First-year University at Albany head coach Greg Gattuso hasn’t felt butterflies for more than nine years — ever since he ended his previous head coaching stint at Duquesne, from 1993 through 2004.
During those nine seasons, Gattuso was an assistant coach at Pittsburgh and an associate head coach and defensive line coach at Maryland. The ultimate responsibility for winning and losing during that time wasn’t his.
Things are a little different now. Gattuso, whose Great Danes open the season against Holy Cross tonight at 6, takes over the head coaching duties from Bob Ford, who guided the team for the last 41 years.
It’s Gattuso’s team now, and the buck stops with him.
“I haven’t been jittery or nervous for a long time. I’m not usually a nervous person,” said Gattuso after Friday’s walk-through practice session at Bob Ford Field. “But I will tell you something. Last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, I was very nervous. I wanted to make sure everything was ready to go for the first game, and I did feel nervous. There was a lull in a couple of practice sessions, and I was a little nervous about our preparation.”
Gattuso said the jitters are gone now.
“The way the guys have practiced lately, I’m just very excited for the season to begin,” he said. “What I’m really hoping for is that the fans come out and be our 12th man. Obviously, if we get a win in our opener, it might help our fan base, but we need them to come out and root for us. If we can get 9,000 fans from our alumni base or just from the Capital Region, it will make it a great atmosphere.”
That being said, Gattuso was getting ready to have a quiet night at home with family and friends.
“I will have a good sleep. I’m already thinking about sitting out on the deck with some friends who are coming in, and we’re going to have some pizza. I’ll be relaxed, and I won’t be thinking about the game,” he said with a laugh. “I think I’ve done everything I can to get this team ready.”
UAlbany was 0-8 in its first season as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, and the Great Danes were just 1-11 overall last year.
Gattuso says the Great Danes should be improved.
“I’m just thinking about Holy Cross right now, but I know we’ve done things the right way getting these guys ready,” he said. “I learned a lot from Dave Wannstedt at Pittsburgh and Randy Edsall at Maryland.”
The Great Danes’ offense will be led by senior quarterback Will Fiacchi, who is third all-time on UAlbany’s career passing list with 4,514 yards. He has completed 395 of 686 passes, including 207-for-372 last year for 2,013 yards and just nine interceptions.
Cole King (37 catches for 436 yards) is his primary receiving option, while the running game will be paced by All-CAA running back Omar Osbourne, who ran for 1,206 yards and scored 12 touchdowns.
Osbourne will get some help from sophomore Andre Martin, junior Presley Beauvais and freshman Elliot Croskey, a Christian Brothers Academy product.
“Elliot is more ready than I thought he would be. He’s a local guy, and that’s a positive. He should get some playing time,” Gattuso said. “We’re not going to redshirt him.”
Sophomore punter Jon Martin, from Delmar, was named to the CFPA Punter Award Watch list after averaging 39.9 yards per punt a year ago.
Linebackers Christian Dorsey and Michael Nicastro, as well as defensive lineman Tim Kologrivov, are other key defenders, along with defensive back TJ Idowu.
Holy Cross, 1-5 in the Patriot League and 3-9 overall last season, is coached by Tom Gilmore. The Crusaders’ offense will be directed by sophomore QB Peter Pujals, the 2013 Patriot League Rookie of the Year who completed 211 of 332 passes for 2,261 yards and 19 scores. Gabe Guild, also a sophomore, ran for 496 yards and five TDs a year ago.