Former CFL player, coach Joe Paopao joins European League of Football’s Barcelona Dragons

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

The “Throwin’ Samoan” is headed to Spain.

CFL quarterback turned coach Joe Paopao has signed on to become quarterbacks coach for the Barcelona Dragons of the European League of Football during their inaugural 2021 season.

The 65-year old most recently served as running backs and quarterbacks coach with the Ottawa Redblacks in 2019.

Paopao is joining long-time CFL coach and general manager Adam Rita in Spain, who was named the Dragon’s first head coach in February.

The Dragons, who changed their name from the Gladiators earlier this week following an agreement with the NFL for NFL Europe trademarks, are one of eight teams in the newly launched ELF. Others include the Wroclaw Panthers of Poland, Berlin Thunder, Cologne Centurions, Frankfurt Galaxy, Leipzig Kings, Stuttgart Scorpions and Hamburg Sea Devils.

“Coming to Spain to coach American football with the Barcelona Dragons under the leadership of general manager Bart Iaccarino is exciting. On a personal level, I am looking forward to working again with my dear friend Adam Rita, whose no stranger to building great programs from the ground up,” Paopao said.

Paopao and Rita, who both hail from Hawaii, first worked together when Rita was the B.C. Lions offensive coordinator in 1983, Paopao’s final season playing for the team. The two would spend much of the next 27 years as opponents in the Canadian Football League, while Paopao also spent two seasons as the Lions’ offensive coordinator from 1999 to 2000 while Rita was general manager.

“I am super excited to have Joe Paopao on board, he brings loads of experience to our staff. I have had the pleasure to have coached Joe as a player and later we had the opportunity to coach together. Joe also brings a Polynesian spirit to our staff,” Rita said about the announcement.

“We have history together and our relationship is based on trust. Our guys will love playing for him as he brings out the best in people. He has a passion for the game and his guys. our offense will be exciting and fun because of him, his great imagination and gift for tying words with action. I’m looking forward to working with him again.”

A Long Beach State product, Paopao first came to Canada in 1978 and spent six years in B.C., three with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and one with the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1987 before retiring.

He came out of retirement for one final season with the Lions in 1990, starting ahead of legendary CFL quarterback Doug Flutie who he would coach to a CFL MOP season in 1991. Paopao finished his 11-year CFL career with 22,474 passing yards, 117 touchdowns and 157 interceptions. He was added to the B.C. Lions Wall of Fame in 2007.

Paopao began his coaching career with the Lions in 1989 as an offensive backs coach, rising to the role of offensive coordinator by 1992, a position he also held with the Edmonton Football Team, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

He served as head coach of the Lions in 1996 and was the inaugural head coach of the expansion Ottawa Renegades from 2002 to 2005, posting a 28-62 career win-loss record.

Outside the CFL, Paopao was offensive coordinator for the XFL’s San Francisco Demons in 2001. He also served as play-caller for the University of Waterloo Warriors from 2007 to 2013 before becoming head coach for his last two seasons, as well as offensive coordinator for Simon Fraser University from 2015 to 2018.

The brainchild of former NFL Europe coach turned German NFL broadcaster Patrick Esume, the European League of Football is scheduled to start its debut season on June 20. It has marketed itself as the first professional style American football on the continent since the fall of NFL Europe, from which many of its teams derive their names.

Along with Rita and Paopao, the league’s coaches include former NFL special teams coordinator Ted Daisher, and several prominent European NFL alumni have signed on board, including the NFL’s all-time German sack leader Kasim Edebali, International Player Pathway products Anthony Dable, Tigie Sankoh and Christopher Ezeala, as well as CFL Global prospect Anthony Mahoungou.

The league recently signed a broadcast deal with major German NFL broadcaster ranSport. The latest information on the new league can be found at American Football International.

More high profile announcements are expected, but Paopao’s addition helps guarantee the high quality of North American coaching the league has promised to players in Barcelona. The pairing of Paopao and Rita is sure to attract curious eyeballs from Canada.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.