Despite the pressure of taking on the role of interim head coach, Daniel Da Prato said the moments he spends talking with his family make him feel supported.
“The best thing about family and the best thing about kids is you’re still ‘dad.’ Nothing changes,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that we walked out on the field before the game, I’m still ‘dad.’ And those parents that are out there know your child’s smile will light you up any time.”
Da Prato stepped into the position during a challenging part of the season, as the Bulls are currently 1-9. The news of Da Prato leading the team comes after the recent firing of former coach Jeff Scott.
Although the team is facing a lot of changes and uncertainties, such as multiple player injuries and coaching changes, Da Prato said the mission of the program has not been lost.
“My role has changed, but the purpose and the reason that I’m here is still to help these young men and that makes the transition in that area with our players as smooth as possible,” he said.
“We’re here to help guide them, lead them and serve them on their path.”
One aspect of the transition that has been difficult for Da Prato to adjust to is time management, he said.
Da Prato said he still holds the responsibilities of his role as special teams coordinator alongside his new position, so balancing these duties to ensure he is able to put his best effort for the team has been a priority.
A part of this time management is ensuring he makes time to talk and visit with his family, who he calls his “support system.”
“My wife and my girls, whenever I can see them or they’re awake I try to. And then obviously FaceTiming them brings a smile to my face every time,” he said. “My parents had actually been in town, my mom and dad had a trip planned to be here which just happened to be last week so it was neat to be around them a little bit as well.”
Before arriving at USF, Da Prato has been on the staff of many university teams. He began his career as a graduate assistant for the offense for the 2004-05 seasons at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, and eventually became the director of operations and recruiting coordinator in 2006. Da Prato served as the special teams coordinator at Arkansas the year prior to being hired at USF.
As a player, he initiated his college career at New Mexico Highlands University in 2000, where he played as the starting quarterback for one year. Da Prato finished his time as a college athlete with the University of Louisiana-Monroe as a quarterback.
With this experience under his belt, Da Prato said he feels he is more than equipped to take on the role of interim head coach.
“I think going through this both as a player and as a coach, I had an idea of how some of these situations may come about. And I think anything in life that you’ve experienced already can help you and prepare you for a similar situation,” he said.
“Now they’re all different, but my past experiences of being on a staff and being a player have helped guide me, and learning from those experiences helped me in this process.”
Beyond aiming to successfully coach the team, Da Prato said his goal, along with the rest of the staff, is to be there for each player to make sure they are emotionally and mentally prepared to practice on the field while navigating through difficult circumstances.
“Be there for them. Have them come into your office, put your arm around them, help them. Ask everybody in the facility, if you see our young men, love them up, reach out to them and be there for them over and over and over again,” he said.
“They are going through a difficult time, and as leaders, we need to be here to help them. What you put your time into is what’s important to you, and we have our doors open and our phones on to help these young men at any point in time.”
Though the team has faced a challenging season, Da Prato said he sees a bright future for the program given the hard work produced by each player on the team.
“I see greatness. We have an incredible location in Tampa Bay and the community is incredible,” he said. “We have a phenomenal university that is rising to the top as we speak. We have an incredible athletic department. We have an incredible administration. We have incredible support from our fans, from the board, from our president right through Michael Kelly.
“Then you get in the locker room and we’ve got great players. We’ve got great young men that are continuing to push through a difficult time, and I see this as a phenomenal place to work, to live, to play, to go to school. And I see greatness in this program’s near future.”