The Other Dortmund Coaching Story: Former BvB Coaches Wolf, Wagner Lead Clubs to Promotion

The big story in the news is that Coach Thomas Tuchel, a week after leading Borussia Dortmund to the DFB Pokal championship, has left the club in an apparently mutual parting of ways.  Where Tuchel will go, and who will replace the mercurial coach in leading the Champions League club, will be the subjects of speculation until official announcements are made,

But another story, also interesting, is that of former Dortmund youth coaches Hannes Wolf and David Wagner, who in recent weeks led their clubs to promotion — Wolf with VfB Stuttgart and Wagner with Huddersfield Town — in their first jobs as coaches of senior squads.  The fact that both cut their coaching teeth with Dortmund is something that all BvB fans can take pride in.

Hannes Wolf -VfB Stuttgart

Wolf, 36, was appointed coach at VfB Stuttgart in September, 2016, only months after the Swabians had been demoted to Bundesliga 2.  Wolf played forward in the lower regions of German football from 2000-2009 — playing for 1.FC Nurnberg’s reserve side was probably the highest level of competition he attained.  Over the last four seasons of his playing career, Wolf also acted as coach at Eintracht Ergste and ASC 09 Dortmund before being appointed coach of Borussia Dortmund’s U19s in 2010 after meeting Jurgen Klopp in 2009 at a sporting gala in which Klopp was a guest and sought Wolf out .  Wolf coached Dortmund’s U19s to a German national championship and the U17s to two German championships. Wolf also briefly coached Dortmund’s reserves during his time with the yellow-blacks.

Overall, Wolf was in Kloppo’s orbit for six years, and learned much from the charismatic German, although Wolf also learned from Klopp’s successor, Tuchel.  Still, he is his own man and brought intensity to Stuttgart after Coach Jos Luhukay left after five matches following continued disagreements with VfB Sporting Director Jan Schindelmeiser.  The Swabians had three wins and two losses in league play when Luhukay left — Wolf’s first game in charge at VfB ended in a 1-1 draw with VfL Bochum.  He went on to guide Stuttgart to first place and an immediate promotion back to Germany’s first division with a 21-6-7 record, leading the second division in goals scored with 63 and a +26, a total nine better than that of second place Hannover.

One can argue that it was a rather easy task to guide Stuttgart to first place in Bundesliga 2, but that overlooks several factors.  Although VfB had one of the top three most expensive squads in the league (Hannover and 1860 Munich were the others), we see with the utter catastrophe at 1860 that an expensive squad doesn’t guarantee a good season.  Moreover, Wolf took over a squad without him having the benefit of summer training camp — a squad that had lost Timo Werner, Daniel Didavi, Filip Kostic and others who’d played a great deal for VfB while bringing in 18 new players.  And finally, one has to look at the trainwreck that has been the Swabian’s fate in recent years.  They were on a collision course with demotion for years, and their inability to properly judge talent and develop their own youth players were key reasons that they finally fell.  Wolf, in his first head coaching job of a senior squad, did well with a big club, and it will be interesting to see how far he can take the Swabians upon their return to the first division.

David Wagner — Huddersfield Town AFC

Forty five years.  That was how long it’s been since English side Huddersfield Town has played in England’s top league.  Decades before the formalization of the Premiership.  Richard Nixon was President of the US, Edward Heath the Prime Minister of England, Willy Brandt was Germany’s Chancellor and David Bowie had yet to release “Ziggy Stardust.”

German-American David Wagner has brought Huddersfield Town to the top again.  His task was more difficult than Wolf’s, as he needed a win by penalties to defeat Reading and gain promotion to the EPL.  But that takes nothing away from the 45 year-old accomplished in his second season coaching in England.

Born in the Hessen region of Germany, Wagner grew up in Germany.  The son of an American father and German mother, Wagner played for local club SV Geinsheim before making his professional debut with Eintracht Frankfurt and later playing the striker role for Schalke and Mainz (where he was a teammate of Klopp for four seasons), among others, in a fifteen year career that saw him also earn eight caps for the United States.

Wagner coached Borussia Dortmund’s reserves from 2011 until November, 2015, when he announced his resignation.  Assumed by man to be joining Klopp, who had just taken over as the head man at Liverpool FC, instead it was announced a few days later that Wagner was to become head coach at Huddersfield Town of the English League Championship,  England’s second tier football league.   Huddersfield Town finished in 19th place with a 13-12-21 record, 11 points above relegation, in Wagner’s first year as a senior squad coach, but finished 25-6-15 in the former striker’s first full season with the Terriers, good for 5th place and a spot in the promotion playoffs.  There the edged past Sheffield Wednesday before downing Reading — with GK Danny Ward, on loan from Klopp’s Liverpool, making key PK saves to carry Huddersfield Town to the EPL.

Between his first and second season at Huddersfield, Wagner brought in 13 new players, and took his squad on a ‘survival’ trip to Sweden’s wildnerness in the summer, building a bond within the squad as the players camped and did without the comforts of home, placing them out of their comfort zone (Martin Schmidt did a similar trip to the Swiss mountains with his squad in the winter 0f 2015/2016 as they followed that up with their first ever direct qualification to the Europa League).   The Terriers started the new season on a high note, laying the basis for their qualification for the promotion playoffs.

Their promotion was certainly a surprise.  As noted in The Guardian a few days ago, ” … the encouraging aspect of this unexpected season is Wagner’s ability to wring the most from a collection of players who, on paper, had no business winning promotion.”  Not only was the morale-building trip to Sweden led by Wagner perhaps a key to Huddersfield’s success, but also was a relaxing trip to Portugal, with family members included, for Wagner’s self-described squad of  “little dogs” following the Sheffield Wednesday victory before their finals meetup with Reading.  The German-American excels at incorporating team spirit in his players.

So while the big story is Dortmund’s search for Thomas Tuchel’s replacement (said to focus on Lucien Favre, Julian Nagelsmann and a few others), Dortmund management and fans of the club can take a great deal of pride in two former BvB coaches who’ve accomplished a great deal in a short time in their first coaching jobs away from the Ruhr Valley


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Gerry Wittmann

Gerry is the founder of the Bundesliga Fanatic. Besides loving German football, he also enjoys the NBA, collecting jerseys and LPs, his pets and wishes he had more time for fishing, bicycling and learning the bass guitar.

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