After a host of coaching stops, what brought Danny Rocco to VMI and, at 65, why now?
Rocco, who was introduced last week in the press box atop Foster Stadium, most recently was an analyst on the staff at Penn State after head-coaching stints at Liberty, Richmond and Delaware.
He played at Penn State and Wake Forest and later was an assistant coach at Wake Forest, Tulsa, Boston College, Texas, Maryland and Virginia.
“Not many guys get to be the head coach at four places,” said Al Groh, who was the head coach at Wake Forest when Rocco played for the Deacons from 1981-83 and later had Rocco on his UVa staff. “It’s a tough job [at VMI] but Danny will have a good plan.”
Rocco is no stranger to the state of Virginia, having served as the head coach at Liberty from 2006-2011. He was a three-time Big South coach of the year and twice was the Colonial Athletic Association coach of the year.
“We’re excited to be back in the state of Virginia,” Rocco said. “In our first 12 years of marriage, we lived in eight states as I kind of went on a tour of duty in the profession. We spent 16 years consecutively in the state of Virginia.”
His brother, Frank, is the athletic director and football coach at Lynchburg Christian Academy.
Rocco was on the staff at UVa from 2001-2005 and replaces Scott Wachenheim, who was an assistant at UVa from 2010-2014 before beginning his VMI tenure in 2015.
Wachenheim announced Nov. 22 that he was stepping down after eight seasons.
“As most people know, coach Wachenheim and I are close friends,” Rocco said at his introduction. “Wach and I worked together at Liberty University, so I spoke to Wach frequently during the last five or six years.
“There’s just a lot of things to like about this institution, about playing in the Southern Conference and about being back in this part of the country and this part of the state. I’ve invested 16 years of my career here in the state of Virginia.
“I remember my first opportunity at the University of Virginia. I was the recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach for Al Groh. And the first thing they did was send me down to southwest Virginia to recruit.”
After taking Delaware to the FCS playoffs and a 7-1 record in 2020, Rocco found himself out of a job after a 5-6 season in 2021.
“I really don’t want to look back too far but the circumstances were extraordinarily unique,” Rocco said. “When people use the word ‘unprecedented,’ that means it’s never happened before.
“We went through an unprecedented season where we played eight football games in the spring and we had to come back 2 1/2 months later to play a full season. Our roster was incapable of making that transition.
“All those guys that usually have those three- or four-month surgeries in the offseason … they were unable to play.”
Rocco wasn’t away from the game for long.
“I was extraordinarily blessed and fortunate to spend this past season up at Penn State,” he said of his term. “James Franklin [Penn State’s head coach] welcomed me with open arms and treated me with amazing respect.
“What I did this year allowed me to get better, to take deeper dives into certain things that I hadn’t been doing as a head coach. At the end of the day, what I do best is function as a football coach. I didn’t say that I’m good. I just say, that’s what I do best.”
“Deep down, I knew I had to get back into a head football coach position because I think that’s what I can make the greatest impact. I think I helped the coaches. I had a good role but I wasn’t as present for the player and that’s why I do what I do.”
He didn’t lack for motivation Thursday at his introduction to the media.
“I’ve never worked at an institution like this,” he concluded. “I’ve never worked in an environment quite like this and I was attracted to this when I was young, coming out of high school.
“There are things that I’m extremely excited about and the pitfalls are the pitfalls. I’m going to navigate them the best way I can and bring it energy and a positive attitude and a work ethic that allows us to build success and then sustain success.”
The football roster available on the VMI roster included 72 players from Virginia, showing that VMI isn’t at a loss for numbers. More than a dozen come from other states and Washington, D.C.
“Once we get them here, we need to continue to build and develop and that’s something that I feel we’ve done a good job of during the years,” Rocco said. “I think we have a model that is conducive to building and developing our players.”