Big Red turned big ‘Cat
Mike DiAngelo’s “Welcome to Division I” moment wasn’t getting sacked by a 320-pound defensive lineman.
The former Big Red quarterback’s playing days were already behind him. However, DiAngelo did have to pinch himself when he turned on ESPN and saw Arizona – his new school – scroll along the bottom of the screen to promote an upcoming game.
Since the spring of 2013, DiAngelo has been a defensive graduate assistant for the Wildcats.
“At first, it was a little surreal,” DiAngelo said. “It’s the big time and it’s a program that competes on a national level.
“After you’re here for a while you have to look past all that stuff. It wears off. You treat it like you’re at any other school of any level.”
DiAngelo got his coaching start as a quarterbacks and special teams assistant for Division II Concord, located in Athens, W.Va.
After a one-year stint there, he went to Washington & Jefferson, a D-III school in Washington, Pa. With the Presidents, DiAngelo served as secondary coach, quarterback and receivers coach and special teams coordinator during a six-year span.
“It’s different, but it’s the same,” he said of coaching at three separate levels of NCAA football. “It’s still the game of football and the players are still working to get better.
“I can relate to them a lot because I was once in their shoes.”
If not for an injury, though, DiAngelo likely would have never been back on the gridiron sidelines.
After graduating from Steubenville High School in 2002, he played collegiately at Baldwin Wallace. DiAngelo compiled a 16-6 record as a two-year starter for the Yellow Jackets. As a junior, he threw for 1,249 yards and eight touchdowns.
Following a 23-17 overtime win against Allegheny College to start his senior year, DiAngelo was injured in the second game – a home loss Ohio Northern.
“It was a season-ending shoulder injury,” DiAngelo said. “It just so happened to be my senior season, so it was a career-ending injury.
“They say everything happens for a reason, but that was the changing point. When that happened I really started to look into coaching.”
CHANGE OF PLANS
Originally, DiAngelo wanted to pursue a career in physical therapy. After all, he was injured as a Big Red junior. He opted for summer physical therapy sessions, instead of having Tommy John surgery which would have held him out for his senior high school season.
Dealing with the health professionals on a daily basis opened his eyes to the PT field. But having a coach at home made it easy to go into the family business.
Clyde DiAngelo, Mike’s father, was the head basketball coach at Catholic Central from 1979 to 1990. He has also served in administration at Indian Creek, Toronto and Steubenville City Schools.
“Growing up in that atmosphere, I always had (coaching and teaching) in the back of my head,” Mike DiAngelo said. “Being from Steubenville and being around all three sports, it was a big part of my life.”
He earned nine varsity letters at Big Red – in football, basketball and baseball.
In 2006, he graduated with his bachelor’s in sports management from Baldwin Wallace. While coaching at W&J, he earned his master’s degree in education from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2009.
At Arizona, he’s pursuing an education master’s, again, to obtain a principals license.
His graduate assistantship is a three-season term. DiAngelo helped the Wildcats finish 8-5 in 2013, his first year in the position, with a 42-19 win over Boston College in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl.
“It was all a lot of fun and a great experience,” DiAngelo said.
In the offseason, his roles shift a bit. On top of studying, there’s office work to be done.
“Right now we’re evaluating recruiting film,” he said. “This is for any walk-on that wants to come this fall or 2015. All the position coaches are currently on the road doing their own recruiting. If we identify a player back here, we’ll give them a call and let them know where they’re at.
“We’ll start coming up with breakdowns of our first three opponents for this upcoming season, looking for their tendencies and everything.”
Arizona opens the 2014 season hosting UNLV on Aug. 29. It heads to San Antonio for a Thursday tilt against UTSA on Sept. 4. then returns home to face Nevada on Sept. 13.
“We’ll also look back and do some self-evaluation,” DiAngelo said. “We’re all trying to get better from last season.”
KNOWING THE RIGHT PEOPLE
In almost any career field, landing a job with a solid resume is just as important as knowing the right people in power.
That’s how DiAngelo landed this position in the first place.
Pittsburgh native Matt Caponi, a Mount Union graduate and standout football player for the perennial title winning Purple Raiders, was defensive coordinator at Washington & Jefferson for three seasons before earning a graduate position with the Pitt coaching staff.
After completion of the assistantship, Caponi landed in Tucson and is now with the Wildcats as safeties coach.
“He was a grad assistant first at Arizona,” DiAngelo said. “He was recently promoted and let me know that there was an opening.”
DiAngelo also had a past relationship with Jeff Casteel, the Wildcats defensive coordinator. Casteel, along with 12 other Arizona staff and assistants have ties to West Virginia.
“I met Jeff at a lot of football camps back East,” DiAngelo said. “It’s always good to have guys like that on your side.”
After a seven-year run leading West Virginia to a 60-26 record, with four Big East Conference titles, Rich Rodriguez controversially bolted for the head coaching job at Michigan in 2007. Failing to replicate the same success in the Big 10, he was out of coaching work for a year before being hired at Arizona on Nov. 22, 2011.
“He’s a no-nonsense type of guy,” DiAngelo said. “He’s an excellent leader.
“The things that I’ve learned here in the past 14 months from him is in a real competitive nature. He wants us to be competitive in everything that we do. There’s always a competitive side to it.”
Besides Casteel – a Paden City native – Calvin Magee, Rod Smith, Tony Dews, Bill Kirelawich, David Lockwood, Casey Vance, Jahmile Addae, Billy Kirelawich, Chris Allen and Ovid Goulbourne either coached with or played for Rodriguez at WVU. They all currently serve on his staff in support or assistant capacity.
“(Rodriguez) is a very loyal guy,” DiAngelo said. “He takes care of his assistants and staff. He’s relentless. He doesn’t take days off and he’s not lax with the players or anybody he associates with.”
FINDING WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
DiAngelo isn’t sure where he’ll be this time, next year. He could still serve his final guaranteed term with the Wildcats. Beyond that – there are no guarantees.
“With these jobs, you don’t know where the next opening will be,” DiAngelo said. “It helps if you know somebody at different schools. It’s kind of interesting with this profession. You don’t know who other people know, either.”
He could potentially see himself as a coordinator at a Division II or D-III school. Maybe even a position coach for a D-I program, as early as next year.
“As far as five years from now,” DiAngelo said. “Who knows? You want to try and reach out to someone in a good position, but there’s so many others trying to fight for that spot too.
“The one thing that you can is work hard everyday. If something does happen, you’re hopeful that someone will make that phone call for you. A good recommendation goes a long way with these jobs.”
Just like the long way he has come to live out a dream and work towards a bright future.
If his drive and attitude are any indication – DiAngelo can also go a long way with a career in high-level coaching.