WILMINGTON — Lucky, privileged and honored.
Those were the words Gene Delle Donne used when asked how it felt to be named the 13th head football coach in Salesianum School history. Delle Donne, a 2005 graduate of the school, was introduced to the football players and the community on March 23 during a press conference in Father Birkenheuer Gymnasium.
“I’ve told everybody that after my family, Salesianum is the most important thing in my life,” Delle Donne said in an interview after his remarks to the students. “Always being connected to this place, growing up going to games at Baynard Stadium, the gold helmet. It was a goal of mine to play here, and obviously going through the college ranks, I’ve always wanted to coach here.”
For the past two years, Delle Donne was the offensive coordinator under his predecessor, Bill DiNardo, who coached the Sals for 19 seasons. The team went a combined 15-7 in those two seasons, falling in the state tournament in both seasons to Middletown.
Salesianum’s athletic director, Katie Godfrey, told the students in attendance — members of the football program — that the administration’s first move after DiNardo stepped down a month ago was to ask them what they wanted in a coach.
“Your opinion is always important to us, and your welfare is important to us. And that’s why this is a long process, and we put a lot of thought into it,” she said.
Thirteen candidates applied for the position, with four finalists emerging. Oblate Father Chris Beretta, the principal, said the search committee included four current Salesianum coaches, along with the two alumni who are in the National Football League, Brian O’Neill and Troy Reeder. Both are members of the Minnesota Vikings.
They evaluated the candidates’ football experience, appreciation of the culture of the school and its football program, leadership abilities, game and practice management, and offseason programs.
“We created a process that would challenge us to look at all aspects of the program, and there were many different perspectives, including your own,” Father Beretta told the students.
He noted that the school has had just three head coaches in the past 47 years. Before DiNardo, the Sals were coached by Jim Brazill, and George Glenn preceded him.
“We wanted to make sure this builds on that legacy. We want it in good hands for many years into the future,” he said.
Delle Donne entered the gymnasium to raucous applause from the students, his mother, wife and daughter, among others. He told the players that the motto for the upcomning season will be “edit your behavior,” a term he learned at a coaches convention he attended last month. A guest speaker at that convention, Alabama coach Nick Saban, said he had heard that phrase from the late Kobe Bryant, who once delivered that message to Saban’s Crimson Tide team.
“We as a program, a team, a community, a culture, will always edit our behavior and be the best person we can be in life,” said Delle Donne, the older brother of former Ursuline standout and current professional basketball player Elena Delle Donne.
“We will create a culture where excellence is expected. I promise all of you student athletes will have the resources needed to succeed as football players, students and young men.”
After the students had an opportunity to congratulate their new coach individually, Delle Donne said his next move will be to build his coaching staff. He said some of the previous coaches would be back.
The Sals have been consistently good since winning their last state championship in 2013, and he wants to get them back to the top, but it will be done with the right priorities in mind, Delle Donne said.
“More important is representing this school and the community. Making sure these student athletes are equipped for the future is step one. If you connect with the kids, teach them the right leadership traits and techniques, the winning takes care of itself.”