JIM PETERS: VU gets the right fit with football hiring of Cecchini

2013-12-11T17:00:00Z 2013-12-12T02:11:06Z JIM PETERS: VU gets the right fit with football hiring of CecchiniJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
December 11, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

VALPARAISO | Press conferences to announce new coaches are standard fare.

Smiles, handshakes, high hopes and nice talk.

Wednesday morning's introduction of Dave Cecchini as the next Valparaiso University football coach at Kroenke Hall was no different, the moribund state of the program not withstanding.

Optimism comes with the circumstances, but often yields to the reality of the situation. Here's one simple reason why VU's fortunes could, finally, be changing for the better: Cecchini is the right fit.

"It was critical to us that there was no learning curve on recruiting," Valpo athletic director Mark LaBarbera said. "We needed somebody who could get it up and running right away."

That meant hiring a coach with a successful background at the FCS I-AA level, someone who can walk into a recruit's living room with a pitch that does not include thousands of scholarship dollars.

"It's what Dave had to do," LaBarbera said. "All his recruiting was done with aid packages. There's no question he's the man for Valparaiso football at this point in time."

It's a challenge, especially at a school that carries an annual bill in the range of $40,000, but it can be done. Cecchini is an example of both, as a player who starred at Lehigh and as an assistant coach who was able to draw players to Harvard and Lehigh without scholarship enticement.

"There are a lot of similarities between (Valpo and Lehigh)," Cecchini said.

Football success has not been one of them. Lehigh wins on a regular basis; Valpo, well, you know. But a smart, highly-regarded guy like Cecchini wouldn't choose VU as the place to start his head coaching career if he thought he was going to get buried every Saturday.

"I wanted it to be the right opportunity, and Valparaiso is an unbelievable opportunity," Cecchini said. "Some people might look at it and think, 'How can you say that?' I say why not. I believe it with all my heart. It's a very special place. I see all the pieces here. We just have to put it together. It's my job to get it pointed in the right direction. I'm so excited, I can hardly contain myself."

Cecchini sees passion in the eyes of the players, a group that, by most accounts, showed little quit under some pretty hopeless circumstances. More importantly, at least at this point, he saw it in the eyes and heard it in the words of university administration that football really does matter at the school.

"I had to make sure the commitment was in place, that football was important to the community, the university, the student body, that they wanted to win football games and are willing to do what it takes to win football games," Cecchini said. "You have to have the type of culture where you're all on the same page."

You don't need to be a sleuth to know a huge part of that affirmation is a drastic upgrade in facilities that pale in comparison to many high schools. Cecchini is confident he can help generate funds to make that happen, assemble a staff that knows what it takes to succeed at VU and recruit players, both locally and nationally, who can raise the level of competition.

"It won't be easy. It'll take a while," Cecchini said. "But I see great potential."

LaBarbera does, too, believing Valpo should've been better the last couple years, and the Crusaders are not as far away as the 60-point losses would suggest.

"We just needed the person with the right vision and skill set to put it together the right way," he said.

I think he did, and if Valpo has to replace Cecchini within the next decade, it will be because of what he's done, not what he wasn't able to do.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com.

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