Greg Gattuso didn’t waste any time making bold predictions about his new team.
The man who has won national championships as both a player and a coach said his lofty goals for the University at Albany football program are to win a league championship and eventually a national title.
Pretty amazing stuff, but such was the tone as the 51-year-old Gattuso was introduced as only the second head coach in UAlbany’s 44-year history at Tuesday’s press conference in the SEFCU Arena Hall of Fame Room.
Embracing former head coach Bob Ford’s stamp of approval, Gattuso showed some of the reasons why he was chosen over more than 80 other candidates for what he called a great opportunity.
“I’m very excited to be here,” said Gattuso, who was a member of the 1982 Penn State national championship team as a defensive lineman and also coached Duquesne to the 2003 consensus Division I-AA national title.
“This is an opportunity to replace a legend. I’m not afraid to say that Bob Ford killed me when we played against each other in 2002,” said Gattuso. “Bob Ford and I are cut from the same cloth. One of the many values Bob Ford and I share is integrity. I put my resume in for the job immediately when I found out that Bob was going to retire. I feel like I’m up for the challenge.”
After Gattuso was handed a UAlbany jersey with the No. 1 on it — a jersey that was much too small — he quickly let the crowded room know his goals for the program.
“I believe we can win the national championship,” he said.
Gattuso’s resume is loaded with big-time connections and successes. He compiled a 97-32 record in 12 years at Duquesne, where he became that program’s all-time winningest coach, and he later spent six seasons as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh, where he developed three Big East Defensive Players of the Year and was named the Big East Recruiter of the Year in 2007.
For the last three years, he has been the defensive line coach at Maryland. During his tenure with the Terrapins, he helped develop Christian Brothers Academy graduate Joe Vellano, who is now with the New England Patriots, into an All-American and All-ACC selection.
“I think my BCS experience is a one of my strengths,” Gattuso said. “I learned a lot from Dave Wannstedt at Pittsburgh and Randy Edsall at Maryland.”
Gattuso’s first task will be to complete his nine-man coaching staff. He said he already has many of his selections in mind, but he added that he is going to give the current UAlbany staff a chance to make a pitch for a job.
His next priority is on the recruiting trail.
“We will be in some battles,” he said. “I’m going to find some hidden gems. I’ve been down this road before. That’s one of my strengths, not just going after the guys that everyone else is looking at, but also looking at the film. I know we can recruit here.”
Gattuso said he will cover an area of about 250 miles and saturate it for recruits in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. He also will look for prime athletes in Florida, and in parts of Ohio, where he has several connections.
“We all have fellow coaches we trust, and I have good friends that will help me out in Cincinnati and Dayton,” he said. “We can’t cover everywhere with our resources, but we can lay down a good foundation.”
UAlbany athletic director Lee McElroy said Gattuso quickly rose above the other candidates interviewed by the search committee that was chaired by associate athletic director Rick Coe and included former players like Drew Smith and Will Fiacchi. Others on the committee included head women’s basketball coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, men’s lacrosse coach Scott Marr and associate athletic directors Charlie Voelker and Cara White.
“We wanted our search to be transparent and inclusive,” McElroy said. “We had a national search that included many BCS coaches and NFL assistants. I was overwhelmed with the amount and quality of the candidates. One of the things that made Greg so special is that he had nine years of experience at the BCS level. It will take an incredible amount of work to be competitive in the CAA, but there were about four games that I think we had a chance to win this year. I think the key for us is that we need more depth. The first challenge we had was for Bob Ford to help make this transition seamless, and he has.”
Gattuso, who sat next to Ford during the press conference, kept making references to how much alike the two coaches are and how much they respect each other.
“I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t get Bob’s stamp of approval,” he said.
“We both put a premium on loyalty and hard work. I’m a little younger than Bob, but we are both old school.”
Gattuso said he will bring a very aggressive style to the Great Danes.
“We’ll play fast and aggressive. We’ll attack,” he said. “I think my passing game will be a little more vertical than what it’s been here, but defensively, we want to make the other quarterback unsure.
“We’ve got to play catch-up in order to be successful, and we must recruit. I’m a very competitive person. I don’t believe in average goals. If we win this conference, we will have a chance to win the national championship, because this conference is that good.
“There is a great foundation here,” he said. “Albany has always had a hard-nosed team, and I plan on building on what we already have here..”