Meet the Athletics Director
When Rocko DeLuca became UC Davis’ new director of athletics last year, his appointment carried a key message: continuity and stability in the leadership of the intercollegiate athletics department. Though many previous Aggie administrators have been elevated to the post on an interim basis, the former deputy A.D. became the first to ascend to the permanent role since Jim Sochor made the transition in 1989.
“My goal is to be here long enough to set the course for the next 10 years instead of continuing to do things in fits and starts,” said DeLuca, who came to UC Davis in 2016.
The University of Colorado graduate certainly earned the opportunity: Under his predecessor, Kevin Blue, DeLuca saw annual giving and external revenue reach record numbers, with sizable private gifts leading to the groundbreaking for the Edwards Family Athletics Center. The facility, set to be completed in 2022, will be devoted to sports medicine, training and instruction.
What are some of the initiatives and projects that we can expect to see under your watch?
In the first few years, we will obviously continue to raise money as part of the Expect Greater campaign. We need to finish the Edwards Family Athletics Center fundraising, and if we reach our goal this year, we will start to invest in softball, baseball and soccer facilities — specifically, in terms of lights.
I think alumni will appreciate the investment we’re making into ESPN and streaming for both football and our Big West sports. That partnership will be a huge piece of how we continue to spread the UC Davis brand. When fans and alumni tune in, it will be in HD, it will look good, and it will represent the institution the way we should.
You started as athletics director in April, which meant guiding the department through the COVID-19 pandemic. What were the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge was the pace at which information was changing, and the decisions that had to be made — day-to-day and almost hour-to-hour. I was most pleased about the response from the staff: communications, sports medicine and facilities. Those three groups were really impacted by not knowing if a game was going to be played, not knowing if a team was even showing up. I was really impressed by the way our staff came together to support the coaches and student-athletes. We had 135 on-campus events, and yet we had no COVID-related delays or cancellations due to UC Davis. That was the campus and the department providing a safe environment.
Moving forward, I think we learned a lot in terms of communication. You’ll hear this a lot from me: It was about trust. We couldn’t always be in second-to-second communication with our coaches, but we always worked as hard as we could to get them the information they needed to get on the playing fields. I really appreciate the partnership we had with campus leadership and the county health officials in getting that accomplished.
Like Kevin Blue, you have a strong affinity for golf. Where did that come from?
I grew up playing golf, and I tried to play in high school, but I wasn’t great — just good enough to hang around the team to get a free bucket of balls for some free rounds of golf. My love of the game has always been there, and it has done a lot for me professionally. It has opened doors for me as a fundraiser and development officer. It’s a connecting point. You learn a lot from someone by spending four hours on a course with them, rather than sitting in an office.
What are some of your other interests away from the job?
That’s the hardest part about the job. A lot of hobbies and recreational activities — especially now that [my daughter] Siena is older — those are few and far between. I used to love fly fishing and skiing. But that’s why I love what I do. I’d rather be at a softball game on a Sunday than fly fishing. I actually enjoy living the job, and I don’t think you can do it well if you have too many other interests.