Danny Rocco hopes to bring back Delaware's glory days

By Dave Johnson

It was Danny Rocco's sixth media day appearance as a Colonial Athletic Association football coach. But this time, the spider pin on his lapel had been replaced with a blue hen.

Following an unusually public exit from Richmond last December, Rocco is now the head coach at Delaware. He chatted with Spider quarterback Kyle Lauletta and cornerback Tafon Mainsah for the first time since leaving. He greeted his successor, former Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman.

The last time a head coach left one CAA football program for another was in 2004. But for Rocco, the experience wasn't as awkward as you might think.

"What was more difficult for me was going from one team to another in the same state when I left Liberty for Richmond," said Rocco, who coached the Flames from 2006-11. "That was harder because of geography. That created more unusual circumstances and uncomfortable moments.

"But this is a great league. I am highly excited about my tenure in this league. So in my mind, if I was going to take another job that is an FCS job, why would I leave this conference?"

Rocco didn't shy away from making it clear why he was leaving Richmond. The week of the Spiders' second-round playoff game at North Dakota, Rocco told the Times-Dispatch he questioned the school's "vision" and would explore his options once the season ended.

On Dec. 13, three days after UR's 38-0 loss at Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals, Rocco was announced as the Blue Hens' head coach.

Yes, Richmond's program is on more solid footing than Delaware's, but Rocco's decision went beyond that. Delaware is a public school with an enrollment of 18,000 and a stadium that seats 22,000. Richmond, a private, has 4,000 students and an 8,700-seat facility.

Last month, a new AstroTurf surface was installed at Delaware Stadium. Two years earlier, the practice field was also replaced.

"There's more of an athletic presence on the campus — facilities," Rocco said. "I think with recruiting, in today's game, you have to be thinking forward in terms of facility enhancement and upgrades. There are some things that are present at Delaware that are very good for a coach to have.

"I see extraordinary support, and that starts with the administration. I recognize a really legitimate plan in place to help move the program forward. And I recognize the extraordinary enthusiasm from our fan base and alumni. They have very high hopes and expectations."

In other words, they remember the good old days. The Blue Hens have won six national championships at various levels, the most recent coming in 2003 in Division I-AA. UD was the national runner-up in 2007 (with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco) and '10.

But over the past five seasons, Delaware has gone 26-31. Home attendance has declined from an average of 18,542 in 2012 to 16,478 last season.

The hiring of Rocco, who has never had a losing season in his 11-year career, brings instant credibility. With him have come six full-time assistants from Richmond, including defensive coordinator Chris Cosh.

"We were very excited with Coach Rocco's track record and how successful he's been as a head coach," Delaware center Brody Kern said. "There was nothing but excitement from all the guys on the team.

"When we found out the staff he was bringing in, we got off to a fast start. And, definitely, the attitude changed in our locker room."

Delaware, picked fifth in the CAA preseason poll, lost only three full-time starters from 2016. Six returning players made one of the three All-CAA teams last season, including Kern and linebacker Charles Bell.

Rocco wants to bring what he established at Richmond to Newark. That includes a strong running game that sets up the play-action pass on offense and an aggressive 3-4 base on defense.

"There's going to be a lot more consistencies than differences in terms of what we're going do," he said. "As we build the program, we'll be able to recruit guys to do things more specifically to what our core offense and defense is.

"I really think we could put together an outstanding product that will allow us to not only have success but maintain success. And that's the hardest thing to do in athletics. I'm kind of beginning with the end in mind as I take on this challenge."

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