted, it was a mess! You could see big semi trucks that have elephants in it, families of 4 on one motorcycle and so on. First two weeks I was there, I was scared to get in a car! 

Bunch of celebrities and businessmen invested in this. It's an awesome idea! If you can make a country like India, which has the 1.3 billion of people, to fall in love with American football - you will make millions and millions. It has been done before in India though. Some Indian guy who worked at ESPN, started the cricket league in India. Cricket became the most popular sport there! However, I've heard it's struggling now, who knows.

Most money in India is owned by 5-10% of the people. We would walk down the streets and you could smell the worst thing ever - and it was just because there's no running water at a lot of places. We saw a giant field, size of 2 football fields, and there was nothing but tents where people live. 

Most Indians are small, because most probably eat like once a day. EFLI did a very good job finding the big guys. It was different, I didn't expect it. They did camps, they did a bit of advertising, I wasn't there for that part so I don't know how it went exactly. In EU you get newcomers who already have some knowledge about the game, but in India, these guys never saw football, we had to teach them the ABC's.

Teams are owned by the EFLI. And this is what they're really trying to do - they're trying to make a professional league as cheaply as possible and then sell these teams for millions of dollars. There was a Time Magazine article about EFLI - they interviewed two guys from India who lived in The States. They turned it off. They said it was terrible.

However, that's normal. They're just starting. It's like soccer. Indians LOVE soccer, and they want to watch the best league they can - so they turn to following the European leagues instead of the domestic one. They watch domestic cricket league, but they're very good at it. Same with football - even if you don't know the sport that well, you still want to watch something that's good quality. 

EFLI games are broadcasted on Indian sports TV station. Now, right after I left they had the first scrimmage. It was on their website and I watched it with couple of the coaches from Norway. We all agreed that the production is awesome! But, the quality of the game - the running game, tackling etc. was not that good, but those are some of the basics so they did do well. Whole passing game is complicated, and you could tell that these quarterbacks don't have experience. They had 4 completed passes per game, and, after they held the 1st league in Sri Lanka, after all total of 6 games, I think - QBs had around 200 passing yards total. It will take time.

When we came out there we were working with groups, it didn't matter who's from which team. We were supposed to hold these camps at this super nice stadium, but when we got there, they took us to the field that was all clay with a little bit of grass. They painted the field with PAINT BRUSHES. They got the balls from China. After couple games bubbles would form on them, they were useless. We didn't get equipment on time. When it finally came in - it was all white - no one knew who's on which team.

I was coaching the receivers from all EFLI teams, and I had couple Indian coaches who were also learning.

In India there's a lot of different languages, so we had the 8 coaches from India translate everything we were saying, to the players.

Players were all staying at hostels. Some of them have left their "normal" life in order to achieve something in this sport. They are payed around 3000 USD per year,and that's more than a lot of people make there. Some of them have degrees, but there are guys who quit their jobs to do this.

There are no import players. Because, if you brought a good import player like Lance Kriesien for example, he would dominate the league.

I've coached on almost all levels, and I've never seen such enthusiasm and eagerness to learn than these guys. Every single time, whoever ended up winning even a simple drill during practice - it was a party every time! Dancing, screaming, everything!

When we were done, and were getting ready to leave India, we were supposed to do one last practice. We never made it to do the practice because we had to sign autographs for every single player, take photos with every single player. They were so happy that we were there! They ran, picked us up, chanting our name... It was a great experience!

Getting around in India
When we went out... We were almost rich&famous out there, mostly because we were different. Going out I got starred at all the time. We had groups of guys approaching us all the time yelling "Photo, Photo!" - they wanted to take a photo with us, but since they didn't have a camera, they wanted the photo taken with our cameras. 

Deante, everyone wanted a separate photo with him because of his skin color. He was more famous than us, because we were "just" white (laughs). No one really knew why we're out there, but, we were foreigners, and that was fun for the local people. 

One day, we went to a store, and got bunch of food, toys and so on. And we went to this area where we knocked on peoples doors gave people food and toys for the kids. I even walked inside of one shack, there were 7 people sleeping on the floor. That's where they live.. No power, no running water.

Pros and Cons
It's a great thing that they are expanding the sport. I was very proud to go to a country where I'd probably never be in and teach football. Some of the people involved with it are getting payed more than they would be getting payed back home, that's good too. If football in India does take off, they will be well known in India, role models.

Price of tickets.. I'm not sure how people will afford the game tickets they are trying to charge. I'm not sure how people in India are going to buy a jersey, memorabilia etc.

I know they're looking for more investors, but they're trying to do everything as cheap as possible and then sell it for millions of dollars. There was also blind leading the blind - no one knew what was going to happen. I complained about it - that things were changing - for e.g. we make a plan for the practice, when we'd arrived - it got changed completely. Watching some of the things I got the feeling they don't care about the sport, which COULD be a huge payoff, or it could be nothing - depends how they do it.



Mia Bajin