USA International Profile: Andrew Donlen

Andrew Donlen was recently named the new head coach of the USA Freedom.  Donlen leads the national team program into next year's AFL Transatlantic Cup in Toronto, which will be held from August 2-11.  An original of the USAFL and the Grizzlies organizatons, he brings a massive amount of experience and leadership to the role.  Donlen recently sat down with USAFL founding president an International Program Manager Paul O'Keeffe for some thoughts on his new appointment and on his time in footy on both sides of the Pacific:

Andrew, so great to sit down and chat. Congratulations on your new role. It is a really important role for the USAFL and the growth of Women’s footy. Let’s start out with a simple one…what is your current club and role. 

I am with the Seattle Grizzlies and am currently the Women’s Coach 

Can you share your background in Australian Football and Sports in general: 

I was born in Penshurst, country Victoria, and I grew up playing Aussie Rules in Australia. I was a runner, swimmer, and footy player through school and then mainly in the Amateurs. I was in the Richmond squad for a time but injuries and the travel bug bit me pretty hard. I first attended USAFL Nationals in Cincinnati in 1999 when I was just a wide-eyed teenage boy with big dreams. 

Wow, you have nearly been around as long as I have. Hard to believe that is coming up on 25 years. What excites you most about your new role? 

Two things really excite me. The first is working with people committed to reaching the top level of their sport; even at the local level it’s a big commitment financially and timewise to play Aussie Rules in the United States. The willingness to try out for the national team is admirable at multiple levels.  

The second is the prospect of working in a well-staffed organized program with good people. I would like to acknowledge former coach Christina Licata and the people she had working with her. I know the team did a ton of work to keep the program going, especially through the Covid era.  

Being new to the International Program setup what is your vision for the role? 

I would love this program to be self-sustaining; players who try out have such a rewarding experience that they are our best recruits. And those players become the coaches of the future. 

I would also like to work myself out of this role in time; the prospect of assisting in the development of a core of strong female coaches is exciting. We all want female coaches to be a strong part of that talent pool.  

What is your greatest moment in footy, to date? I say to date, as I hope you have some great moments ahead as National Coach. 

Geez hard question. Won a few premierships with different teams both in Australia and the US and they were all great. The first junior team I played on, we were always short of players, and we didn’t win a game for 3 years, I think it was Under 10s when we first cracked a win by 1 point, that’s pretty hard to top. The sausage sizzle afterwards was outrageous.  

I see you learnt perseverance at a young age. A great attribute to have. You have been around the USAFL for a long time. What brings you back to the game every year? 

People that relocate to the Pacific Northwest will tell you it’s a difficult place to make friends. I would advise anyone who moves here to get involved in a local sports club. No doubt the reason I come back to the game is because the people involved in it are the best.  The football community extends through the entire year and just grows bigger and better. 

What is your funniest moment in footy? 

Well, there’s plenty of ammunition on me so I have to be careful here😊. A couple stand out; A former Grizzly auditioned for the Reality TV show The Bachelor and that video seems to surface every year, everyone enjoys it except the subject. I almost feel bad for the bloke. 

OK, please don’t tell me who it is. That would not be fair as it sounds like he gets enough grief. What should people know about you outside of footy? 

Outside of footy I travel whenever I can; last year I took the dog and drove through Texas to Mexico and spent nearly 3 months exploring the Mexican state of Michoacan. Probably, I’ll do something similar this year as well. Some of the places I’ve been that are a bit trickier to navigate include Venezuela, El Salvador, and Libya.  

Libya sounds really interesting. You could start a footy league there! Finally, What do you do for a real job? 

Actually, I retired early from full time work and highly recommend it! I do some freelance writing for a PR firm when they need a crazy opinion voiced that is not attached to them.  In 2022 I carpooled to training with Revo Zach McKinney and as a result we have a couple of ideas in the development stage. If we do move forward with any of them, we will need good legal representation! 

Thanks mate. I am thrilled to have you on board after nearly 25 years in the league.

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