Exploring The Off-Season: Geoff Buffum, Eidsvoll 1814s

Photo: Truls Melbye
What is “the off season”? Does it exist in football?
In European football, you have to have a “dead season” before the off-season starts. A period time between the last game and the beginning of the off-season. In-season, football drains a lot of time from a committed player, and they need some time away from the game or they will grow tired of it. The off-season means the focus isn’t preparing for a specific opponent or game, it’s trying to improve all the aspects of your team and organization.

What are the main goals coaches work towards during this time?
First, you want to improve your team. You want to help the players you have get better and you want to encourage new players to join your team. For us in Eidsvoll, it’s less about convincing players to leave other teams and join us, it’s more about convincing players who stopped playing in the past to play again, and encouraging our current players to invite people they think might become good football players to try it, especially youth players. 

Second, you want to build the infrastructure that supports your team. Whether it be finding new sponsors, volunteers who will commit to filming games/practices, or youth coaches, the more good people you can get in the organization, the more effective you can do your job as coach when it comes time to prepare for a game.

When do you start looking for imports? What things do you consider when sifting through options?
It really depends on how many imports you are allowed to hire, the needs of your team, and how many of the previous year’s imports are going to return. If you look at the really successful teams in Europe, you always find a measure of continuity, the same coach for a number of years, minimal turnover among import players. When you identify a need and are looking for a player, you first want to make sure his talents fit the position you are in need of. What kind of career did he have in college? What do his coaches say about him? 

Then you have to do your best to paint a clear picture of what your situation is like and ensure they will fit into it. I think the mistake some coaches make is painting a picture of what life in their organization looks like that sounds great, but is much different in reality. If imports arrive to a situation that is totally different than what they heard on the phone or in emails, you can’t expect them to buy into to what you’re doing. 

What things can an import do to increase their chances of gaining a teams interest?
Have a good highlight film, write a profile that reads more like a resume than an advertisement. Have game film available if you make it past the 1st round. There’s nothing someone has said an interview or written in an email that’s had a big influence on my decision-making process.

What is the worst thing an athlete can do to hurt their chances?
I would say, just be very aware how you present yourself. It’s not just the coach you have to convince, in many cases, you also have to convince a European GM/board and they don’t evaluate players strictly on talent. 

Do you have any interesting off-season stories?
Because I’m coaching in America during the fall, our GM, Greg Kleidon runs the first half of our off-season program. He does an outstanding job getting guys to come out and work together and have fun while doing it. I woke up one morning last fall to find a picture on Facebook of our team at the previous night’s practice that was on Halloween. The players came to practice in their costumes and went out together afterwards. If guys are having fun, they’ll come to practice, and if they come to practice, they’ll get better.

Once you have narrowed it down, what factors go into furthering your selection process?
I try to gather as much information as I can from a variety of sources and make the best decision possible based on that information.

What type of team building events do you do between seasons?
We do a lot of different things in the pre-season, the experience of being part of an American football team is unlike just about any other experience you can have. I think you have to find out what your guys like to do and encourage players to organize it on their own, based on their tastes. Last year in Norway the guys wanted to do a paintball day, and all but the one guy who put up a Facebook pic of his back with six nasty welts seemed to enjoy it. The linemen didn’t fare quite so well; big, slow targets.

Do you have any advice to players about how to approach their own off-season and recruiting seasons?
Stay in shape. It’s hard to do when the phone isn’t ringing, but look at Peyton Hillis. He was on the couch a few weeks ago but has just played 2 games for the NY Giants. A similar situation took place with us last year, when we hired an American to play RB halfway thru the season. He had been out of football over 18 months, but came in great shape, stayed in shape, and carried the ball 30-35 times/game for us. The worst thing you can do is show up somewhere out of shape, because coaches do talk and that is not something you want said about you.

Do you have any advice to players about how to approach their own off-season and recruiting seasons?
It’s really less about how many coaches you write. It’s more about responding promptly and professionally to any inquiries that you receive. There are now way more players than jobs, so it’s competitive. .

Lance Kriesien
Mia Bajin