By Matt Schwab
PLEASANT HILL - After amassing 659 wins and 12 conference titles during a remarkable 30-year career at Diablo Valley College, Steve Coccimiglio has retired as Vikings men’s basketball coach.
The legendary coach will be missed. Just ask the players.
“He had a huge impact from Day 1,” recalled Mo Charlo, a two-time All-State selection at DVC from 2002-2004. “He showed me how to work hard. … He played a big role in my success early on. Kind of like a father figure to me.”
A brilliant basketball tactician who drew from the likes of former Saint Mary’s College coach Lynn Nance and Santa Cruz High legend Pete Newell Jr., Coccimiglio has been a mentor, motivator, and advocate for scores of young men.
He takes pride in having sent 140 players to four-year programs, and the players appreciated the support.
“He in a lot of ways opened my eyes to what it is to be a young man and then a man with responsibilities and that sort of stuff,” recalled David Jobe, a Diablo Valley player from 2001-2003 who went on to compete at UC Riverside.
For 30 years at Diablo Valley Coccimiglio rolled out a devastating triangle offense and a fierce matchup zone defense he learned from current Golden State Warriors assistant Ron Adams, dating to when Adams was an assistant at Fresno State under head coach Boyd Grant in the 1980s.
The DVC program got rolling in 1992-93 when the Vikings won the then-Golden Gate Conference title. The GGC was a power conference back then and featured City College of San Francisco, West Valley, San Jose, Chabot, Delta, and DVC.
“It was really the first team to buy in and put it all on the line, and they got the program going," Coccimiglio recalled. "Once you won the GGC that was legitimate when it comes to Northern California. We did it with a lot of guys that were Division 2 players and they were tough guys and they played together, and they were unselfish.”
In addition to leading young men on the court, Coccimiglio, a Clayton Valley High graduate, served on the Executive Board of the California Community College Men’s Basketball Coaches Association for 22 years and was president from 1999-2001.
“I feel that we have a lot of great coaches in California community college basketball and they are stressing the right things to young men and that is education first and character,” he said.
Sacramento State coach Brian Katz holds his former high school and community college coaching rival – and longtime friend -- in the highest regard.
“He’s as good as any coach I’ve ever coached against at any level, and I’ve coached 44 years and I’ve coached at the Division I level for 14,” Katz said of Coccimiglio. “If he would have wanted to pursue the Division 1 thing, he would have been very successful as a Division 1 coach.”
Coccimiglio was interested in being a Division I head coach early in his career, but the whole package at Diablo Valley suited him best. He enjoyed developing players in the less pressure-packed community college environment and being a tenured professor.
The results speak for themselves: No. 3 winningest community college basketball coach in state history; 659-301 record at DVC (1990-2020) after going 101-41 at De La Salle (1981-86); six trips to the Elite 8; one State Final Four; two-time State Community College Coach of the Year; California Community College Hall of Fame in 2017; and California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020.
Clearly, Coccimiglio’s Vikings were no fun to play against for three decades.
“His teams execute extremely well,” Katz said. “Offensively they were like a machine. You might know what’s coming but you sometimes couldn’t stop it. Unbelievably great precision, great timing; really, really execute. They ran the triple post to a ‘t,’ to perfection. Probably better than anybody ever ran it. Defensively was really, really solid, always in the right spot. He had a great ability to adapt to the strength of his team.”
Katz and Coccimiglio are friends with similar basketball stories. Katz coached high school at Casa Robles and Center-Antelope about when Coccimiglio’s De La Salle teams were tearing it up. Then Katz was an assistant at Santa Clara University when Coccimiglio was with the Broncos’ rival, Saint Mary’s, where Nance taught him the triangle. Both coaches went back to community college, but Katz made the jump to Sacramento State in 2008.
“We’re about the same age and our careers really paralleled each other,” Katz said.
Throughout his career, Coccimiglio put the human side of coaching above the accolades.
“I really believe that it’s the relationships that have mattered to me,” Coccimiglio said. “Basketball was obviously the love of mine and the players who played. We had a central love of the game but going through the process of putting teams together and building relationships was the greatest."
At DVC, Charlo, a 6-foot-7 power forward from Eureka, averaged 18.1 points and 7.4 rebounds a game, earning Bay Valley Conference MVP honors. His DVC jersey number was retired after the 2003-04 season. He went on to star at Nevada for two years.
“He was a special player and a special young man,” Coccimiglio says of Charlo.
After playing at Nevada, Charlo went undrafted before signing with the Golden State. He was released and then moved into the D-League. He also won some championships playing overseas. Most recently, Charlo helped the Marquette Alumni Team win the $1 million winner-take-all The Basketball Tournament (TBT) on ESPN.
Charlo agrees that he needed what Coccimiglio provided for him - the coaching and mentorship - right out of high school.
“I was young and not knowing, but to go to a situation like that, to play for legendary coach in the Bay Area and having so much success was huge,” he said. “Me not knowing anything about the school and the coach coming into the situation, it turned out fantastic.”
Toughness and defense are emphasized under Coccimiglio.
“He definitely didn’t like softness. You had to have a tough mentality to play for him. Practices were always tough. We competed at a high level every day. I think that’s what turned me into a defensive player,” Charlo said. “Really, I came in as a guy that can score the ball, but I had to learn how to actually play defense. … I probably led the team in charges every year.
"He always gave out these little awards, which was a DVC watch, every time you took a charge and I was getting like five or six charges a game. I had a nice collection of DVC watches," Charlo added.
Jobe, the science chair and an assistant basketball coach Salesian High in Richmond, admires Coccimiglio’s ability to get the most out of a diverse group of players each season.
“Junior college, that’s a tough level,” Jobe says. “… and his ability to just kind of accept whatever was there as far as your background, your personality, or whatever, and to place the expectation of ‘you’re gonna work hard, you’re gonna show up, you’re gonna do things the right way,’ that stuck for a long way and still has.”
Charlo was recently inducted in the 2020 DVC Athletics Hall of Fame, with his wife, two daughters and a proud Coccimiglio by his side. The moment captured the essence of Coccimiglio’s storybook run in Pleasant Hill: Player, coach, family. Together.
Coccimiglio’s long list of accomplishments speaks to a career well-lived:
· Head coach, De La Salle High School, 1981-86 (101-41).
· Assistant Coach, Saint Mary’s College, 1986-89.
· Diablo Valley College head coach 30 years, 1990-2020 (659-301).
· Third-most wins in California community college history.
· 12 conference championships.
· 6 trips to the CC Final 8.
· State Final Four, 1994.
· 2-time California State Coach of the Year, 1999, 2001.
· Northern California Coach of the Year.
· California CC Basketball HOF, 2017
· California Community College Athletic Association Lifetime Achievement Award, 2020.
· Over 140 DVC players competed at the four-year level.