Valparaiso director of athletics Mark LaBarbera announced Dave Cecchini as the 17th head football coach in school history on Dec. 11, 2013. He completed his fifth season in 2018.
Cecchini has lifted Valpo football to new heights during his time in charge, turning a program that had won just three total games in the four seasons prior to his arrival - all against the same opponent - into one that finished with its first winning season since 2003 in 2017, Cecchini's fourth year. The 2017 season saw the program turn a corner as Valpo went 6-5 overall and 5-3 in Pioneer Football League play, a year that saw Cecchini became the first Valpo coach since 2003 to earn Pioneer Football League Coach of the Year honors. Cecchini was also named a finalist for the FCS Coach of the Year Award, the AFCA FCS Region 4 Coach of the Year and a finalist for the AFCA FCS National Coach of the Year. Valpo finished tied for third in the league standings after being picked to finish 10th of 11.
The fourth-year coach, guiding nearly all of his own recruits for the first time since taking over, led the squad to its highest league win total since 1961. Valpo scored 330 points and racked up 4,398 yards, both second most in program history. The team defended Brown Field well, going 4-0 in PFL home games and winning four league home games in the same year for the first time in program history.
The last two games of the 2017 season ranked among the year's highlights, as Valpo picked up its first win at Butler since 2005 to capture the Hoosier Helmet rivalry trophy before beating Dayton 8-7 in the season finale, Valpo's first win over the Flyers since 2003. Cecchini and his staff called for a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown with 1:20 left against Dayton, a call the proved successful as Valpo converted to win the game and wrap up a winning season.
During an injury-plagued 2018 season, Cecchini led his team to a 35-17 victory over rival Butler, allowing Valpo to beat the Bulldogs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2005. The Hoosier Helmet trophy was created in 2006, so this marked the first time it called Northwest Indiana home multiple years in a row. Valpo is 3-2 against Butler in Cecchini’s five seasons as head coach. The win over Butler also allowed Cecchini to become Valpo’s winningest coach through the first 50 games of his tenure since Bill Koch coached his 50th game on Sept. 18, 1982.
Valpo improved to 4-1 on Senior Day under Cecchini in 2018 by beating Jacksonville 48-30 in the home finale. Cecchini instructed a first-team All-PFL performer, a second-team All-PFL honoree, seven PFL Honorable Mention athletes, two Academic All-PFL First Team recipients, one Academic All-PFL Second Team achiever and two FCS National Bowl participants during his fifth season.
Under Cecchini’s direction, Valpo had two of the best offensive seasons in program history in 2017 and 2018. After finishing second in program history with 330 total points in 2017, Valpo again made its way into the all-time Top 5 with 290 points in 2018. This marks the first time Valpo has scored 290 points or more in back-to-back seasons since 1950 and 1951.
Cecchini also serves as the quarterbacks coach at Valpo and has led the program to great success at the quarterback position, highlighted by the play of Jimmy Seewald, who finished the 2017 season fourth in program history in passing yards in a single season (2,602), fifth in touchdown passes (18) and fourth in total offense (2,570). With still two seasons of eligibility remaining entering 2019, Seewald already ranks fifth in program history in career passing yards (4,491) and total offense (4,429).
Cecchini's arrival yielded immediate dividends for the Valpo football program, as evidenced by a four-win campaign that featured a stark improvement on the defensive side of the ball. The 2014 defense allowed 156 fewer points than the 2013 version, and held opponents to 100.1 fewer yards per game than the year prior. Valpo's four wins were the most in a single season since 2007.
The team's offense also saw a resurgence in Cecchini's first year at the helm. Valpo more than doubled its total of rushing touchdowns from 2013 with the same cast of running backs. The team went from averaging 20.8 points per game to 23.9 over the course of a year. Valpo's offensive line led the nation in fewest sacks per game (0.42).
Cecchini's third year in 2016 was a season that saw the team take a large step forward. Valpo finished with its highest Pioneer Football League win total since 2003 and equaled its highest overall win total since 2007.
Cecchini served as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Lehigh University for four seasons before taking over the reins at Valparaiso. It was his second stint with the Mountain Hawks. Cecchini also worked in the same capacity at The Citadel and Harvard, having coached Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and New York Jets receiver Andre Roberts.
He rejoined the Lehigh staff as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach following the 2010 season. Upon his return, the Mountain Hawks enjoyed one of the strongest offensive seasons in program history. Thanks to an offense that averaged over 26 points per game, Lehigh secured its ninth Patriot League Championship in school history. Cecchini coached quarterback Chris Lum, the national runner-up in voting for the Walter Payton Award. Lum, an All-American, broke the Patriot League's single-season record for passing yards (4,378) and touchdown passes (32). Four Mountain Hawks achieved All-American status on Cecchini's watch.
Cecchini took over as offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach at The Citadel in 2007. In his first season with the Bulldogs, the squad set 16 offensive records including points in a season (39.5 PPG) and total offense (437.6 YPG). The 2007 Citadel team finished with the school's best record in 15 years. While in Charleston, Cecchini coached and mentored star receiver Andre Roberts. Under Cecchini's tutelage, Roberts was a First Team All-American who set program records for receptions in a season (95), receiving yards (1,334), and touchdown catches (15). Roberts was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round of the 2010 National Football League Draft.
Cecchini assumed the role of offensive coordinator/quarterbacks and wide receivers coach at Harvard in 2003, where his offensive aptitude paid off right away. Harvard's 2003 offense averaged 461 yards per game, good for fourth in the nation in total offense that year. The 2004 Crimson team crafted a perfect 10-0 record en route to an Ivy League Championship. Harvard set 14 team or individual offensive records with Cecchini at the controls (2003-2006). In 2005, he was bestowed the American Football Coaches Association's Mike Campbell Top Assistant Coach Award after Harvard produced the top offense in 2005.
The Valpo head coach is a 1995 graduate of Lehigh. An All-American wide receiver in his playing days, Cecchini established numerous single-season school and Patriot League records including receptions (88), receiving yards (1,318) and touchdown receptions (15) in addition to leading the country in receptions and receiving yards per game.
Cecchini joined the Mountain Hawk coaching staff the fall following his graduation from Lehigh. For the next several seasons he worked his way up, holding the position of quarterbacks coach, wide receivers coach, running backs coach and tight ends coach before ultimately being named assistant head coach in 2001.
Cecchini and his wife Tammy have two sons, Evan and Will.