Friday, August 23, 2013
Coaching change a way of life for DeCicco
By Michael Rothstein
His phone showed a text message informing him of a team meeting. Brock DeCicco called his father. He understood what this meant. It was happening again.
Two team meetings so close together meant one thing at Wisconsin last season. His coach, Bret Bielema, was leaving for somewhere -- in this case, Arkansas.
Wisconsin tight end Brock DeCicco, who transferred from Pitt, knows all too well how it feels to have a head coach leave for another school.
Including interim head coaches, DeCicco has had seven head coaches in four-and-a-half years during his time at Pittsburgh and Wisconsin. Add in coordinators and position coaches and he has lost count of the adults who have attempted to mentor him before either being fired or leaving on their own volition.
This is why his high school coach, Bill Cherpak, has jokingly called him “coach killer.”
“I never would have guessed that,” DeCicco said. “It’s just kind of how college football is. Coaches move back and forth all the time so you kind of just get used to it. There’s probably not many guys at schools that start off with the same coach and end with the same coach.”
Hardly any player has rolled through coaches like DeCicco, now a fifth-year senior who might see his first significant time this fall since his redshirt freshman season at Pitt. Back then, his coach was Dave Wannstedt, who recruited DeCicco and also coached his older brother, Dom.
Since Wannstedt’s firing after his redshirt freshman season, his head coaches have been Phil Bennett (one game), Michael Haywood (zero games), Todd Graham (zero games), Bret Bielema (transfer season and 2012 season), Barry Alvarez (one game) and now Gary Andersen (zero games and counting).
The toughest breakup was the first. He was naive then. He didn’t expect Wannstedt, who his family had known for a while, to be fired. He thought he would play his entire career for Wannstedt. In retrospect, he says he learned so much from Wannstedt, Bennett and the rest of that first staff he played for.
As each successive separation happened, DeCicco became desensitized to it. After he said Graham and his coaching staff told him he’d play H-Back in an offense which didn’t utilize a tight end much, he became concerned in spring practice. He departed soon after the start of fall camp in 2011.
“He was like, ‘I gotta go. I have to get out of here,' " said Dominic DeCicco, Brock’s father. “He knew if he was going to have any success in football, I need to leave.”
Depending who you ask, DeCicco’s feelings about this varied. He liked his teammates at Pitt, but the coaching staff and scheme didn’t fit him. Cherpak said the Pitt staff under Graham had lost DeCicco in part due to the position switch and what was told to him after. For a player whom all involved said might not have succeeded had he started somewhere far from home instead of Pittsburgh a half hour away, belief in a staff at that point was huge.
“Once they lost Brock’s trust, he was gone,” Cherpak said. “At that point, he didn’t have anywhere to go. He was home for a week-and-a-half.”
Enter Wisconsin. The Badgers recruited him in high school. He went on a visit and loved it, and got along well with the offensive coordinator, Paul Chryst, and the tight ends coach, Joe Rudolph.
He went as a walk-on after the Badgers could not offer him a scholarship right away. In 2012, he earned a one-year scholarship. This past season, he re-earned it for his fifth year. He believed in the Wisconsin staff.
DeCicco didn’t expect to go through all the switching. Again. This time with some irony involved. After his transfer year in 2011, Graham bolted. Pitt needed a coach and hired Chryst. He took Rudolph with him to be his offensive coordinator.
By then, all DeCicco could do was laugh.
“After (Chryst) took the job and then he started taking the assistants, it was like it was never going to end,” Cherpak said. “It didn’t upset him. More like, ‘What’s next?' "
What’s next was playing in every game last season and now finally having the chance to impact a team again as a redshirt senior. The last time he caught a pass was 2010, a 13-yard touchdown catch against Kentucky in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
It’s been a journey he never could have expected since then, but one which he doesn’t regret. One which has made him grow more than he ever thought he would.
“I always tried to look at it as a positive,” DeCicco said. “I’ve had a bunch of different offenses I’ve run through. Learned a bunch of different offenses and styles of how coaches teach.”
It’s just the coaches don’t stick around, which heads back to Bielema, the text message and a laugh with his father. Four years ago, DeCicco would have been traumatized by a coach departing. Let alone two.
Now he can call his father, predict what is happening next and console confused teammates. It isn’t about a coach anymore for DeCicco. It’s about himself. His teammates. And whatever happens next is all good with him.
Really, there was no way DeCicco’s college career would conclude without one more somewhat unplanned twist.
On Sept. 14, he and the Badgers head to Arizona State. Its coach -- Todd Graham.
“If you told me back when he signed his letter of intent that this was the journey he would have taken,” Dominic DeCicco said. “I would have had a better chance of winning the lottery than that happening.
“It’s so bizarre, so many twists and turns to it. It was incredible.”