Former PAC Football Coach Tries Hand Abroad

By Rob Longo

Around western Pennsylvania, Jeff Hand is somewhat of a familiar name. The Ellwood City native was previously the head coach at Waynesburg University, and later moved on to coach at Westminster College.

But after Hand resigned as the coach at Westminster following the 2013 season, Hand looked for something different, so he decided to head across the pond to France for six months from January to July to coach.


Photo courtesy of Westminster Athletics.

“It’s a unique scenario,” Hand said. “I was very fortunate to be a college football coach at 28 years old. After those 15 years, I decided to do something out of the box, do something unique and do something for myself. Getting the chance to travel a little bit has been rewarding. Football is such a unique scenario; you really get back to the grass roots of it. When I was in France, it was myself and an offensive coordinator and a few position coaches, but for the most part, you have to coach it all.”

In France, Hand’s team, Amiens Spartiates, made it to the national championship. But with the team playing two-straight weeks and having a week off allowed Hand to do the traveling he desired, making stops in Ireland, Spain and Italy among other places on the off weeks.

Hand compared American football overseas to that of soccer in the United States, where clubs have an age limit up until 19, where players are put in the senior league.

“In France, I had a guy on the team that was 35, had three kids, was married, had a full-time job and loved the game,” said Hand.

After the brief stint in France, Hand will take his coaching abilities to the sandy beaches of Brazil this month to be the head coach of the Rio Branco Cabritos, an 11-month long position.

When it comes to talent, Hand compares it to the Division III level. In recent years, many Division III programs have traveled to Europe to face teams in exhibition games to get a few extra reps in, as well as to gain a priceless experience.

“There are some really good standout players, and some other guys that are committed that want to get better at the sport, Hand said. “The athleticism is there, it really is. The biggest difference on athleticism is they all grew up playing soccer – anything with their hands is relatively new. We grow up catching and throwing; they’re still coming along. Athletically, they’re there. The fitness level is there and they’re committed to putting the time in, but not to the level of a committed NCAA athlete. The French national team and the German national team can compete and beat some Division III (programs).”

Between scarce resources and teaching the fundamentals, Hand said the biggest challenge is, of course, the language barrier.

“That’s the biggest downfall; I’m not multilingual,” said Hand. “I try to learn some words before I go. They know American football terms. They know what a guard pulling is. All the positions are the same name; it’s all Americanized. They know some things about the sport but it’s still challenging. I always prided on myself to get to know the players, and that kind of makes it challenging because you want to talk to them and create a relationship. At some practices in France, I was on my own, but some of the assistant coaches were good translators for me. There were some players that were pretty good with English.”

Unlike in Europe where Hand had a place to live, a stipend and his plane ticket paid for, he will also have a cell phone and meals provided for him in Brazil. With no family to be worried about, Hand said where his future endeavors after South America are unknown.

“To me, it’s a tradeoff,” Hand said. “I get to travel. The Brazilians want to talk long-term as long as things are good. In all honesty, I have to get there and see what is there. If it works out and I’m comfortable there, I might go back for an additional year. I can’t see myself living in another country for an extended period of time. I want another run at the college level, but I’m not pinning myself down on what the timeline of that is. There are definitely opportunities; it’s a matter of finding the right one.”