Newark, DE – The football field sidelines are a familiar place for Dave Brock.
The headset, the clipboard, the roar of the crowd, it's all part of his past and his present. But there's a significant difference this time around as Brock paced the sidelines Thursday night and made a successful debut as the University of Delaware head football coach, with a 51-35 win over Jacksonville University.
Brock was announced as the newest head coach of the Blue Hens football program on Jan. 18, making him just the fifth coach to hold the position since 1940. He had served previously as the offensive coordinator for Rutgers, a program that won a share of the Big East title and advanced to the Russell Athletic Bowl last season.
Brock's resume is quite extensive. The first-year Blue Hens coach had stints as an assistant coach and coordinator at some of the biggest football programs in the nation, including Boston College, Kansas State, North Carolina and Temple. He's mentored current NFL standouts Jordy Nelson, Marques Colston, Hakeem Nicks and Josh Freeman. That's an impressive list.
But at Delaware, there's a standard to live up to. Just ask K.C. Keeler, the Blue Hens coach who was fired days before the hiring of Brock. Keeler spent 11 years at the helm of the Delaware football team, which, in his time there, included an FCS (then Division I-AA) national championship and multiple playoff appearances.
Keeler's firing came as somewhat of a surprise. His team finished the 2012 season with a 5-6 overall record, including 2-6 in CAA Football - a down year by the program's standards. But the year before his Blue Hens went 7-4 and narrowly missed the FCS playoffs. Keeler ranked 10th among active coaches at the time of his firing in total wins with 174, which came at both the Division III and FCS levels.
So there are shoes to fill for Brock, but that doesn't crowd his vision, which is toward turning his new team into a playoff contender once again.
"The issue is just preparing this bunch to go out and play as well as we possibly can," Brock said Monday. "Training camp went really smoothly."
Health was the key concern last season for Delaware, as the Blue Hens experienced a roster more bruised and banged up than the coaching staff had ever seen. But Thursday night's game was followed by a sigh of relief from Brock, whose focus is to keep his top players healthy.
Senior running back Andrew Pierce is a perfect example. He missed a large chunk of last season with a sprained MCL in his right knee, but opened the 2013 campaign with a 101-yard rushing performance on 16 carries, highlighted by a second-quarter touchdown scamper.
Pierce shared time most of the game with Jalen Randolph and Julian Laing, who combined for four rushing touchdowns between the three of them. Brock made plenty of substitutions at running back and Pierce didn't take a snap in the fourth quarter with the Blue Hens holding a lead.
"I like everything Coach Brock is doing for us - an uptempo (offense) and how we were playing definitely showed it," Pierce said afterward. "We went out there and did what we had to do to win this game."
Brock, a New Jersey native, brings his offensive prowess from previous coaching experiences to Delaware, where nine starters return offensively from last season.
His defense made its mark on the Dolphins Thursday night by holding the Pioneer Football League squad to minus-36 yards rushing for the game.
Getting the players to buy into a new system can be a road block from time to time, but Brock feels the team has done everything he has asked to date, both on and off the field.
"The only way I can judge is by their actions," Brock said. "They've done everything that we've asked them to do, whether it's on the field football- wise in practice and how we practice, the tempo we practice. They've been flying around and bringing a ton of energy, a ton of excitement and enthusiasm to the practice field.
"We're very demanding on what they do academically, and we try to be demanding on what they do socially. The players have done it, and to me that's buying in. I'm not worried about what they say or how they say it, or those types of things. I want to see it. We hope to be about actions and demonstrating who we are."
Keeler's 86 wins at Delaware is a mark that is only bested by his predecessor Tubby Raymond, an athletic legend in Newark.
But Brock doesn't care much about what's happened in the past, nor does he care about trying to compare himself with Keeler. Brock simply wants to put the most competitive team out on the field each day and return the Blue Hens to the postseason.
After Thursday night, he's off to a good start.