In Virginia private school football, Rocco has become a well-respected coaching surname. Frank Rocco has turned his Liberty Christian Academy team into one of the state’s top programs.
Now his brother Dave Rocco will get a chance to try and do much the same thing at Covenant as he takes the helm after what’s been a tempestuous stint for the Eagles’ football program, now on its fourth coach in the last four years after a decade of stability with program architect Mark Sanford.
“I spoke with Frank probably every day when this whole process was going on, and he gave me some great ideas,” Rocco said. “With Frank’s knowledge there, helping me evolve into a private school coach I think that’ll be a great opportunity.”
Before Dandridge Payne took control last year, Rich Little, the school’s lacrosse coach, coached the squad for a season. Sanford founded the program and was the head coach until he moved to William Monroe and Little stepped in.
Rocco certainly has the pedigree to change the current course. Besides his brother Frank who’s LCA squad is a VISAA Division I powerhouse, his father was a longtime high school coach in Pennsylvania and worked as an assistant athletic director at Penn State. Dave Rocco played a little at Penn State, as did Frank. Rocco’s nephew Michael Rocco is currently battling with several teammates for the starting quarterback spot at UVa after a storied high school career under Frank Rocco at LCA.
Dave’s other brother Danny, a Wake Forest product, is the head coach at Liberty University, taking over the top job in 2005 after five years as UVa’s associate head coach. Danny has won four straight Big South Conference titles in his resurrection of a program that was 1-10 in 2004.
Dave Rocco, who will serve as assistant athletic director at Covenant too, will need to emulate that turnaround at Covenant, a squad that went 1-9 in 2010. He can draw on his own head coaching experience for ideas about how to get the momentum headed in the right direction. Rocco headed up a moribund Staunton River program, near Smith Mountain Lake south of Bedford. While Staunton River, then stuck in the challenging Seminole District (Amherst, Brookville and E.C. Glass make up the core of a district where every single 2010 member has won at least one state title since 1988), didn’t turn completely around during his tenure, the freshman class in Rocco’s final season just helped spur the squad to a playoff appearance out of the Blue Ridge District. His most recent position was as an assistant coach at Jefferson Forest outside of Lynchburg.
His task of rebuilding Covenant’s football team, who just three years earlier played in the state semifinals, will be eased by a scheduling shift by the Eagles, now in Division III. Covenant’s 2011 slate has a few more evenly matched opponents, with powerhouses like Atlantic Shores off the schedule. But Rocco is hoping to change that trend and add some of those upper echelon squads back to the schedule.
“I want to get to a point where this program is playing those challenging teams, and not just playing them, but winning,” Rocco said.
Rocco’s staff is already falling into place, and one of the more interesting additions is Tandem Friends School athletic director and girls basketball coach Gordon Fields. Fields’ role is still being determined, but the Madison native who played under Eddie Dean has been a youth football coach and should be a positive addition to the staff.
Smethurst takes over girls basketball program
Rocco’s hiring wasn’t the only change at Covenant made public Wednesday. Mike Thornton, who’s put in several years as the head girls basketball coach, stepped down recently.
The move prompted Doug Smethurst, the school’s athletic director and baseball coach, to shift into the head coach position. It completes a refresh of Covenant’s entire athletic department that included the promotion of Travis Johnson, former assistant under Ben D’Alessandro, to the head coach spot for boys basketball when D’Alessandro stepped down last week.