UD football and the business of winning now

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Good afternoon,

This week, we heard a lot of opinions aired in local sports and business circles on the firing of University of Delaware football coach Danny Rocco.

Rocco navigated the team through the Covid-19 pandemic and guided the Blue Hens to winning the Colonial Athletic Association title in a one-of-a-kind spring season. 

The momentum did not continue into fall, with the  Hens ending up on a losing note and a newly renovated stadium with empty seats.

It was widely agreed that Rocco had recruited players with character, which had been lacking in the past. But getting blue-chip prospects, notably quarterbacks,  to Newark was not his strong suit.

Athletics are not a cash cow for most colleges and universities, and UD is no exception.  Getting well-heeled fans and business sponsors to write big checks is a priority.

It did not help that the Hens had fallen to rivals Villanova, James Madison, a Virginia university clearly on the rise,  not to mention  Stony Brook, UD President Dennis Assanis’ previous stop.

Alumni and business support has centered on other academic areas for a university that has been moving into the upper tier of state institutions.

Meanwhile, the long-time season ticket fanbase is aging and did not take kindly to policies aimed at increasing revenue. Filling the stands with students is not an option since football tends to be down on the list of reasons to come to the Newark campus, especially when the chilly winds come in November. 

Pressure has been building on  Athletic Director Chrissi Rawak to turn the page rather than give Rocco a one-year reprieve.  

Rawak is not alone in feeling the heat. Pressure to win now is everywhere, with several big-time programs filling coaching vacancies with breathtaking pay packages.

A new UD coach will take home a nice paycheck but won’t get those AFLAC commercials that go to Alabama coach Nick Saban.

Speculation on Rocco’s successor sometimes centers on the University of Michigan, Rawak’s alma mater.

News Journal sports reporter Kevin Tresolini continues to throw out the possibility of former football coach KC Keeler returning after he was shown the door in 2014 under a former athletic director and president.

At the time of his firing,  Keeler was coming off a bad season, and internal criticism was that he wasn’t a team player in a UD athletic world that had been flying high during the Elaine Delle Donne basketball era.

Never mind that Keeler had won a national title and recruited Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco.

That slice of history will give any successor to Rocco pause. – Doug Rainey

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