BIRMINGHAM — The search was extensive, a who’s-who of candidates all armed with polished résumés and a desire to take over one of the most coveted high school football jobs in the state.
Those conducting the process were admitted rookies, attempting to fill a position that had been held by the same man for nearly five decades.
“We want to do this the right way, but in football, it’s something we’ve never done before,” Brother Rice Athletic Director Reg Cavender said back in December as the Warriors began searching for Al Fracassa’s replacement.
Cavender spoke of a “due process,” explained the selection committee and its role, and in the third week of December, began interviewing.
In the end, they didn’t have to look very far.
“I got a call on a Thursday evening asking me to come in Friday afternoon,” long-time assistant coach and Beverly Hills resident Dave Sofran explained. “I met with the administration (Jan. 24), and after what was an extensive interview process, I was asked if I would like to be the next head coach of Brother Rice football.”
Humbled and honored
Sofran laughed as he recalled the story. It was a question, and an offer, he’d been so deeply hoping for, and his answer was quick.
“All I could say was ‘absolutely,’” he said. “Quite honestly, I was so humbled, honored and overwhelmed, all at the same time.”
But he could hardly be surprised.
After all, there’d been a sense that Sofran was being groomed for the position for years.
As Fracassa crept closer toward retirement, Sofran’s duties from a day-to-day basis continued to grow.
He’s been with the Rice coaching staff for 14 seasons, serving every role, from wide receivers coach to most recently offensive coordinator.
“I’ve worn so many different hats in my 14 years here, and taken on so many more responsibilities as coach has gotten older,” said Sofran, who was named Assistant Coach of the Year in 2010 by the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association. “I said in my interview that there isn’t anything a head coach has to experience that I haven’t, aside from the title. The same pressure of calling plays I had in the state final is the same pressure I’ll have in the opener next year.”
That experience may have set Sofran, 35, apart from other candidates.
Getting the endorsement of the man he replaced didn’t hurt, either.
“Well, I wrote a letter of recommendation for him,” said Fracassa, who served as Rice’s head coach for the past 45 seasons and earned nine state titles, five with Sofran on his staff. “I don’t know if that (letter) made a difference or not, but I think it’s wonderful to make a hire from within. We have a very good bunch of coaches, guys that have been with this team for many years, and to try and keep that intact is a smart move. … Dave is going to do a great job. He was ready to take over.”
Best man for the job
Cavender wouldn’t specify how many applicants there were, saying, “we had some excellent candidates — some very solid people.”
Asked why Sofran was the ultimate choice, he said, “if I had an hour, I could maybe cover everything. … We wanted to pick the best man for the job, and we did that.”
Sofran’s career has sort of come full circle now.
He played for Fracassa at Rice, graduating in 1996, and continued his career at Northeastern University.
After a successful collegiate career, including 44 consecutive starts and Atlantic 10 All-Academic recognition, Sofran returned to Rice to coach football and work as the school’s alumni coordinator.
Now, he’s the sixth head coach in program history.
He’s heard the age-old sports phrase about not wanting to be the guy that takes over for a legend: you want to be the guy after that.
“I’ve gotten texts and emails, and probably 1,000 that have said how big the shoes are I had to fill,” Sofran said. “My record is 0-0, and I’m replacing the winningest coach ever. There will never be another Al Fracassa, and my first meeting with the team, that’s what I told them. At the same time, I take a lot of confidence in knowing that I’ve got a great support network from the high school, from alumni, the players and our coaching staff. That’s all essential.”
More of the same
Having won the past three Division 2 state titles, not to mention 22 games in a row, Sofran understands the expectation of winning he’s stepping into — one he’s helped foster.
That is why he stressed there won’t be a huge overhaul with the team, with how practices are run or with how game day looks.
“It’s not really broken here,” he said. “We want to maintain the same tradition that this program has stood for for years. I don’t think the common fan is going to come to one of our games and notice things much different.”
Not much will be different, besides the man getting credit for the wins and the losses on his résumé.
For the first time since 1969, that will be someone other than Fracassa, who started at Brother Rice when Richard Nixon was starting in the White House.
Sofran joked, saying that when he began coaching, “I thought everyone coached for 40 years.”
Instead, he’s more focused on baby steps, a “three-year, five-year and 10-year plan. I’d love to be here coaching into my 60s, but you have to start slow.”
“He’s very proficient. He knows the game of football,” Fracassa said of Sofran. “He’s going to do very well.”