WATCH - Hilltop Hoops: The Season - Coach Allocco
To know Frank Allocco
, you must look beyond the accolades and achievements that made him one of California's most successful high school basketball coaches of all-time. No one is going to dismiss his brilliant 24-year career at Northgate and De La Salle High Schools where he became the only prep coach in state history to lead two different schools to state championships, or his .868 career winning percentage, which ranks second all-time in state history
While Allocco's coaching resume has certainly more than stood the test of time over his long and distinguished career, it belies the essence of a man whose roots and values are deeply planted in the blue-collar town of New Providence, NJ and South Bend, Ind., home to the university he had an affinity for dating back to his school days at Our Lady of Peace grammar school.
A standout two-sport athlete in high school, Allocco had plenty of options when it came to selecting his college of choice to continue his football and basketball career. He attended Notre Dame and played in two Orange Bowls, one Sugar Bowl and was on the Irish's 1973 national championship team. He also saw significant time in the 1975 Orange Bowl when the Irish upset top-ranked Alabama. However, his character and faith perhaps were strengthened more by his setbacks than any of his accomplishments, as a series of injuries sidetracked his college football career.
Among his many mentors are legendary coaches Ara Parseghian and Bob Ladouceur, high school coaches Don Carpenter and Pete Miller and of course, his father, Mickey, who made it a point to take his children to Mass every day before going off to work in one of New Providence's many factories. However, it was a mysterious, elderly gentlemen named Harry Davis who Allocco befriended his senior year at Notre Dame that turned out to be one of his greatest teachers in life.
A voracious reader and a lover of Shakespeare and John Steinbeck, Allocco began dabbling in poetry while he was at Notre Dame and has penned a Christmas poem each year since 1980, along with countless other thoughts he has put to paper to help sort out the world around him. He readily loans out his favorite book, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah
by Richard Bach and can flawlessly recite the entire balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet
As he opens a new chapter of an already storied coaching career, Allocco's passion for coaching, teaching and learning remains as intense as 40 years ago when he commuted from Long Island to coach a team of eighth-graders in the Police Activities League or during his 12-year stint coaching CYO basketball at St. Agnes Parish in Concord.
Allocco recently shared his thoughts with USFDons.com on a myriad of subjects, including decision to enter the collegiate coaching circles, his coaching philosophy, USF's basketball tradition, New Providence, his mentors and perseverance. After 24 successful years of coaching high school basketball – including the last 17 at De La Salle – what attracted to you to USF at this time in your career?
I've always had a fondness in my heart for USF from the time I moved to California. I used to take my son (Frank Jr.) to games here when he was 10 years old. I've only been interested in a couple of other college jobs prior to this. I came close to going to St. John's a couple of years ago. But I remember telling my wife I always thought USF would be the best fit for me and that was three years ago. I have a feeling this program is ready to explode. Things were great at De La Salle and I enjoyed coaching on the prep level very much so a college job was never on my check list. Rex called me and asked if I'd be interested in helping him out. I've always had a great deal of respect for Rex but told him I didn't think it would be a good fit at this time. He told me to take a week to think about it. All along, my wife was very encouraging. I had a great life at De La Salle but I've always preached to my teams that you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I'm big on sayings. Another one of my favorites is 'a bird on a branch doesn't put its faith in the tree but in its wings'. I told my team it was time for me to act upon what I had been preaching all these years. You took a rather unique career path to land your first collegiate job. Do you feel rejuvenated by the new challenges and new surroundings?
Absolutely. It's all a new challenge. I'm learning a lot of new things everyday such as the intricacies of the recruiting process. I enjoy recruiting and always thought I might be good at it because it it's basically sales. I've always believed in selling the truth. There are so many good things happening around the program and University. It's been very invigorating for me. I like being a learner. What are some of the selling points of USF?
I'm here in San Francisco which is one of the greatest cities in the world. I think we owe it to college basketball and the city to be relevant on the national stage. USF provides a great opportunity for kids both academically and from a basketball perspective. The Jesuit education is very important but USF also offers a strong spiritual and cultural component. I think it's an easy sell - great basketball tradition, great city and a University that offers a world-class education. What are your thoughts on USF's basketball tradition?
I love tradition. I love the tradition of Notre Dame and I love the tradition of USF. Look at our banners hanging in our gym. I think Bill Russell is still relevant. I send kids pictures of Russell and say we are looking for the next one. You think of everything Bill Russell stood for beyond basketball. I'm proud to be a part of a University that had the vision to do things that changed the world. Establishing and recognizing tradition is so important and USF has a great tradition. I tell kids we are recruiting that USF is not a four-year decision. This is a special place, one that stood on the forefront of racial injustice in the 1950's. It's also stood for national championships and still stands for educating kids how they can make a difference in their communities. When did you first realize you wanted to be a coach?
Really from the time I was little. I used to invent basketball and football games, keep records and had a playoff system for the leagues. I always had it (coaching) on my radar. I was very fortunate to play for two legendary coaches at Notre Dame in Ara Parseghian and Digger Phelps. I learned so much by just observing those two coaches. I also sat in on many camps that featured great coaches such as Bobby Knight and Fran Dunphy. I grew up in a time when great coaches were role models that got into coaching not for the money but to change lives. These men coached for one reason – to make kids better. Tell us about your hometown of New Providence, NJ.
New Providence was featured in a wrestling movie called "Win-Win." It used to be a colonial village called Turkey Town. Our church dates back to the 1600's. During Christmas Eve Mass in 1759, the balcony collapsed and fell to the ground and miraculously no one was injured. The miracle was referred to as a divine act of "providence." Shortly thereafter, the name was changed from Turkey Town to New Providence. The director of "Win-Win" was asked why he chose New Providence to film his movie. He said that everyone knew New Providence was the center of the universe and that's how we felt growing up there. It was very much a factory town when I was growing up. All of those factories have now been replaced by corporate headquarters of some Fortune 500 companies. When I told my high school coach Don Carpenter I was moving to California, he made me promise him I'd always come back. I've honored that commitment every year since I left. Drawing on your years of experience, what do you hope to bring to your role as associate head coach?
Beyond the X's and O's, it's about building a culture. Getting kids to believe in us and each other and understand they represent something more than the game. It's about doing things the right way. At De La Salle, we used to warm up to bag pipes, channeling the spirit of the movie "Braveheart." In 2006, we won the state championship despite not having a home gym. We practiced in a warehouse and called in Siberia. That's when we played the "Rocky IV" soundtrack. You've been an educated spectator of USF Basketball over the last 25 years. What are your thoughts about the future of the program?
I think our potential is unlimited here. I think we can win national championships. I've been so impressed with the commitment from the school in the short time I've been here. Everyone has a common vision of success. And USF is truly a Catholic university and a place that talks about doing things the right way. There is a great spirit here from the president's office on down. I know what the power of love can do. We have a common vision of what we want to be and now it's about putting the pieces in place to be successful. As a two-sport athlete, you played for two legendary coaches at Notre Dame in Ara Parseghian and Digger Phelps. What influences did they have on your development as a coach and a person?
For me, Ara is one of the top-10 people who has ever lived. I think so highly of him as a coach and as a person. Notre Dame had some great people when I was there – Ara, Moose Krause (athletic director) and Roger Valdiserri (sports information director). Coach Parseghian was a special man who never said a bad word about anyone. He went through a lot of adversity in his life as well. He lost three of his grandchildren to a rare genetic disease. When we lost to Nebraska 40-6 in the 1973 Orange Bowl, which at the time was the worst loss in Notre Dame history, everyone was devastated. You could hear a pin drop in the locker room. Coach Parseghian walks in and says one thing, "Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant." Then he turned around and left the room. The next year we went undefeated and won the national championship. Anything I know about coaching I owe to that man.
Coach Phelps was a younger coach and he was like one of the guys. I think he was a great defensive coach and was a master at changing the tempo of the game with his defensive schemes. He got us to believe we could beat a team like UCLA. He was quite a salesman, a New York guy. Your football career at Notre Dame was slowed by injuries. What did those setbacks teach you about perseverance?
For all of the adversity I faced because of injuries, I wouldn't change one of those experiences. The injury I suffered my senior year in high school playing football was probably the most devastating. I was an All-American quarterback and was being recruiting by a lot of schools, including Notre Dame, which was my dream school. We were loaded that year. The second time we had the ball in the season-opener. I ran into a guy on an option rollout and snapped my collar bone. I remember sitting in the waiting room of the hospital just crying my eyes out think it was all over. My dad calmed me down a bit and told me this was God's way of telling me to play basketball. But I still went on my spring visit to Notre Dame that year and here I was a 167-pound quarterback surrounded by these monsters. I was scared to death and didn't think I could do it. I walked around campus that night and ended up at the Grotto where I prayed for guidance. The next morning Coach Parseghian called me and said I reminded him of Joe Theismann and offered me a full scholarship. It was meant to be.
I was the No. 9 quarterback on the depth chart and thought about leaving but stuck it out. I was granted an extra year of eligibility and was the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart that spring but blew my shoulder out. I was devastated and for the first time started to question my faith. My shoulder never responded but I did get to play in a few games that year. I was the last quarterback in the "Rudy Game" and was the last quarterback on the field in the 1975 Orange Bowl vs. Alabama, what turned out to be Coach Parseghian's final game at Notre Dame.
Every setback provided me with a lesson. I would not trade one of those experiences to deprive me of the lessons I learned from Coach Parseghian. Speaking of perseverance, you were teammates with Rudy Ruettiger. Do you have any memories of him?
Rudy was one of the toughest guys I've ever met. He was real small and played defensive end. He got beat up every day in practice but kept coming back for more. He lived in the ACC (Athletic Convocation Center) and was very popular because if you went to see Rudy, there was a good chance you were going to see a game. He also participated in the Bengal Bouts, which was Notre Dame's version of the Golden Gloves. He was as tough as they come. He wrote the screen play to his own movie but couldn't get a studio to bite on it. Tri-Star eventually took it and the legend was born. The movie definitely took some liberties but it doesn't diminish what Rudy accomplished through persistence. Of course, you worked alongside the great Bob Ladouceur at De La Salle. They made a movie about him, too. What influence did Bob have on you?
See, the key is to hang around with me and they'll make a movie about you. We had the greatest of friendships – still do. I've often said we were the same guy but with difference personalities. We have the same vision and believe in teaching kids culture and the importance of doing things the right way. He's a special man and is all about service to kids.
Here's a story. A week after I got the job, Bob called me to offer his congratulations, which was like getting a call from the Pope. Then he asked me what I thought about kids playing two sports in high school. I said I had no problem with it. Then he told me there was a unique athlete at De La Salle named D.J. Williams, who was a freshman at the time. He wanted me to meet him. So we set up a meeting to meet D.J. together. Now you could tell D.J. was a superior athlete. I told him that I believed if he came to a couple of open gyms and lifted with the guys a few times a week, he might have a chance to play varsity basketball as a sophomore. Now it's Bob's turn. He said, "D.J., I've coached here for 13 years and we haven't lost a game in the last seven years. Nine of my players currently play in the NFL and I have no doubt you will be the greatest football player ever to play at De La Salle." With that, D.J. turns his back to me and it was obvious he liked Bob a lot better. I learned lesson – never go first when you are in a meeting with Bob Ladouceur. Can you tell is about your "miracle daughter" Kristen?
My daughter, Kristen, was diagnosed with a kidney disease when she was two. She would swell up terribly. You talk about miracles. One day my wife was pushing her in a stroller at the market when this lady came over and asked my wife if her daughter had always been fat. My wife was a little taken back and said he had allergies. The woman said it wasn't allergies but a kidney disease she saw frequently in South America and that she needed to get her to a kidney specialist immediately. She took her in and sure enough she had the disease. We were told the drug she needed would save her life but make her infertile. We'll, she was blessed with two beautiful children. The lady in the store saved my daughter's life. Besides having really good players, what has been the key to your coaching success over the years?
Love. I've loved all of my players like they were my sons. It's never been about the wins and losses for my as much as that feeling then you get a final hug from your seniors. Where did you develop your love of poetry?
I just love to read and write. I love John Steinbeck and Shakespeare. I've always been an explorer and love words. I can still recite the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. My mom and dad loved to serve others. To me, that's poetry. Tell us about your father, Mickey Allocco.
You don't know how many times a day I thank God my dad was a factory worker. I hope I have his values. He was a blue collar, old-fashioned guy who put his nose to the grindstone every day. He saved his money and made something out of himself. He worked in a factory since he was 18 years old and recently stepped down as the president of the volunteer fire fighters in New Providence. We always had priests over to our house. Our home was there little getaway, I guess. We were always around people of faith. Beginning when I was in kindergarten, my dad took me to Mass every day. He was all about service. He said great things happen when you put yourself second. I never saw him do anything for himself. He has 50 shirts in his closet that he has opened yet. He still plays golf 2-3 times a week and occasionally will shoot his age. Can you share the story of Harry Davis?
When I got the starting quarterback's job at Notre Dame, I went to Mass every day to thank God for my opportunity. One day, I notice this elderly man in church who reminded me of my grandfather, who I just adored. This man's face was literally frozen. I struck up a conversation with him after Mass. He was 86 years old and rode his bike to church every day. I offered him to pick him up and take him to church and he agreed. I asked him what he did with the rest of his day after Mass. He said he goes to see his wife in the cemetery. Now, the cemetery was way out of town and it took him 6-7 hours each day to complete his journey. It was the same cemetery where Knute Rockne is buried. I started taking this guy to the cemetery every day after Mass so he could visit his wife. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. This man would kneel in the snow, clean off the grave and pray for an hour or more. In the spring he'd bring fresh flowers almost every day. He told me some amazing stories. I found out he helped build Rockne's house. One day he took me to his house and his basement was filled with animals that he had adopted and nursed back to health. I hung around with this guy all spring. His name was Harry Davis. God put him in my life for four months to teach me what real love was about.