Observing a young Pat Crowley, a dedicated Delaware Blue Hens football fan decked out in blue and gold with an autographed photo of himself next to record-setting quarterback Joe Flacco in tow, not many could have predicted this: Crowley, now a former Blue Hen football player himself, pacing the archrival Villanova Wildcats’ sideline in Saturday’s Battle of the Blue.
Yet such is life in the CAA Football coaching tree, Delaware head coach Danny Rocco, Crowley’s coach in the latter stages of his UD career, expressed following Tuesday’s practice.
“It is odd for Pat, I’m sure, in this moment to be there,” Rocco said of Crowley’s position at Villanova as he prepares to oppose his alma mater, the object of his college football affections and the subject of his allegiance from a young age. “But that’s kind of like how a lot of us get started. You get an opportunity in areas or places where you’re known, and to be in your conference is actually not out of the ordinary because that’s where you’re kind of known. Geographically, that’s what makes most sense. So these things happen a little more often than you would think, and I’m sure it’s going to be very unusual and awkward, but we all have a job to do and I’m sure he’ll do his job. He’ll have mixed feelings; you always have mixed feelings, especially when you know the people. When you’re detached from the brand and it’s been a number of years, it’s not quite the same. But when you’re going back and you’re playing against friends and teammates and coaches, that’s a different feeling.”
Crowley echoed that sentiment Wednesday.
“It’s definitely a special game for me,” the first-year Villanova defensive quality control coach said of this week’s installment of the Battle of the Blue. “It’s only been a year ago that I was in that locker room preparing for this game, so it’s kind of unique for me. I don’t know if there’s many people who have been in a position I’m in right now, who have been on both sides of this rivalry.”
“It’s pretty interesting to be able to see both sides of a heated rivalry like this. I mean, there’s so much history and tradition in this game, and to be able to see both sides kind of makes you be able to appreciate what both sides are playing for even more.”
5-6 Delaware, Rocco suggests, is playing for the chance to complete its 2019 season on its own terms and to reverse the program’s troubling Battle of the Blue skid. Villanova has taken seven in a row from UD, keeping the Battle of the Blue trophy for an extended stay on the Philadelphia Main Line. The Wildcats’ recent dominance in the series even predates the creation of the trophy, as Nova has won 12 of the last 13 contests versus Delaware to take command in the rivalry via a 30-21-1 all-time record.
“I think that that’s really kinda our storyline right now,” Rocco said. “As you look at this team, ‘Team 128,’ talk about its legacy and what they’re going to do and how they are going to be remembered, we have a great opportunity right here to write the final chapter and [have] it be a very memorable one if we can go up there and find a way to win the football game. And that’s the great thing about sports in general, it’s the great thing about football: You just never really know what cards you’re going to be dealt, but you have opportunities each and every week to do something. We have a great opportunity this week for this team to make a statement.”
Knowing full well (and first-hand) the desire the Blue Hens possess to finally knock off the Wildcats, Crowley said, “We’re gonna get their best shot. That’s what you can expect out of a rivalry game.”
“One thing I’ve learned from this game is records don’t matter,” he continued. “All-conference players, none of that matters. All the extra things that don’t involve being on the football field don’t really matter. In a game like this, in a rivalry game like this, what matters is November 23 at 1:00 … who shows up on November 23 at 1:00 and who is ready to go and who is prepared the best is who’s gonna end up on top.”
Crowley’s journey from Delaware student-athlete to Villanova coach pitted against his former team on that Nov. 23 at 1:00 has been one taken by many a young coach, yet also a road uniquely his own.
“I always knew that I wanted to be a coach ever since I had been at Delaware, so I would watch different coaches who have had success, watch what they did, how they did it, and kinda learn from them,” Crowley said. “Take some things I liked from some guys, take some things I didn’t like from other guys, and try to mold it into what I want to turn into my coaching style as I move forward in my coaching career.”
The seeds for that coaching career were planted at Delaware, Crowley indicated.
“I think I got to play for some really amazing coaches while I was at Delaware … I really liked the position coaches that I had. I was lucky enough to play for a guy like Nick Rapone; he’s the DC at Delaware [in his initial stint at UD] and then he goes and he’s the DBs coach in Arizona. He’s coaching guys like Pat Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson, and now he’s in our room sharing knowledge with us [in his return to UD]. So I just feel like a lot of it is I got to learn from guys who had been in college football for years and know and have a lot of knowledge to be able to share. I really was lucky in that sense to be able to learn so early as a player from some really impressive guys.”
That learning process manifested itself in Crowley’s play and performance in practice, Rocco explained.
“I think the big thing was he was always very engaged, very interested, and not only in what he was doing, but what people around him were doing. I always felt that that’s a pretty good indicator of guys that have that aptitude to go into coaching. They appreciate the game from a lot of levels, but they appreciate it from a tactical strategy level as well. And he did; he had a good understanding of how to play his position, how the positions around him all went together to make this thing coordinated on defense.”
Despite his budding coaching skills, a breakthrough into the coaching field after his UD playing career wrapped up in the first round of the 2018 FCS playoffs was not immediate for Crowley.
“As I was finishing up at the University of Delaware, I didn’t know what goes into coaching college football,” he shared. “I knew I wanted to get into it, but I didn’t exactly know how to get into it. And I called a bunch of different contacts that I had. The advice I got was just keep calling as many guys as you can, network yourself, talk to as many guys that are in the industry now, and something will come through.”
“So, I talked to a bunch of my old coaches, current coaches, former coaches and everything, one of those guys being [Villanova offensive line] Coach [Sean] Devine, who I actually had a really good relationship [with] while we were at Delaware when he was our offensive coordinator. I talked to him; he winded up meeting me out for lunch one day.”
Before they could even meet again for another meal and chance to share more coaching tips, Crowley said, he received a call from Devine about an opening on the Villanova staff.
“And then only a matter of time, maybe a couple weeks, that he called me and said, ‘We’re going to bring you in for an interview,’ and I got to meet [Villanova head coach Mark] Ferrante. I mean, how could you not like Coach Ferrante when you meet him? He’s just an awesome guy,” said Crowley, who highlighted Ferrante’s staff’s willingness to “take a step back” in the hectic season and help him, as well as other younger coaches, along the way.
Crowley was profuse and hearty in his expressions of gratitude for the coaching and learning he now has under his belt, regardless of it all being for the nemesis of his days as a Blue Hen.
“I’m only a couple months into this career, but I’m learning quickly from some really great guys who have a lot of knowledge to share. So, I’m in a really lucky position. I know it’s Villanova, it’s a rival [of alma mater Delaware], but … I have no complaints. I definitely feel lucky to be able to learn from these coaches on this staff right now, Coach Devine definitely being one of them. He’s always been a mentor in my life, whether I’m a player and now as a coach, so it’s an interesting relationship that I have with Coach Devine. I’ve gotten to play for him, now coach with him and learn from him. Definitely a great mentor in my life.”
Perhaps only Devine can match Crowley’s insight into the Battle of the Blue. As for Saturday’s edition of the storied CAA rivalry, Crowley said, “I’m excited for the game. It’ll be cool; I’ll have my family in the crowd.”
On the field, meanwhile, it will be business as usual for the ‘Cats, he noted.
“We have 88 players in our locker room who have really bought into Coach Ferrante and all our coaching staff, and it’s awesome to watch. These guys, these 88 players, have done a great job and they’ll be ready to show up at 1:00 on Saturday.”