By Rich Fisher| Correspondent
If Rich Roche starts giving to the local blood bank on a regular basis, we may see a lot more coaches running around the area.
“I think once coaching is in your blood it’s always in your blood,” Roche said. “I don’t think it ever really goes away.”
The Notre Dame High School Athletic Director proved that on Nov. 3, when he replaced departed head basketball coach Bob Turco, who stepped down two days earlier. With the season quickly approaching, the Irish decided that rather than conduct a hurried job search, Roche would assume the role at the request of Principal Mary Liz Ivins. He does so with more than 20 years of high school and college coaching experience.
In taking over the program, Roche will attempt to instill the values by which he lives.
“Where my faith comes into play, I feel like I work in church to a certain degree,” he said of working at Catholic school. “There are expectations of how our kids are supposed to behave, so those expectations should follow through with how we coach, administrate and teach. Since we hold our kids to a higher standard, we as coaches, administrators and teachers are also held to that higher standard.
“Faith is an important thing to me. I try to walk the walk, not just talk it. I try to set the proper example. And like anybody else, we’re not perfect at it every day. But it’s right there, something to strive for and something that I’m accustomed to. I grew up that way. I went to Catholic school for 12 years.”
Roche admitted that during the past 11 years he has been an administrator, coaching remained on his mind.
“I think the thing I missed the most are the teaching and the practices, even more so than game day,” he said. “Just being in the gym and teaching the game were the things over the last 11 years I really missed the most.”
Ironically, Turco was Roche’s first hire when he took over at Notre Dame in 2010, During his time at ND, Turco compiled a 148-46 record, won two Mercer County Tournament titles, reached the MCT finals four times and claimed five division crowns.
Several issues led to his departure – his daughter gave birth to Turco’s first grandson, and he moved to Barnegat to be closer to the family.
“Now that I’m an empty-nester that’s important to me,” he said. “And that’s a long drive to make from Barnegat to Lawrenceville every day.”
He might have attempted it, except for the fact that six players transferred during the summer. Suddenly, a season of great promise took a major hit and that was the final factor in Turco’s decision.
“It’s been roaming around in my head for the past two months,” he said. “All the stuff that happened this summer really took its toll on me. But I am mainly leaving for the personal reasons I mentioned.”
Turco still wants to coach and hopes to land a job closer to the shore area where he now lives. He said he has been contacted by several Shore Conference and Middlesex County coaches about possibly being an assistant this year.
Roche wishes Turco all the best and has nothing but great things to say about him. He will now attempt to mold a very young team with one proven varsity player – Cartier Bowman.
Because of his desire to teach, Roche enjoys having to mold a young team rather than inheriting a ready-to-win-now model.
“I think that makes it great because it’s more of a challenge,” Roche said. “Jobs generally don’t open because things are great. I think every job I’ve gotten in my career was kind of a rebuild when we got there, so those things are fun.
“It will be an opportunity for some kids to shine that may not have had that opportunity before. It’s a great opportunity for me to get in the gym with these guys and see what they can do, see what they’re capable of, see what kind of system we can put together that benefits their abilities.”
Roche is a Long Island native from Nassau County, where he went to Maria Regina, a diocesan Catholic school now known as Kellenberg Memorial. He played basketball at Hobart College and, after graduation, got a job in banking and also began coaching as an assistant at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington.
“My friend asked me to be an assistant,” Roche said. “I thought I was done with basketball after college but when I walked back in the gym, my eyes were kind of re-opened.”
Thus began an odyssey of teaching and coaching. Roche became an assistant at Division II New York Tech College and then at SUNY-Farmingdale, a junior college that has since gone NCAA Division III. He returned to St. Anthony’s in 1990 for his first head coaching job at age 25.
After three years he went to Villanova for his master’s degree and served as an unpaid graduate-assistant under Steve Lappas.
“It was a little bit of a roll of the dice, but one of those opportunities you can’t pass up,” Roche said.
After earning his master’s, Rich went back to St. Anthony’s for three more years before returning to his alma mater as head coach. In more than 100 years of existence, Hobart’s basketball program had never won a division or conference tournament or been to the NCAA Division III tournament. In his fourth year, Roche accomplished all three.
After nine years he decided it was time for a change and spent four years as the District Athletic Director at Lindenhurst public schools in Long Island. Urged by his sister, Meg, who had moved to Flemington, Roche applied for the Notre Dame AD job and surprised himself by getting it. Rich had a link to the school in that Meg’s three children all went to Notre Dame.
Roche could not be happier, as he feels right at home.
“There’s a reason I’ve spent so many years working in Catholic schools,” he said. “I feel like there’s an extra connectivity to what you’re doing. It’s a special environment to be in. You work with great people, you have the good fortune to work with great kids. In the Catholic school setting, as an adult to be a teacher, coach or administrator, you can have a greater impact on the kids and you want to make it a positive impact.”
And once again, he will be making that impact in what he loves to do the most – coaching basketball.