Led by ‘relentless’ Rawak, Rocco returns home

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Teddy Gelman/THE REVIEW
After being announced as Delaware football head coach, Danny Rocco (left) joins in the UD Fight Song, along with Athletic Director Chrissi Rawak and University President Dennis Assanis.

BY
MANAGING SPORTS EDITOR

As University of Delaware President Dennis Assanis and Athletic Director Chrissi Rawak delivered remarks to the couple hundred people inside the Bob Carpenter Center auditorium, newly hired football coach Danny Rocco, sitting quietly and expressionless in the front of the room, fought back tears.

The 56-year old was formally introduced as Delaware football coach Wednesday afternoon. Rocco makes the move to Delaware from CAA rival Richmond after five years as Spiders head coach.

“I was treated very well at Richmond,” Rocco said. “I was embraced by the community and the fans and the alumni. I was supported by our administration and our athletic director. That was one of the more special timelines in my life, personally and professionally. We were able to put that program back on track and towards the top.”

Rocco became an attractive option for numerous schools with vacant head coaching positions throughout the last few months yet he couldn’t engage in discussions until after Richmond’s season ended. The spiders lost in the FCS quarterfinals Saturday and Rocco said that he and Rawak came to an agreement about 24 hours later. The move was not announced publicly by the University until Tuesday afternoon.

After tallying three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and back-to-back ten win seasons with Richmond, Rocco felt that in some ways he took Richmond ‘as far as maybe I thought I could take it’. His contract with the school was scheduled to last through the 2017 season.

“I feel more like this is home to me and it’s kind of maybe a little hard to understand why I feel that way,” said Rocco in referring to Delaware. “But three hours from my mom and dad in State College, we’ve got family in Philadelphia. I kind of grew up in this part of the country. I grew up with an unbelievable admiration for Delaware football.”

Born in Huntingdon, Pa., Rocco earned two varsity letters for Joe Paterno’s Penn State Nittany Lions before transferring to Wake Forest for three seasons. His coaching career began immediately after graduation, when he acted as a Wake Forest assistant for three years. Between 1987 and 2006, Rocco served in assistant coaching roles with seven college teams, along with a brief stint with the New York Jets.

He has since been a head coach for 11 seasons: six with Liberty and five with Richmond, building both programs into consistent contenders and receiving four conference coach of the year awards.

Wednesday afternoon, as he stood in front of a Delaware football fan base starving for success, Rocco referenced a 2013 game in which the Spiders outlasted the Hens, 46-43, at Delaware stadium. He remembers walking around the stadium before the game, looking up to the six national championship banners.

“I walked around campus and I looked at the culture, I looked in the parking lot, I saw the tailgating, I saw the band, I saw the energy in the stadium, the students, the alumni, and I said that’s what I want,” Rocco emphatically exclaimed.

At the same time, the man that Rawak referred to as a “man of principle, a man of integrity” had a tough time walking away from a Richmond program that he transformed into a CAA powerhouse.

“The hardest thing for me guys right now, maybe why I am a little emotional, is because I just left a bunch of kids that I love. I just left a bunch of kids that I love to be here to be with you,” Rocco said.

He referred to Rawak as ‘relentless’ and praised her ability to listen and offer an appropriate vision for Delaware football. The first-year athletic director, who’s been flung into a flurry of departmental drama in her first seven months in the position, has now found replacements for the men’s basketball, men’s tennis and football openings, while firing former football coach Dave Brock and two volleyball coaches.

“It was a very intentional, very deliberate, very thoughtful process,” Rawak said. “We had unbelievable interest, not surprising, it just reinforced how special this place is and how special this program is. As we went through each step in this process, it became so clear to us that Danny Rocco was the right man for Delaware, not just for the job, but for Delaware.”

Rocco inherits a program that graduates only 14 seniors and will return all but three offensive and defensive starters. One of his first orders of business after selecting his coaching staff will be to scrutinize the quarterback position –– a position in which Delaware produced an average of only 97.2 passing yards per game this season, last in the CAA. This season Richmond average a conference-best 271.5 passing yards per game.

On Wednesday he began to detail a three phase action plan for his new team, the first of which consists of ‘focusing in on the recruiting cycle and the staff evaluations and interviews’. Rocco plans to interview every coach on Delaware’s 2016 staff and will communicate with other coaches, including some of those who were on his Richmond staff. He says it is his goal to have this step complete ‘before the Christmas Break’.

“It’s really impressive to be able to do what he’s done in the league and especially be able to come right in and do what he did,” junior linebacker Troy Reeder said. “He’s proven he can do it right away, he’s obviously got a system to what he does which is very important and guys are thirsty to learn and hungry to win.”

Rawak hopes that Rocco, with a 90-42 record as head coach without ever suffering a losing season, is poised to return Delaware football to its rich history. For a team desperate for success, they just may have the guy they’ve been looking for to get them there.

“I’ve got a real, clear vision and purpose for why I’m here,” Rocco said. “I’m here to help return Delaware football to a level of national prominence and put our brand back on the national stage.”

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