If nothing else, he looks the part. His name even sounds the part — let’s face it, you don’t want to mess with somebody with a name like Danny Rocco. It’s the perfect name for a bare-knuckles fighter or loan-shark enforcer – or a football coach.
On Tuesday, Rocco became just the sixth football coach at the University of Delaware in the last 76 years, when the Blue Hens formally announced his hiring to replace Dave Brock, who was fired midway through the 2016 season.
Rocco has something his predecessor did not have – experience and success as a head coach. There are thousands of good assistants who don’t make good head coaches and Brock was one of them. But Rocco has already shown that he knows how to be the leader of a big organization like a college football team, which has as many as 15 assistants and 100 players and dozens of support personnel. He knows what it’s like to be on the hot seat when things don’t go well, and he knows how to deal with the media and fans.
Like most football coaches, Rocco has had jobs all over the country and at every level. That varied and valuable experience includes working as an assistant at big-time schools like Colorado and Texas (back when the Longhorns were good), and he even spent a year in the NFL, when he was an assistant linebackers and special teams coach with the New York Jets in 2000.
And, at the Division I-AA (FCS) level, he’s proven he knows how to recruit, and he knows how to win. That’s what he did at Liberty and at Richmond, where his team won 20 games the last two seasons and went to the playoffs the last three seasons. That’s just one fewer victory than Brock won in his four years at UD and, of course, three more playoff berths. In fact, Rocco has never had a losing season as a head coach. This past season, Richmond finished ranked 12th in the nation and won two playoff games before losing at No.3 Eastern Washington in the NCAA quarterfinals.
“During our search we wanted to find someone who had demonstrated outstanding success not only on the field but in building young men as leaders, citizens, and achievers,” Delaware athletic director Chrissi Rawak said in a statement. “In Coach Rocco we found the perfect fit and someone who is committed to excellence in every area. We are excited to see the direction he takes us under his leadership. His impact will be felt immediately.”
That starts with washing the taste of the last four years out of the mouths of the Blue Hens and their faithful fans. And we have a feeling the Delaware fans will applaud the hiring of Rocco. Those loyal fans, who have supported this team for decades, felt pushed aside by the previous administration or, even worse, they felt like they were simply a source of additional revenue. That wasn’t Brock’s fault – he’s a nice guy who did his best to connect with the UD fans – but he bore the brunt of the criticism for it.
That’s why those fans will embrace this new coach and why they’ll trust the administration’s decision more. There isn’t the sense of nepotism that existed between Brock and former AD Eric Ziady when Brock was hired – the two had worked together at Boston College and that cronyism was always looked at suspiciously by Delaware supporters.
No nepotism here. We don’t know if Danny Rocco was the best candidate available or if he will be able to restore Delaware football to national glory. But he certainly has the credentials and the resume. And, of course, the name.
Photo courtesy University of Richmond Athletics