Nearly 4,460 miles separate the people of Oshkosh and those of Prague in the Czech Republic. While the two cultures couldn’t be more different, they both value hard work, family, innovative thinking and … American football.
“Coaching Division III football and coaching in Europe are so similar,” said 2004 University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumnus Zach Harrod. “You have to think outside the box. That is a huge similarity between football at this level and football in Europe. Find the unique angle because what works for some, may not work for us.”
Harrod is head coach of the Prague Lions, an American football team based in the Czech Republic. The Lions recently joined the European League of Football, with 17 teams in nine countries.
Harrod credits UW Oshkosh football and the toughness of the program and the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with preparing him to take the Lions to the highest level of American football in Europe. The Lions won the Czech Bowl six times, including twice since Harrod took over.
The initial meeting between Harrod and the Lions came in the early 2000s, when Harrod first stepped foot in Prague with Athletes in Action. The Christian sports organization brings sports to more than 60 countries around the world with 50 professional sports teams.
After spending two summers in Prague with Athletes in Action, Harrod returned to Oshkosh to finish his degree in religious studies and graduate in 2004.
Harrod played under the legendary Titans head coach Pat Cerroni, who captured more conference championships and earned more national postseason appearances than any other coach in school history.
Harrod was a four-year letter winner for the Titans and started his coaching career as the offensive coordinator for the Lions in 2009. Harrod was the head U19 coach for the program in 2009 and assistant coach before taking over the helm of the Lions. Under his leadership, Harrod led the U19 team to five championships over an eight-year period.
“I was tremendously blessed to play under Coach Cerroni,” Harrod said. “He was dedicated to building something for the future while creating success in all areas and having a long view approach.”
That focus on success in the present and future are key elements Harrod took with him as he has helped to guide the Lions to the Czech Bowl and now to the European League of Football.
During a December visit to UWO, Harrod noted the parallels between Cerroni, current Titans football coach Peter Jennings and himself in their coaching styles and interactions with players and parents.
“I feel that we all have a similar approach to coaching; to think outside the box and the determination to find a way to make it work. This guy (Jennings) is going to continue to look at the field from different angles and maximize what is at Oshkosh, regardless of size. There is no ceiling for the future of Oshkosh football.”
The journey back to Oshkosh was four years in the making due to pandemic.
“I have so much pride when I look at the Oshkosh Sports Complex and the Russ Young Football suite. It is a great reminder of my roots (and of the Oshkosh tradition) and I am so excited to see where Coach Jennings takes Oshkosh football in the future,” Harrod said.
By Linnea Kangas, UWO sports information director