Danny Rocco introduced his first recruiting class on Wednesday, and that was really the first day of the rest of his life as football coach at the University of Delaware.
Recruiting is the most important aspect of being a college coach of any sport. Sure, Xs and Os are important, as are leadership and teamwork and organization and working hard. But all of that is meaningless if the team you’re playing on Saturday also has leadership, etc., but also has superior athletes.
Recruiting is where Rocco’s predecessor, Dave Brock, fell short. Brock brought some good players to Newark, but no game-changers. Inconsistent recruiting did in former Delaware basketball coach Monte Ross as well, and it’s also the area where Rocco will be tested the most.
But Rocco already has one advantage over those other coaches – he has actually done this before, whereas Brock and Ross were first-time head coaches when they came to Delaware. Rocco was a head coach, and a successful one, for 11 years at Liberty and Richmond, and even though his teams at Richmond never reached the top, they came pretty close a couple of times. And with Delaware’s advantages in location and tradition, he should be able to move closer to that ultimate goal of a national championship or, at the very least, a playoff berth and national ranking and recognition.
It will also be interesting to see how active Rocco will be in the pursuit of transfers, which was a big part of K.C. Keeler’s success before he was fired and replaced by Brock. Of course, a coach can’t actively recruit or entice a player from another team, but a Division I player can transfer to Division I-AA without having to sit out a year, and those unhappy Division I players know which Division I-AA players are open to taking transfers and they also want to know where they can succeed.
Nobody did that better than Keeler, whose good Delaware teams were made great by transfer quarterbacks Andy Hall, Joe Flacco and Pat Devlin. A lot of old-time, die-hard Delaware fans don’t like hiring Hessians, but this is a different era and if a I-AA coach can land an unhappy Division I player – and there’s a good chance that player never even considered Delaware when he came out of high school – he would be foolish not to do so.
As for the players Rocco has recruited so far, well, nobody knows if they’ll succeed at Delaware or not. It’s an impressive group on paper, but they always are on paper.
Actually, nobody uses paper anymore and Delaware didn’t on Wednesday – the Blue Hens introduced their 2017 recruits on Twitter. One by one the names were unveiled, starting with the line of scrimmage. The first name announced was Shane Hogarth, a defensive lineman from Downingtown, Pa., followed by Carter Lynch, a 310-pound offensive lineman from Mount Laurel, N.J. Then it was time for a skill player, wide receiver Thyrick Pitts from Manassa, Va. And then another theatric touch as the first in-state recruit was officially announced – quarterback Nolan Henderson of two-time state champion Smyrna High.
When all the names were announced, 14 young men had committed to playing for the Blue Hens and their new coach, and the class of 2017 will be the foundation of what follows – good, bad or .500.
That, of course, won’t be known for a year or two, and it would be unfair to judge Rocco solely on his first recruiting class because he got a late start after being hired by Delaware on Dec. 14. At the same time, he’s been recruiting in Colonial Athletic Association circles for a long time and he still has those connections, so it’s not like he had to start from scratch.
Nobody expects Rocco to turn things around completely in Year 1, but everybody expects to see progress. The first step was taken on Wednesday, and eventually we’ll find out whether that step was forward or backward.