Tracey Gere: «The biggest key to our wins is that somehow we developed culture»

Грифоны Санкт-Петербург - Крестоносцы Карлстад / Saint-Petersburg Griffins - Carlstad Crusaders

Head coach of Carlstad Crusaders — six-time Swedish Champions — Tracey Gere told First & Goal during his visit to Saint-Petersburg about seven lost finals, coaching in american High School and the advantage of having an NFL-caliber kicker.

Tracey, please, tell a few words about your early years in football.

I’m from Seattle, Washington in the US. I’ve grown up there and went to college there — Central Washington University. I spent a couple of years there. And I’ve ended up going on exchange program to Netherlands, where I met my future wife from Sweden. And after a few years after that I ended up coming to Sweden. I haven’t been playing football for a few years at that point. I had to start it up again in Sweden. I started playing and coaching. So for many years with the Crusaders I was both playing and coaching. The last time I played a game was 2013.

When you were playing at college did you have any intentions to build a career as a football player?

I’d have loved to continue it as long as I could but I didn’t see myself playing beyond college. I didn’t planned this kind of career. But if you’d ask me that days I’d say «Yes, I would love to keep playing». I wasn’t that level of player.

What position have you played?

Defensive back.

From the very beginning?

Yes, I always was a defensive back.

What year did you get to Sweden for the first time?

I think the first time I got there was 2000. I was going back and forth all the time.

And when did you get in touch with the Crusaders for the first time?

In summer 2001. It was the midst of the season. I just kind of helped out. I wasn’t allowed to play because they’ve already had american in team. I helped them a bit on a sideline, behind the scenes. And between 2001 and 2002 they asked me to play and to be their defensive coordinator. That’s when I really got started.

What the Crusaders looked like in 2001 when you first met them?

It was a very good team. They were on their way up. Now we have a number of straight championships but then they’ve recently moved in Swedish top-league. They have been climbing up from the new team to the top.

Грифоны Санкт-Петербург - Крестоносцы Карлстад / Saint-Petersburg Griffins - Carlstad Crusaders

IFAF Champions League. Carlstad Crusaders’ time-out. Photo: Leonid Antsiferov (First & Goal)

Did you have motivation to become a coach? Maybe you wanted to play more?

Honestly, I never really thought about coaching because I had a lot of interesting things in my life outside football. But when I came to Sweden it was pretty natural to coach because there was a lack of coaches. Players were used to help themselves. Even now we don’t have a full staff. So it was natural to help and take a role as a coach because it was needed. It suits me because I enjoy strategy and thinking about planning and all that. For me it was never hard to both play and coach. Maybe it was hard for me as a player in sense that I didn’t get enough practice and time to prepare myself as other players would as I was focused on coaching. Once I was in the game I felt like I wished I was there on the field and get a message to them. When I was playing and something happened I could just run to a guy and say «Hey! What’s going on? You need to do this, you need to do that». It was so much more communication. Now it is only we trying to talk between drives and me trying to scream sometimes across the field. It is kind of frustrating sometimes.

How do you think a player can become a good coach?

It starts with, I guess, your own world, your own position, exactly what you have to do, how to get it done, the techniques. Being interested in bigger picture: how can I fit, how can he fit? Because sometimes players just think «I’ll just do this, I’ll just do that». But you also have to think in terms how it affects everyone else. If I ask you to do the certain task, how would it’s gonna affect the other player. What I have to ask him to do now? So this is always having this big picture thoughts. It takes a lot of time. I always used to say that if I just sit down and watch the show I won’t see the game in the way when I’m prepared for the game. You have that mental image on how things are look, how players are look. And you see so much more. You have to watch the film over and over and prepare for the certain situations. And once you’ve done that you see the picture much more.

So you just have to watch the film?

Of course, no. Even now and when I was playing — especially when I was playing — I was always trying to figure out what’s going on by asking players questions like «What happened to you? What route did you run? How did you get blocked?» Always amazing me that often players don’t know who blocked him. «Who blocked you?» — «I don’t know» — «Did you go left or did you go right?» — «I don’t know». But you find some players who actually do — I don’t know, maybe that’s because the game is slower for them or whatever but a lot of times they are the better players and they have better awareness — and I think that’s something you need to have. Some guys just don’t have it. They just run and they hit, they run and they hit. If you ask them what happened after the play they can never even remember.

Are you studying coaching somewhere except just playing games?

Oh, yeah, I constantly reviewing books and films, articles and blogs. The key thing there as for a coach is that taking as much information as you can is not like looking on what somebody wrote and just copying that. You have to internalise that, go through it on how it would look on your team, how can I get my players to understand this. You have to take time for an idea from someone’s head to go through it in your head and become something you really fully understand. When you just copy it and then something doesn’t work or things don’t go exactly as you expected you don’t know what to say. But if you’re taking time to really dig into it so you know all about it. So when things start happening you understand it, you make adjustments, you can tell players what to do and how to react and things like that.

Tracey Gere

IFAF Champions League. Carlstad Crusaders head coach Tracey Gere. Photo: Leonid Antsiferov (First & Goal)

Crusaders have won national title five or six times in a row…

Six times.

Six times. Why? What helped them?

First of all, the previous eight years before we won our first championship we were in seven finals and lost them all. So we’ve been on both sides. The biggest key that the Crusaders have had is somehow over that time we developed culture. I feel like I’ve been here for most of the time so I was a part of that process. I’m not any kind of architect of it, I was just part of the group. I’m not sure exactly how we’ve done it, other than maybe the fact of so much time and work we put in it lifting weights and training. The town is kind of small and little bit isolated, people there were pretty close because there isn’t much else to do. I’ve heard that team in Stockholm has more difficulty because football there is only one thing from a lot more.

We have the same problem.

The case about culture is that we have a lot of players — including myself — who came from outside the area and it doesn’t matter how far they came from they still became the part of the group and many of them stayed. We have a number of players that have moved to Carlstad from other places in Sweden. The culture pulls in good people, they want to be a part of it and don’t want to leave.

What’s you most memorable moment with the Crusaders?

Maybe two moments… The one was 2007 Championship that we lost. That time it was our sixth straight Championship that we lost. We had won the game. The game was over. We won the game 6-3. We had many troubles getting any points but we managed to score in the end. The game ended, it was 6-3. But referee threw penalty for one of our players who walked on the field to celebrate early. Literally, there were fireworks going on, the game was over. They threw this penalty, nobody knew what have happened. They moved the ball for 15 yards and extended game for one play. Our opponent had a kicker who kicked in NFL. They made 55-yard fieldgoal to tie the game. And then in overtime he kicked another fieldgoal and they won!

That’s crazy!

Yeah. Another one was in 2011. That was the game in Kiel. It was amazing up-and-down game, we beat them in overtime. We scored first, went for two and got it, then they scored, and they needed to go for two to keep the overtime going. It went down to literally the one play and we knocked the ball down in the endzone. That was pretty exciting.

carlstad crusaders tracey gere

IFAF Champions League. Carlstad Crusaders head coach Tracey Gere. Photo: Leonid Antsiferov (First & Goal)

I’ve read that you returned to the United States for a coupe of years and worked in a high school. Why? Was there an invitation?

My wife works for a government agency in Carlstad and she was invited for a short-term job in Swedish embassy in Washington, DC. So we took that opportunity to live in the US for two years and I started coaching in high school.

Tell a few words about your experience. How different it was compared to the Crusaders?

That was my only time coaching outside the Carlstad. I coached junior national Swedish team a little bit but most of my time I spent in Carlstad. Anyway that was great experience. The team that I was with had a few losing years, we really struggled. But that was real learning experience. You know, the guys in Carlstad were really into it. They work very hard and listen for everything you’re telling them. But in the US it was always a struggle to high school kids to pay attention, to work in silence, to run a practice. A lot of those little things I wasn’t used to. You have to do everything to get their attention. They always wanted to run off. I don’t know if it is about all high school students in the US or just that program because they didn’t have that culture, that history that we had in Carlstad where people know that if you came there you have to pay attention and work hard and things like that. That program lacked that and it was a definite challenge. I wish I had one more year because I think we could do some good things and I could learn myself how to get that kids’ attention and stuff like that. I only had one year and then we had to come back. I’d love to continue to see what can happen. But that definitely learning experience and struggle for sure.

One topic I want talk with you about is imported players. We discuss it lot in Russia. What do you think about bringing players from the US to European teams? I’m talking about the situation when one or two players are much stronger then both their teammates and opponents and who make all the results.

This thing was constantly a debate in Sweden. I think the more good players out there — the better. That’s it. Some teams do everything and cover all expenses just to bring an american. You have to play at the level that your organisation is prepared to play at. Like in 2003 we won the EFAF and we had no american import, even quarterback. I mean, I was american but I was there because I moved there, not because I was invited. We just didn’t have it at that time but we were a solid team. I was never like «We should not have an american». If we have the money we can afford it. The more good players we have — the better and that’s it. If you have a team that have a bunch of players that are not very good but you spend all your money on bringing american then maybe you should better focus on building the level of your team up.

So you don’t see any problem of it?

I don’t. If someone have better players for us, for example, that’s a challenge. What we gonna do? How do we make sure that we don’t get beat by those guys? That’s the level we’re at. The same thing was when we were playing with Kiel. They are from Big-6 and they had even more imported players from the US, from another european countries. We didn’t have the money to do that. But we still wanted to play them. Not every team could go and play them, we had to have a lot of good players but I never had in my mind that they had those guys. I wanted to be able to put the best team I could get together and go compete them. That’s the level I wanted to get to whether I have one, two, three or five americans.

carlstad crusaders tracey gere

IFAF Champions League. Carlstad Crusaders coaching staff. Photo: Leonid Antsiferov (First & Goal)

Obvious question: what’s your favourite NFL team?

Seattle Seahawks.

And what’s you favourite player?

In Seahawks right now it might be… Cam Chancellor.

Who do you think will be in Superbowl this season?

Seattle Seahawks versus… New England Patriots. There will be a rematch.

Jared Goff or Carson Wentz?

No idea. I read the stuff about them, I know the colleges they went to but I don’t know who is who.

The last one: you advice to football players in Russia.

Put in the time and effort. You know: bigger, faster, stronger. Put skill, athleticism and love for the game together with your time. In winter, in December, in the gym when everyone else is resting keep on working, lifting and running and you’ll build yourself as a football player.