Rockland athletic director Gary Graziano said he was impressed with each of the five candidates who were interviewed to become the school's varsity football coach, but one thing made Brian Kelliher stand out.
“He talked about watching Rockland's Super Bowl game in 1982 [a 14-12 loss to Dom Savio at Boston University],” Graziano explained. “I think he named six kids and still remembered their numbers.
“They were all really good candidates. It was a tough decision. Brian still bleeds Bulldog blue. He had all the qualifications we were looking for in a young football coach.”
Kelliher, 39, graduated from Rockland in 1990. He played quarterback and split end for the Bulldogs, and then continued his career as a safety as Western New England College. He spent the last four years as Hingham's defensive coordinator.
He will replace Ken Owen, who retired after 29 seasons as Rockland's head coach.
“I didn't know I was going to go for it right away because I have been so happy at Hingham,” Kelliher said. “I talked to a few friends and they told me to put my name in.
“I actually was very content. I loved the staff I was with, but the more I got into it I was like, 'Alright, this might be the one.' If there's one place I'm gonna leave Hingham for it's gonna be Rockland.”
Owen had a 193-106-5 record as Rockland's coach. He guided the Bulldogs to seven playoff berths and five Super Bowl appearances. The Bulldogs won three of those Super Bowls: against Attleboro in 1992, Gloucester in 1998 and Bishop Feehan in 2000.
Owen was Kelliher's coach for each of his three seasons on Rockland's varsity roster.
“He's a good friend, a good mentor,” Kelliher said. “We've spoken once [since Kelliher was hired] and we'll speak again in the near future to go over the groundwork and the lay of the land.”
Kelliher, who lives in Hanover, said Rockland will play a 4-3 defense and will be more varied on offense than recent Rockland teams.
“I still have to evaluate our personnel, but we'll incorporate the power running game principles and mix in some spread,” Kelliher said. “We're going to be a physical team, and we're gonna play with emotion and excitement."
Kelliher met with the Hingham players Wednesday and said he plans to meet with his new team next week. He made it clear he was not looking to leave Hingham for a head coaching job.
“This was the only job that I would have had interest in,” he said. “At some point you gotta leave a comfort zone for a new challenge.”