VALPARAISO | Despite being linked to numerous head coaching positions over the last several years, Lehigh offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini could never bring himself to leave his alma mater.
So what was it about a one-win football team that made Cecchini finally make the jump after Valparaiso director of athletics Mark LaBarbera approached him with a job offer?
“I think this is an unbelievable opportunity,” Cecchini said during a welcome reception on Wednesday morning. “People might talk about this being a one-win program, but I chose not to look at it that way. I look at the potential. I look at the willingness of the administration to do what’s necessary to turn this into a winning program.”
Cecchini was introduced as the 17th coach in program history before a packed crowd at Kroencke Hall on Wednesday. Cecchini graduated from Lehigh in 1995 and has spent 13 of the last 19 years coaching the Mountain Hawks, including the last four as offensive coordinator. Cecchini also had stops at The Citadel and Harvard where he served in the same position.
“There are a lot of similarities between Lehigh and Valparaiso,” Cecchini said. “Two very high academic institutions and similarities right down to the school colors, which aren’t the most popular. It just seemed to make sense.
"The biggest thing I wanted to see before taking the offer was I wanted to make sure that there was a commitment here, that this was a place where football was important and that people wanted to win football games.”
Cecchini represents the third football coach hired by LaBarbera in the last nine years. LaBarbera hired Stacy Adams to replace Tom Horne just weeks before the start of the 2005 season and then hired Dale Carlson in January of 2010. LaBarbera took a different approach in finding Cecchini than he did with his previous hires.
“We went out and recruited people,” LaBarbera said. “We didn’t just sit back and wait for them to come to us. We looked at programs in leagues that were similar to us and looked for people that were successful on those staffs. That’s where we started the recruiting process.”
LaBarbera illustrated that his top priority was that Valparaiso’s next football coach come from a Division I background. Adding some icing on the cake was that Cecchini has spent much of his coaching career at non-scholarship programs and understands what it takes to recruit that level of athlete.
While Cecchini brings an East Coast coaching resume to Valparaiso, he has a Midwest background. His father, Tom, was an All-Big Ten linebacker at Michigan before several coaching stops at Xavier, Iowa and with the Minnesota Vikings. Cecchini lived in Ohio, Iowa and Minnesota before moving to Pennsylvania for college.
Cecchini met with his new team Tuesday night and is planning on a series of individual meetings with the players as well as a meeting with the current coaching staff over the next several days. The first-year coach spoke with confidence and excitement when talking about his new position, and he didn’t have any trouble laying out several of his goals.
“Our No. 1 goal is to win the Pioneer Football League,” he said. "No. 2 right behind that is to beat Butler.”