Derek Mann: If you unhappy with something you need to either live with that or win the championship to change your outlook.

First & Goal talked to Derek Mann, Head Coach of Oslo Vikings, about the board of directors of an amateur team, why people in British Columbia don’t like Seattle Seahawks and how to make a roster of six-year-old team if you’re five. 

When you invited me here I said that we’ll meet in the office, and I thought that it will be team office. But it appeared to be a board members’ office. How many board members do you have?

We have ten board members who run board meetings and myself, but I’m not a board member.

You’re an executive.

Yes, I’m an Athletic Director.

What’s their role? Ten people are quite a lot.

We have President, Vice-President and treasurer who is in charge of finances. We have a junior representative who is in charge of only our junior program. We have sponsorship board member, membership board member who is in charge of signing the bills and licences. Also, we have a position for what we call in Norway ‘dugnad’ — that’s about finding companies that are paying us for doing jobs for them.

What kind of jobs?

Some of our senior teams might do security at concerts or just anything else, really. Our youth serve on events like water on marathons. It just varies from company’s needs. When they can’t pay a large amount of money to do easy work in Norway they have sports clubs. And it’s another way of generating money. And about other board members, we have a player representative who sits on meetings and is kind of voice of players. That’s mostly for the senior players but also for the junior players. There is a position for not really sponsorships but for contacts with businesses who give grants for sports teams, provide financial help. They reach out to banks and other big companies.

According to what you said аmerican football is not so popular so you can contain a team by yourself so you need a lot of extra funding.

Yes, anywhere in Europe it is like that. We are basing our revenue on doing extra work or ‘dugnad’, membership and practice fees are another part of it. There is some external funding from governmental organisations or big companies. We have sponsors which basically are not so huge.

So there is a lot of sources and if you lose one of them it’s more or less OK, you can still live.

Absolutely. That’s a good thing about it. We don’t fully rely on anything. We’ll always have our practice fees, they are not going anywhere. ‘Dougnuts’ and events are happening all the time. The money is there and it’s just a matter of how much we want to ask our players to work extra outside of American football when it is only their hobby.

Do they get something out of it or everything is going to the team?

Mostly all go to a team. But it can help pay off part of travel costs or hotels on away games. It cuts their costs if they work more.

How many professional players do you have on the team?

We don’t have any.

And maybe in the past?

Right now in Norway, you’re allowed to have one whether he is North American or European. When I played back in 2012 we had three and I was one of them. In 2014 and 2015 we also had three. So the rules have been changing every year. It’s kind of difficult because some of the big city teams have more money and small towns don’t have a lot of members or sponsorship. Right now you’re allowed to have one. Last year we could have many. We chose not to.

How is it controlled? Can a team bring a player and say “we’re not paying him” but actually do?

No, you can’t. Because the Norwegian rules allow to have an import player on a team but his main source of income cannot be from a club. We have three or four Americans on the team but they work in Olso and they have other full-time jobs. So they don’t receive any money from us. So there is a rule that allows you to play if you have a job three months before the season or you’re a full-time student. You can be from anywhere in the world and play in Norway but you’re allowed to have one paid player. I have to send the Federation all their work permits, work contracts and they have to say ‘OK’ before they play a game.

So the Norwegian championship is managed as an amateur league…

Yes. It is called the Elite Series. There is always a discussion if it is amateur or semi-professional with one paid player… But basically, it is an amateur league.

Are they trying to move it toward a professional tournament in future?

It’s a thing that is always talked about. I just had a meeting with all other clubs in the Elite Series and first division and they want it in the future but they don’t try to push something on anyone else. They want everyone to agree on something and financially sustain themselves. Last four years we had four different teams dropped out of the Elite Series because of the financial reasons. So they want everyone to bake one idea: if we’re going amateur or going professional. As it right now I think everyone is pretty happy with what the direction is. A lot of other countries bring in a lot of import players with no regulations. In some countries, it is an arms race like in Germany, in Finland, in Sweden. Norway restricts that but I think it’s good for the development of the Norwegian players. It has its pros and cons. Sometimes bringing import players is good for coaching teams and development of your current players. But on the other hand, they steal a place on a field from a Norwegian player. I think right now is in a good state.

If any team doesn’t agree with it and thinks that with that kind of regulations they staying on the one place a don’t go any further, what’s the alternative for them?

It is a North European league and you need to win the Elite Series to qualify. We did that and we’ll be playing there. So if you unhappy with that you need to either live with that or win the championship to change your outlook.

And what’s the priority for Vikings? National championship or being sustainable in the international tournament?

They’re both very equal. If we’re just talking about our senior program than our goal every year is to win a championship. And we are not going to just compete only one year, we want to be able to do that for a long period of time and consistently stay there. So they both very important. I think last time we played in European competition was 2009 so almost everyone on our current roster didn’t have such opportunity and it will be eye-opening for some of them. It’s going to be good for all of us as a program.

Do you have some international connections with for example colleges in the US or something like that?

Not North America. We always played friendlies with Swedish, Danish, German teams in the past. Three years ago we played in Sweden, two years ago we played in Germany, last time we played in Denmark. We always try to have at least one before the Norwegian series. It’s a big part of team building and we like to go away for that and travel as a team.
But with our youth program, we have seven players in the States right now playing in high schools and we have five senior players playing in college. That’s what we in our club support and promote.

How did you manage to do that? Do you have any special connection with a school there?

When they go high school in America — that could be anywhere with Norwegian exchange program. After that, they apply for universities. We don’t have a pipeline. We have kids in Texas, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, California. We kind of promote them to go to States and after they return they will join our senior program.

Does anyone like to stay there?

Not really. They stay there for two-four years and come back to Norway with a degree. After that, they help us play and coach. It sucks when you lose a good player but after return, they can contribute more.

Have you heard about the conflict in the IFAF?

I’ve heard about it and I heard that IFAF New York have won the court hearing and a few countries now want to leave IFAF Paris and join IFAF New York.

What’s your attitude to that problem? Did it somehow affect you as a team?

I don’t really look into it because I can’t do much about it. The only thing that affected us is that we can’t have international friendlies with certain countries. I’d like to go to Germany again and play German team. It’s not a big deal for Norwegian teams because we don’t have many teams who play outside Scandinavia.

Can you tell a bit about the history of the team for those who don’t know anything about it?

Last year was our 31st year as a club. The Oslo Vikings ware started by two guys who are currently on our coaching staff. They came up with the idea of an american football team. They were originally called the Westside Vikings. And the transformed into Oslo Vikings after all. It’s been a program that has always been a stable stronghold of Norwegian football. We take pride in that. We consistently have solid programs from our youth programs to our senior even numbers fluctuate every year. We have U-13, U-15, U-17 teams. We don’t have U-19 program for the first time since 1993 this year but we will have it again next year. And we have two senior teams.

Two teams?

Yes, in Norway we have three divisions: the Second Division, the First Division and the Elite Series. So we have an Elite Series team and a Second Division team. So it’s kind of developmental team for our U-19s coming up or older guys who just started to play football.

What the main component of success for building a team that’s stays sustainable for a long time?

I think continuity is a huge part of that. It says a lot for two or three guys who started this team and are still around. Two of them are coaching and the third one is on the board of directors. So they are still around and so passionate about the club and everyone sees that and everyone wants to be a part of that. I personally take a lot of pride having consistency and continuity on the coaching staff. You have the same people around the get known with the kids, then they go up and get to the senior program and they already know everyone in the organisation. It’s kind of family atmosphere here.

How many new players do the Elite Series team get every year?

We have a goal on how many new players we should bring out each year to each program. There are youth players that come to men’s team. And this year as it right now we have 15-17 brand new guys. And we always have guys that moved to Oslo for school or for work and had a playing experience in another team in Norway. So we have a lot and that’s why we started a Second Division team a few years ago where all of our new guys start, develop and learn a game. And every year one or two or three down the road will be able to play in the Elite Series.

From your experience how long did the fastest way took from a rookie to Elite Series team?

We had a few guys that get into the game and accelerated faster than I thought and it took around six months of training in the offseason where they were getting better and better and better and got into the Elite roster. Those who were on our U-15, U-17, U-19 teams have more football knowledge, they know their position. So it’s always a balance of getting our youth players prepared and having the brand new guys or second-year guys.

Speaking of your last season, how was it for all of your teams?

We’ve won an Elite Series championship, we were undefeated all the season and we’ve won the finals 51-7. Our Second Division team finished in the fourth place out of eight teams. Our U-17 lost in the championship game. Our U-15 team won the championship. Our U-13 program basically has just started this year so there is no competition for them yet.

Who is your main rival?

There is a couple. There is another Oslo team Vålerenga Trolls they’ve got very good youth programs for last five years. In the seniors, I would say it’s Eidsvoll 1814s. They located a few miles north of Oslo. They’ve been around for a championship in the last few years so there is a long rivalry between Vikings and 1814s.

How many supporters do you have on your games?

We’ve usually got up to 1100 before. I’d say it is between 500 and 600 on average. On the last finals, we had 1200 people and it’s the biggest crowd I’ve seen here for five years.

Can you tell a little bit about yourself and your path here?

I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. I started playing when I was five. My Dad was the head coach the other time. There was a league where you supposed to be six and seven but my Dad was a coach and he let me play. In Canada when you’re six and seven you play flag football for a few years and you start tackle football when you’re eight-nine. I started it at eight and for now, I’m in football for 25 years. So I played on all levels: youth football, then in high school, after that I played in the junior league in Canada for ages from 18 to 22. Very similar to what junior hockey is like. After that, I went to the University of Ottawa and played there for one season and then left. I wasn’t really into the school aspect of it and it was really far from my home and I had only one-year football eligibility when I went there.

And after that, I said, “I want to play professionally”. So I looked into teams in Europe. I had five teams in four different countries. I chose to go to Oslo to play for the Vikings in 2012 and we won the national championship that year, we were undefeated. Then in 2013, I went to play in Germany, and in 2014 I returned back to play quarterback. In 2015 I became also an offensive coordinator. In 2016 I stopped playing and was just an offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, U-15 head coach and Division-2 head coach. Last year I was an Elite team head coach, Division-2 head coach and U-15 head coach.

Why did you stop playing?

When they offered me to be a coach I really didn’t think too long, I always knew that my future will be in coaching. I was 28 years old and I played for 23 years so I think I had my fix. I’m still around the game I love and the organisation has been really good to me. I just thought that coaching would set me up better in future than playing one or two extra years.

Do you have a feeling during the game that you could do something better by yourself?

Not very often… I definitely miss playing but as a coach, I don’t think like that. I have my players prepared better than I.

If you receive an offer to play, will you return?

Not really. I have got offers every year since I stopped playing but my life is here in Oslo.

Let me return a little bit back to Canada. Did you play the american version of football there?

In Canada growing up we played canadian football, but British Columbia, the province where I’m from, is the only province where we play american football in high school. A lot of students from there go to the US to play college football. So I played american football only in high school and the rest before Norway was canadian football. But it’s almost exact same thing. It’s easy to transit from canadian to american football but it’s a bit more difficult the other way around.

So do you still follow the NFL or CFL?

Oh yeah! That’s the only sport I mainly follow. Growing up a was a soccer fan, basketball fan, I played every sport. In Norway, it’s not many American sports on TV. I watch football every weekend. NFL Game Pass sets me up well.

What’s your team?

I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan.

Why Dallas? It’s quite far from Vancouver.

Yeah, Seattle is very close. When you watch football in Canada it’s the same as in America. It’s mostly regional games that they put on. There were Seahawks games on TV every weekend in Vancouver. I just hated the Seahawks: they were there every weekend and it wasn’t very entertaining football to watch that time. I liked Dallas because no matter where you are they put it on TV because it is “America’s team” and they were good when I started to get into football. They won a few championships in early 90’s. It’s one of the main reason I stuck with them ever since.

Do you like them right now? Do you like Dak and Zeke?

I like them a lot. I’ve got a chance to watch Cowboys and Jaguars in London. That time Tony Romo played, I’m a huge Tony Romo fan, but I also like Dak Prescott. They are both pretty good quarterbacks. I’ve never had a chance to see Dallas in America but I’ve had that chance in London. So yes, I like Cowboys’ roster right now a lot. Our defence is pretty shitty but our offence is good.

Do they have a chance to win this year?

I hope so. If our defence will be able to stop anybody… And if Zeke Elliott will not be suspended that would help us a lot. I think there is always a chance.

I think you’ve watched the last Superbowl, what was your feeling?

That was really good game. Every year our club host a Superbowl party. Last year we put together a good party, we had around hundred people watching. There were some events, NFL quiz, prizes. Budweiser sponsored it, we had 300 free beers. It was a good time.

How many people were on the Patriots side and on the Falcons side?

I think there were more supporters that didn’t support either team. We have some Cowboys fans, some Packers fans, a lot of Minnesota Vikings fans, Lions fans. I don’t think there are much Patriots or Falcons supporters, we had only a few. Norwegians don’t know much about american football but there is a game that’s always there — it’s a Superbowl. And Patriots are always there.

What was the most memorable moment of your career?

I had a couple of good memories. When I came here in 2012 and we were undefeated and won the national title, that was memorable. Past year I was a coach of a senior team for the first time. Going undefeated and winning a Championship was pretty memorable. The one is not so nice but good in the end. In Canada when I played junior football one of my playmates had a motorcycle accident and passed away the day before the semifinal game. He was my roommate for three years, really close friend. The other team said that they are ready to move the game to another date. But we went out and played. And we won. That was really memorable — winning in his honour. Lot more positive memories than negative.

When you started to coach, what was the main advice you have been giving to your players?

The main thing that every time we step on the field we have to get better. We don’t have a lot of time on the field together as a team and we have to use it in an efficient way. It’s “vitamin R” — repetitions. The more reps you have, the more comfortable you feel. I think that the preparation is the key to players’ success. As a coordinator, you’ll always see different things but make sure that your players are prepared for everything. You have to adjust and adapt.