Meet Danny Rocco: A Q&A with the University of Delaware’s New Head Football Coach
Danny Rocco was destined to be a football coach.
He grew up in a football family. His father, Frank, was a longtime coach at both the high school and college ranks. His two brothers have spent their entire lives as high school coaches.
Coaching is in his blood. It’s part of his DNA.
Now, after 33 years coaching the game he loves - the last 11 as a head coach - Danny Rocco has found a new destination and it has brought him to the University of Delaware.
And what the Blue Hen faithful have quickly found is that this is a man devoted to his student-athletes and the game of football, a man committed to excellence in all phases of life. This is a man who has found nothing but success at every stop along the way, never having had a losing season as a head coach. This is a man whose teams have captured six conference titles and made three straight FCS playoff appearances.
He is a winner. He is a man of integrity. He is a leader. And now he is a Blue Hen.
Rocco inherits a legendary program, one that includes six national championships, three Hall of Fame head coaches, numerous NFL players, and enthusiastic fan support.
But after consecutive losing seasons and a six-year absence from postseason play, a transformation is set to begin at Delaware. That transformation begins with Danny Rocco.
“I have seen and heard the passion that the fans have and the enthusiasm that the alumni have about this program,” said Rocco, whose most recent tenure saw him lead the University of Richmond to three straight NCAA playoff appearances. “We want to return our football program to the national stage and to national prominence. We will do it the right way and we will start working towards that today.”
We had the chance to sit down with Coach Rocco on Dec. 14 when he was introduced as the newest Blue Hen football head coach to find out what motivates this special man and his vision of bringing Delaware Football back to national prominence.
Question: Describe what the last week has been like and your decision to become the next head football coach at the University of Delaware?
Coach Rocco: “It’s been a crazy 48 hours, really. There has been a lot of things going on, a lot on your things to do list when you make a change like this. I spent a lot of time with Chrissi (Delaware AD Chrissi Rawak) in preparation for this transition. I am really excited to be here. This is a fresh start and a new beginning and I am highly-motivated and enthusiastic about getting this thing off to a fast start.
Q: What do you say to someone who asks, Why Delaware?
A: “I was out there on the (Delaware Stadium) field when I brought my Richmond team here in 2013. I can remember walking the field before the game, seeing the six national championship banners, and I just took it all in. I think I knew at that time that I felt this place could really be special again. I am really appreciative of the opportunity to be able to take some leadership here and help Delaware football move forward.”
Q: Describe your recruiting style and the type of student-athletes you want to bring to Delaware?
A: “I think first and foremost we recruit character. We recruit young people who have ambition, young people who want to succeed and achieve as student-athletes and succeed and achieve in life. Those are the kind of people I want to be around. I want goal-oriented, highly-motivated people on my football team. I don’t use the five-star, four-start, three-start models as a way of going about evaluating the personnel we want in our program. If there is one thing we have done a really good job of and done well heading into my 12th year as a head coach is that we have evaluated, recruited, and developed our student-athletes. That has allowed us to be consistently successful. That model needs to continue and it will be one of my first items of business as we get started.”
Q: What excites you the most about the future of Delaware Football?
A: “The biggest thing for me was the vision, the enthusiasm, and the energy that I received when I spoke with President (Dennis) Assanis and Chrissi about the future of not only Delaware football but the entire University of Delaware and the goals that they have set moving forward. History is history. You have rallying points that you can build upon but we are starting anew. We will reference our history as often as we can and recognize the value and the significance of our past but we have to utilize all of those things in forming a team and coming together. This is something no man can do alone. No coach can sit here and say ‘I am going to do this because I know how to do it.’ It is a team effort and we will call upon everyone who has feelings and pride and a connection to the experience of being part of University of Delaware Football. It’s really a special thing. I have seen and heard the passion that the fans have and the enthusiasm that the alumni have about this program. My hope and goal is to return Delaware Football to its place on the national stage. That looks a lot of different ways. I want our student-athletes to have an outstanding experience here academically and I want them to be able to leave here with the skills they need to have, the character development they need to have, and the maturity they need to have to be able to make a significant contribution in society. I want them to have a good career and be good husbands and fathers. But we want to return our football program to the national platform and the national stage. Those are the things we will start working towards right away.”
Q: What will be your first message to the team?
A: “The next opportunity to sit in front of the team will be in January after the holidays during the winter session. That will certainly be a very meaningful opportunity for me to be able to engage with them and begin the process of building trust, begin the process of setting the standards and expectations, and then begin the process of communication. Those are very important when building a program.”
Q: What are your immediate plans and what challenges do you expect to face?
A: “I have a very scripted three-phase plan that all happens between today and the end of the spring semester and all of it is geared to getting off to a fast start. I have about 22 bullet points that are part of the plan. The most immediate plan is to meet the people, gain an understanding and appreciation for the different roles people have within the program, and assemble my staff. That certainly is the top priority. We then want to focus on the recruiting class, making sure we are bringing the right student-athletes into our program. We can make some real headway in those areas so that when the players do come back we can start focusing on player development, player evaluation, academics, and a number of other things that we want to do in the community and with our alumni and fan base.”
Q: You have taken over programs at Liberty and Richmond that struggled before you arrived and then found success in your first season. To what do you attribute that immediate success?
A: “The first thing that has to be understood is that there is no formula. Every situation is different. When I took my first head coaching job at Liberty University they were coming off a 1-10 season and had lost 10 consecutive games. They had no history of success. So even though I was a first-year head coach, I went in there with the understanding that they were hungry to win and they would gravitate to me. I didn’t have to meet them halfway if you will. They quickly responded to anything and everything we asked them to do. They were hungry and they wanted to be successful. When I went to the University of Richmond, they were coming off an 0-8 season in the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) in 2011. But it was a different makeup of player and student-athlete. The older players had experienced some success and had realized the thrill of a national championship season. They were recruited to that so it was a little different dynamic. I was more open to offering communication and dialogue and I made sure I was addressing the things that needed to be addressed so that I could adjust my model accordingly. My first year there we flipped it and went 8-3 and won a share of the CAA Championship. As I begin here I have a good feeling about how I want to move forward. I believe that if you are not growing you are dying. I am a firm believer in constant and continual improvement. I came into the CAA five years ago because I wanted to be a better coach. I am motivated to get better. This is another opportunity and another challenge and offers me the platform to get better. Hopefully what I have learned over the last 33 years in coaching - the last 11 as a head coach - will give me good direction. As I move forward here, I want to communicate with our players and get a sense of what they need and build unity.”
Q: Describe the importance of education and community service among your student-athletes?
A: “I think that is why we are here. They are student-athletes and they are college students. The most important part of this time in their lives is their academic success. There is a reality though that the football piece, the success, makes the student-athlete experience all that much better. Getting a great degree and a great education from the University of Delaware can do an awful lot for these young student-athletes. But the experience is all that much better when they have success on the field. These young men are competitors and I want to see them compete in the classroom, I want to see them compete in the weight room, I want to see them compete for grades, I want to see them compete in practice, and ultimately I want to see them compete in the games on Saturday afternoon. All those things go hand-in-hand. I don’t think you can be a great football player and an awful student. I don’t think that model works. To be great you have to be willing to push yourself in all areas of your life. And then the social and community piece is a huge, huge part of what we have been about here and what we need to continue to be.”
Q: You come from a football family. Did you always want to be a football coach and what motivates you to lead young people?
A: “I had the privilege of playing high school football for my Dad. My brother Frank, who is a year older than me, ever since we were yea high, 5 or 6, we were going off with my Dad’s high school team to camps. We were doing anything and everything associated with the game of football and we just loved it. As we got into the high school ranks I had the chance to play for my Dad. What I learned many years later was that my Dad had mentored so many young people. In real time, as a 17 year-old kid, you don’t really recognize that. He was my Dad so he was obviously mentoring me. He was allowing me the opportunity to grow and experience things and was instilling values. I had never really translated that to my teammates until years later when I reconnected and they shared those stories and the reality of the impact that my Dad had in their lives. For me, that is why I do what I do. Now we are all competitive and that is where the winning sometimes gets in the way, but we are in this to mentor young people. We are in this to be role models. It’s hard out there and a lot harder now than when I was growing up. These young people today have so many different things to grab their attention and take their focus away from the things they need to be focused on. So we have to have coaches, teachers, educators, and mentors to offer the right direction, the right voice, and the right message. I think that is a big part of what we got from my father. My brother, Frank, has been a lifetime coach, my brother, Dave, has been a lifetime coach, and I think we are doing that for the right reasons.”
Q: Tell us about your family?
A: “In our first 12 years of marriage, Julie and I lived in eight different states. We were all over the place. Oddly enough, the last 16 years we have spent in Virginia. We had five years at Virginia under coach Al Groh, six years at Liberty University, and five years at the University of Richmond. Julie grew up as an Army brat and her father was West Point. She was born in Germany and they moved quite frequently around the country so she was quick to adjust. Our son, David, is following in his father’s footsteps and is currently the wide receivers coach at Western Illinois working for Charlie Fisher, who was on my staff at Richmond. Our daughter, Amy, is a UVA grad and is working at Liberty University in the marketing department. We remain very close and very supportive. Saturday’s at our place can be very eventful.”
Q: What do you like to do when you are not coaching?
A: “I don’t have any real hobbies. Julie and I have a St. Bernard, Max, who we are very affectionate with. We like to take Max out and go for walks and we like to travel and do things like that. But I don’t have any hobbies outside of football and family.”
Q: What would you like your legacy at Delaware to be?
A: “I’d like for my legacy to be that he returned Delaware Football to a place of national prominence and helped grow the culture in a way that everybody in the community was proud of and appreciated the level of commitment that our student-athletes are making towards their education, towards the University, and to the community. I think that is a big part of it. It’s hard to separate the winning since that is very real. But you have to recognized the importance of building a healthy culture and sustaining that culture. You need a culture where young people have the opportunity to grow and develop, respond to challenges, be supported, and be encourages. I think that is a nice legacy to have for anybody, anywhere, and I am very focused, purposeful, and conscientious moving forward.”
Q: What is your message to those who love Delaware Football?
A: “My most specific message would be that this is a team effort. We need everybody. We as coaches, staff, and student-athletes cannot do it alone. We need that fan base, that alumni base, the student body. We all need to rally and unite and breathe back some life into the hopes and dreams, not only into our student-athletes but into all Blue Hens. One of the most exciting things about Saturday afternoons in the fall is when the student-athletes run on to the field through the tunnel and see all the students at the game and the energy, enthusiasm, and support that brings to the athletics program. When I was here a few years ago, that was one of the things that really drew my attention. It needs to continue to grow and build and become part of who we are and part of our culture. I will do anything and everything I can to help connect the students to our program and to all of the programs here at Delaware. We need them to be loud and up front. I look forward to meeting them.”