Jeff Scurran is new in town and is here on a mission. As the new coach of Guelfi Firenze, Florence's American football team (www.guelfifirenze.it), he has travelled across the Atlantic from Tucson, Arizona, to get the team ready for the start of an exciting new season. The first match is on Sunday, March 18, in the new stadium of San Bartolo a Cintoia. Having visited Florence both as a tourist and to lead clinics for the Italian National Federation of American Football, Scurran is already familiar with the city. As a former teacher of history and Western civilization, his previous job in the United States, he feels a great sense of affinity and respect for all that Florence and its past represents. He finds Tuscany one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and he claims, with a laugh, that bearing a resemblance to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is an additional bonus: taken for a native, he is treated like a local.
Scurran thanks one of his ‘bling' championship rings for his rapport with Florence: at an airport in Chicago, it caught the attention of a Florentine, the brother of a Guelfi Firenze player. Through their encounter, Scurran was put in contact with former Guelfi coach, Fabrizio Bocci, and invited to come and watch the team in action. Now the team's coach, he is back for six months. His wife of 42 years, Joan, is also enjoying the Tuscan experience. ‘She understands my love of football,' he explains, ‘and she loves that travel is a big part of the job.'
Passionate about sports, Scurran observes that the importance of sports as a life path is often overshadowed by an obsession with academia, especially in the United States. ‘Sports should be encouraged, not sidelined.' He has been a coach for the past 38 years, and the role goes far beyond the game itself; he teaches a philosophy of success and teaches players how to face fears and overcome challenges, lessons relevant for all areas of life, he asserts.
His reputation precedes him. One of America's most successful and respected football coaches (see www.coachscurran.com), Scurran has made a career out of turnarounds-transforming foundering programs, turning underdogs into winners. He laughs as he explains his nickname, comparing himself to Danny DeVito's character in the film Renaissance Man: a businessman who finds himself in a new role as a teacher in the U.S. Army. ‘Everybody in the world has what it takes to be a champion and a winner,' he states. ‘It's a question of bringing it from the inside to the surface in each individual.' It is not surprising to learn that Scurran also studied psychology, which plays an integral role in coaching.
What is his secret to turning on that winning switch? ‘It's not that simple,' he notes, ‘but I always start with my three rules, which are definite, absolute and non-negotiable for all players:(1) No frustration on the pitch-it has to be controlled as it clouds judgement; (2) Find your seventh gear and be willing to give it your absolute best; and (3) Remember, it's a game, so it's supposed to be fun!'
Do the Florentine players abide by his rules? ‘The players here show a serious devotion to the game, balancing professional and personal commitments, and providing all their own equipment. A big difference, however, is the social acceptance of lateness in Italy, which I cannot let go without reprimanding. Being late is simply not a route to success, and team etiquette is paramount when training seriously. The diet of the players, however, is not an issue; steak and olive oil are perfect foods for athletes in training!'
When Scurran is not coaching, he loves nothing better than to stroll the streets of Florence. To remind himself of why he is here, he simply wanders past the Duomo, across piazza Signoria and through the Loggia dei Lanzi to marvel at the feats of Florence's ancestors.For inspiration, he visits Michelangelo's masterpiece in the Uffizi. The history that is told here, is fundamental to understanding how the world works, he maintains. ‘Look at Machiavelli,' Scurran says. ‘He represents the ruling class, but some people out there try and rule by his standards without understanding how or even why he developed his theories.'
Scurran believes that everyone should be a lifelong learner, and leading by example, he is about to publish a book on how 'less can become more.' His enthusiasm and sense of motivation is almost tangible as he explains his approaches to life: ‘The best place is here, the best time is now.' Indeed, Scurran begins every day with a particular question: ‘What adventure is going to happen today?' That, and a delicious, fresh brioche!
Where do you live in Florence and how is it different from home?
We live at the Agriturismo Partingoli outside of Florence. The closest town is San Vincenzo a Torri. Looking up from Scandicci, over the mountain up by Ristorante Fiore, we are just over that hill. This was a great preference of mine, as I live outside of Tucson, in a golf course community on the side of the Santa Catalina Mountains. I like ‘quiet' for my home life. It's so easy for us to drive down to the De André tram station and take the light rail into town. Then, I can go home and sleep in a peaceful, idyllic setting.
Do you speak Italian?
I can say ‘hello,' ‘goodbye,' ‘left,' ‘right,' and can count to three. Does that qualify?
Where would you take a guest who doesn't like art?
Back to the airport! Ha! Why would anyone come here who doesn't like art? Florence has some of the best museums in the world, and certainly one of the best art collections anywhere. I've heard the city be described as an ‘outdoor museum' and I totally agree. Architecture is art to me, music is art, food and wine are art. This is a wonderful place for any kind of art.
Best bar for an aperitivo?
Cantinetta dei Verrazzano, but mostly because of the waiter, Jonathan Ferace. He's great.
Best bistecca fiorentina or best restaurant and why?
We like Za-Za and Zio Gigi because they are so reasonably priced for what you get, and it's true, home cooking. Our favorite pizza place is I Ghibellini. But really, it's hard not to get a great meal anywhere!
One place in the city that inspires you?
The pipe organ at Chiesa Santa Maria de' Ricci. When they play Bach and Mozart, it's awesome.
Favorite excursion fuori porta?
To any little town with good food and wine. They're all great. I like Panzano for strolling, but Vinci is nice for history and scenery.
Favourite Florentine trait?
Their willingness and eagerness to help peple get around and experience their city.
Favourite artwork in Florence?
The statue of the David; it's amazing, no matter how many times I see it.
Favourite Florentine, past or present?
A tie between Leonardo da Vinci and Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Pet peeve about Florence?
One thing the United States will always do better?
Barbeques and athletic clothing.
One thing the Florentines will always do better?
What do you miss from home?
What would you ask Renzi over a coffee?
I've already met him. Nice guy. He was very interested in my impression of Obama's speech in Tucson to inaugurate the memorial in honour of the victims in the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. My wife and I worked on her re-election campaign. I also told him the City needs more parking close to the centre, but not in it.