At 34 years of age, Danny Mitchell has coached football around the globe. In a recent spare moment, which doesn’t happen a whole bunch in the coaching world, he calculated that he’s coached football in 21 countries.
He’s also coached at a variety of levels. Peruse the UAB senior analyst’s bio, and you find stops in high school, all levels of college football in the United States and three different stops in international professional football.
He’s been the offensive coordinator for the Vienna Vikings during the European League of Football championship season in 2022. He’s been the head coach for the Osnabruck Tigers national title season in Germany and the head coach of Sweden’s Carlstad Crusaders in another national title season. He was the architect of a record-setting offense at The Bishop’s School in San Diego that averaged 48.6, 52 and 56.1 points during his time there. He was the head coach at Christian High in San Diego.
Have whistle will travel.
“Football is football,” said Mitchell, who will work with the UAB offensive staff. “I know that sounds cliché. It is the same people playing the same game. That’s what I love about this. These guys here are the exact same as my guys in Vienna. They enjoy playing, they’re fun to be around, they want to be the best they can be. My unique experiences add to that. I don’t know how many other people have got to coach all over the world, have got to coach guys who might not speak English. But, the game is the same. I think I’m going to learn a lot. We have a group that figures it out.”
Speaking of figuring it out, that’s pretty much what Mitchell had to do when he first went to Sweden not long after graduating from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. One of his best friends, Josh Dean, the starting quarterback at Willamette, received interest from European teams. He suggested to Mitchell, who was the backup quarterback, that they go to Europe together. Mitchell was the offensive coordinator when he arrived in Germany to work for the Osnabruck Tigers and was soon elevated to head coach. He turned a team that was 3-9 the year before into national champions.
It was there that he faced a coaching dilemma that, for the most part, a coach wouldn’t face in the United States. How do you coach players who do not speak the same language that you do?
“You learn how to sign language a little bit,” Mitchell said with a laugh. “I think through a great sense of energy. You find ways for them to have fun. I know this sounds lame and cliché, how do I find ways to make them laugh and smile? That’s it, because if he’s doing that, the guys that are understanding will translate for him. There are other guys who can speak English and they’ll translate. If I treat that dude the same way I treat our best player, it’s amazing how good you can be. That’s the most valuable thing I’ve taken from Europe.”
He came back, worked for a couple of years in college football, and headed this time to lead the Carlstad Crusaders to a national title in Sweden. Afterward, he came back to the United States to coach high school football in San Diego. He spent four seasons at The Bishop’s School and was part of three undefeated seasons. He was then hired to become the head coach and athletic director at his alma mater.
Mitchell got a call from Trent Dilfer, who was searching for an offensive coordinator at Lipscomb Academy in Nashville, about the same time. Sione Ta’ufo’ou, who was Dilfer’s defensive coordinator at Lipscomb and now at UAB, is a long-time friend of Mitchell. He suggested that Dilfer call Mitchell.
“I had just got hired at Christian High School in San Diego,” said Mitchell, whose father, Mike, won more than 500 games as a high school coach in San Diego. “That is my alma mater. My mom works there, my dad works there, my brother works there. I’m three weeks into the job and I get a random call from this 415 area code. It’s the Bay area code. I was like I don’t know this one. I answer and it was, ‘Hey Danny, this is Trent Dilfer.’”
Dilfer said he was going to be in Tahoe that weekend and wanted to sit down with him to discuss the offensive coordinator opening. Mitchell was intrigued, but there was another roadblock.
“That weekend, I’m supposed to meet with all the board,” Mitchell said. “The person that runs that school is David Jeremiah. He’s a mega pastor and just an amazing human being, someone you just don’t miss meetings with. I said (to Dilfer), “I don’t know if I can do it, give me one hour.”
Mitchell got off the phone and tried to figure out what to do. A few minutes later, the answer came.
“This is how I believe it’s divine,” Mitchell said. “I get a text from (Jeremiah’s) CEO saying we’re going to have to cancel the meeting. What I do, I go on my computer, buy a plane ticket, fly up to Tahoe.”
They spent the weekend watching football, talking about football and drawing plays on a whiteboard. Now, the meeting didn’t turn into an immediate job. Mitchell chose instead to keep his commitment at Christian High. But, it did set the foundation toward him coming to UAB. There was another stop in Europe before he came to Birmingham. As the offensive coordinator for the Vienna Vikings, he was part of a Europe League of Football championship in 2021.
The phone rang again in late 2021. This time, Dilfer offered him a job at UAB. Soon after, Mitchell and his wife, Samantha, packed their belongings and headed from San Diego to Birmingham. Well, they packed most of their belongings.
“We were planning on going back, half our stuff is still in Vienna right now,” Mitchell said. “Trent called me and said this thing at UAB might be happening, do you want to come. I’m like, 100 percent, man, I’ll pour the water. I was a waterboy at a young age, my dad’s a coach. I wake up every day, seriously, just so grateful to be with these people. I’m having so much fun.”
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