By: Sean Begin
In life, lack of success more often than not leads to a change, whether that change is at the individual, personal level or, in the case of Central Connecticut’s head football coach, at the personnel level.
In November, then head football coach Jeff McInerney announced his resignation from the position he held for the last eight years, stepping down following three straight losing seasons that came after back-to-back NEC championships.
On Wednesday, Central announced that they had reached a decision on who would helm the program for the foreseeable future, and officially introduced Pete Rossomando as the new head football coach for the Blue Devils at a press conference on Friday.
“When I got on campus here for my interview and met the people at Central Connecticut, I just knew it was the right place for me,” said Rossomando in his remarks to the gathered crowd of fellow coaches, players, students, alumni and media.
“I just knew these were people I wanted to work with. They were passionate about the university, they were passionate about the athletics program, and for me, most importantly, the football program.”
Rossomando comes to New Britain by way of the University of New Haven, where he led the Division II UNH Chargers to a 42-13 record and two NCAA playoff appearances over the last five seasons.
Arriving in New Haven in 2007, Rossomando took a football program that had just been resurrected from a five year hiatus and turned into a nationally recognized team, ranking as high as No. 3 in the country in 2012.
Rossomando brings with him prior Northeast Conference experience, as well, having worked at the University of Albany for seven years as an assistant coach, winning three NEC championships with the Great Danes in 2002, 2003 and 2007.
“When we embarked on this journey nearly two months ago, I made a mental checklist of the defining characteristics that I thought were critical in determining who would be our next head coach,” said athletic director Paul Schlickmann in his introduction.
“I can honestly say that I believe we checked each and every one of those boxes. He [Rossomando] is the right man to usher in a new era of Central Connecticut football and reestablish the commitment to excellence with which we aspire to.”
According to Schlickmann, Rossomando was chosen from a pool of over 100 candidates, all of which were reviewed by a six member search committee consisting of various members of the athletic and academic communities on campus.
“We’re going to embark on an incredible journey here over the next three months, three years, ten years, whatever it might be,” said Rossomando to the four rows of players who attended his press conference. “You have to be really comfortable with being uncomfortable because that’s how this process is going to be. In building a championship program, you have to be uncomfortable.”
Rossomando met with the team on Wednesday when the school made the decision official, addressing the players for the first time as their new head coach.
“There were a lot of eager eyes even at seven in the morning,” said Rossomando of that meeting. “They were sitting up straight, at attention; they wanted to hear what I had to say and what my vision of the program was and what I needed from them.”
“He’s going to make these guys better every day right out of the chute,” added Schlickmann. “He made a comment when he met with the team the other day that we have to win in everything that we do. He’s going to demand excellence from them.”
While Rossomando isn’t building a program from the ground up like he had at UNH, he does face a unique challenge as he attempts to redirect the culture of the football program to his vision and plan of success.
“There is a culture here that I have to change and some of these guys might be resistant to that,” said Rossomando. “But I think for the most part, they’re eager for change. When I looked around that room I didn’t see one guy with their head down. Everybody’s eyes were on me and they were interested in hearing what I had to say.”
Rossomando is clearly excited for the opportunity to coach at Central Connecticut, an attitude that is already being reflected by those eager student-athletes who are just beginning to form a relationship with the new coach.
“We’re definitely thrilled. It’s a new opportunity,” said junior wide receiver Tyrell Holmes. “He seems like a good guy, like he’ll lead us in the right direction. And hopefully if he does, we’ll be coming out on top of the NEC.”
“We’re definitely excited; it’s a new start. We finally got our coach,” said junior running back Rob Hollomon. “Seems like he pushes the guys and the team in the right way to be successful and that’s something we need.”
Hollomon, who led all of the FCS in all-purpose yards per game this past season, doesn’t seem worried that the jump to Division I will change Rossomando’s winning ways.
“It definitely helps a lot knowing that he has been successful before so he knows what it takes to win. It doesn’t really matter where or at what level he’s had it at, winning is winning,” said Hollomon.
Now that the job has been secured, Rossomando must begin building the coaching staff that he hopes will work with him to guide the team back to the top of the NEC and, as Rossomando hopes, the top of the FCS.
“My immediate goal for this program is going to be to surround this football team with the best football coaches in the FCS. That’s my immediate goal, that’s what we’re working on now. We’re building a staff to make sure that you are going to be prepared for every moment of this process and this journey,” said Rossomando.
Rossomando has already begun searching for the men who will coach with him, some of whom he’s looking to bring to Central from UNH, including his defensive and special teams coordinator for the Chargers.
“I think we’ll be a nice combination of guys I’ve worked with before that aren’t particularly on my staff now and guys that are on my staff now and understand the process,” said Rossomando of what his coaching staff may potentially look like.
Rossomando has also met with the coaches who served under McInerney, spending part of his first two days as head coach interviewing each member of the current staff. While Rossomando didn’t divulge if anyone would be staying, he did make it clear he wants the coaches who will best fit his system.
“There’s going to be a lot of turnover. It’s really just a matter of whether they’re going to fit into what we’re trying to build here, into my philosophy,” said Rossomando. “Some of them could and very well likely wind up on our staff but I can’t make any commitments right now.”
Once the coaching staff is solidified, Rossomando can begin to evaluate the players and determine the strengths and weaknesses of each and how best to fit each player to the schemes he wants to run.
“I’m going to watch all the film. Only because I want to see what kind of talent level we have and who was out of place and position and see if we can move some guys to optimize our talent.”
“We’ll adjust to our personnel,” added Rossomando. “The process, they have to understand, is going to be mine. The schemes and all that stuff we can adjust but to understand what the program is going to be all about, that’s going to come from me and our coaching staff.”
For Rossomando though, figuring out how to build the team for the field is secondary to how he and the coaching staff will begin to build the team for each other.
“The most important thing we have to build is a feeling of family. The feeling of they can trust us and we can trust them,” Rossomando said. “We’re all going to make mistakes, that’s for sure. But we have to make sure that we’re dotting all our “i’s” and crossing all our “t’s” so those mistakes are minimal.”
A similar message was voiced by Hollomon: “We just have to work hard and believe in him and if he believes in us as a whole unit, I feel as though we can be successful.”
Rossomando is only a week on the job but it’s clear he’s jumped feet first into the job, even beginning to recruit for the school on the day he was hired. Such is the effort needed to achieve the lofty goals for both him and the team.
“We want to move this program to the top of the FCS. We’re not just talking about the top of the NEC, we want to move to the top of the FCS, and I think we can do that here. And we have all the things in place to be successful,” said Rossomando.
While competing with the likes of North Dakota State may seem like a shot at the moon for the upcoming season, it does provide a glimpse into what Rossomando sees in the potential of both the team and the school.
Central’s athletic director summed up best, perhaps, the upcoming football year: “I don’t have visions of grandeur about next year,” said Schlickmann, “other than I think you will see an exciting team, a prepared team, one that’s going to be fun to watch and one that the players are going to have fun playing on.”