Sometimes, Maryland defensive line coach Greg Gattuso will lapse back to when he was a howling bear of a head coach stalking the sidelines as if looking for prey.
Gattuso coached Duquesne for 12 seasons, and — while he understands his role is more limited at Maryland — he never relinquished his passion or his penchant for looking at the big picture. It's who he is.
"I was very aggressive as a head coach," said Gattuso, 51, a former defensive tackle who played for the late Joe Paterno on Penn State's 1982 national championship team and remained loyal to the coach. "I was tough on the officials. When I was a head coach, people who know me would tell me how extremely intense I was. It's been an adjustment for me. Every once in awhile, [Maryland coach] Randy [Edsall] will yell at me if I'm yelling at a ref."
Gattuso — who is originally from Pittsburgh and served as a Pitt assistant under Dave Wannstedt after leaving Duquesne — is the second straight Maryland defensive line coach to come to College Park with an outsized personality. His predecessor, Dave Sollazzo — a member of former coach Ralph Friedgen's staff — was an amped-up electron of an assistant with a drill-sergeant voice that could often be heard echoing around Gossett Football Team House. Now the defensive line coach at Massachusetts, Sollazzo was known to Terps fans for appearing in an Under Armour commercial in which he bellowed: "They're not going to throw the damn football, YOU GOT ME?"
Gattuso is a bit more subdued. At a recent practice, he stood on the sidelines wearing black "Maryland" shorts, a black polo shirt and black visor. Rocking back and forth on his heels, he summoned players over for instruction, speaking with the trace of a western Pennsylvania accent. "My intensity is always there but it's not as outward," Gattuso said.
His value to the Terps lies in his recruiting — particularly in western Pennsylvania — as well as his teaching and the bonds he develops with his players.
Gattuso banters with his players — a ceaseless back and forth.
Last season, he once pointed across a dining-hall table at then-senior lineman Joe Vellano — whose father also played at Maryland — and said in his best deadpan: "His dad was better."
Vellano only smiled, refusing to take the bait.
Gattuso, who is entering his third Maryland season, "has got a peculiar sense of humor," said Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who worked with Gattuso at Pittsburgh. "There's a fine line between pressing too hard and knowing when to put them in a relaxed mood. He can lighten a room with just a few words. He used to take his players out to eat. Now Greg can eat. He enjoys a good meal."
Gattuso gives his linemen nicknames.
"When they play as freshmen they get a little animal name," he said after a recent Terps practice. Junior end "Keith Bowers was 'Puppy' until he got a sack. So then I couldn't call him Puppy anymore. [Sophomore end] Quinton Jefferson is 'Kitty Kat.'"
Said Jefferson: "He says until I get my first sack, I'll be Kitty Kat. He's a funny dude. He keeps it pretty chill because he's like a goofy guy, goofy personality. But we all know when it's time to work."
Gattuso is still considering nicknames for redshirt freshman Roman Braglio (McDonogh), who entered training camp second on the depth chart at one of the end spots.
"I'm looking for something — like a cub," Gattuso said. "I don't know what little birds are called. A peep maybe. I could call him a peep. Maybe we'll call him 'Chick.'"
It's a challenging season for Maryland's defensive line, which lost Vellano, its best player, and reliable starter A.J. Francis.
The line will be younger this season — there are no seniors on its depth chart.
But Jefferson, a projected starter who was recruited by Gattuso from western Pennsylvania, has earned good grades from the staff for his outside pass rushing skills. Bowers, the other end, played in nine games last season. Starting nose tackle Darius Kilgo has become a leader on the defense and was selected by coaches to the 10-member player leadership council in the offseason.
"Sometimes on the sidelines, I challenge these guys," Gattuso said. "Last year, with Joe and A.J., I didn't have to. Joe and A.J. handled things."
Gattuso is one of two Maryland assistants — offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is the other — with head coaching experience. Last season. Edsall gave Gattuso the additional title of assistant head coach. "It's a guy that I trust a lot," Edsall said. "If I have to be gone for a day or whatever, that's the guy who is in charge."
Gattuso has had a few mentors.
After playing at Penn State, Gattuso was kept on by Paterno as a graduate assistant in 1984.
After Paterno died in January 2012, Gattuso was among a group of former Nittany Lions players who returned to campus for tributes to the coach. Paterno had been fired in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky. Gattuso spoke publicly during that period about Paterno's love for Penn State and the lessons he had learned from his former coach.
Gattuso also looks up to Wannstedt, who hired him at Pittsburgh. Gattuso was the most successful head coach ever at Duquesne, a Football Championship Subdivision school. He left for Pitt after the 2004 season.
"I know [Wannstedt] meant a lot to Greg because he gave him the opportunity to get into the" Football Bowl Subdivision, Bennett said.
"Greg was a bulldog as a recruiter, and he was a good evaluator. We had three good years at Pitt," Bennett said. "When we left, Greg said, 'I never thought I'd miss you. But I do.' "
Notes: Maryland will hold Fan Appreciation Day on Saturday afternoon. The Byrd Stadium gates open at 12:30 and the team will scrimmage at 1:30. Autograph sessions will be held afterward. Fans can park in Lot 1, which is free on the weekends. ... Derrick Hayward, a freshman reserve linebacker, has been moved to tight end...There was no word Thursday on who the backup quarterback will be. Caleb Rowe, Ricardo Young and Perry Hills are competing for the spot.
twitter.com/sunjeffbarkerCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun