Brock Olivo thought he was prepared for his first game as head coach for S.S. Lazio of the Italian Football League. Was he ever wrong.
As he walked into the locker room, ready to address his team, Olivo couldn’t find his starting middle linebacker and center.
“A couple of their teammates, said, ‘Coach, they are at the bar …’ which in Italian means at a café,” recalled Olivo, now the Chiefs’ assistant special teams coach. “My starting center and middle linebacker are smoking cigarettes and drinking espresso at halftime. …
“One of my assistants said, ‘Coach, ‘Welcome to Italy.’”
Olivo, 38, eventually returned to the United States, and he’s a lot more worldly than the carefree spirit who bulldozed his way for then-school records in rushing and touchdowns at Missouri and served as captain of Detroit’s special teams during four seasons in the NFL.
He’s worked in the nation’s capital. He’s run for Congress. He played and coached pro football overseas and coached in the defunct United Football League in Omaha before spending the last two years at the college level at Coastal Carolina.
And he wouldn’t change a thing, especially after reuniting with Chiefs special-teams coordinator Dave Toub, the Tigers’ strength coach during Olivo’s college career, who called Olivo “the hardest-working player” he ever had at Missouri.
“I’m grateful to Dave Toub,” said Olivo, who replaced Kevin O’Dea, now Tampa Bay’s special-teams coach. “A guy like me would never had an opportunity had Dave not had the confidence and faith to give me a shot.
“Working with the best special-teams coach in the league is like an aspiring physicist getting to work with Einstein.”
Olivo’s coaching odyssey began shortly after his four-year career with the Lions ended in 2001. He worked three years at the National Italian American Foundation in Washington, D.C., where he met his fiancée, Federica, the mother of their daughter, Sophia.
Olivo, who had played briefly in Italy in 2002, was offered the job of coaching the Italian national team and the S.S. Lazio Marines, a Serie A1 team. The experience was right out of the John Grisham novel “Playing for Pizza,” which depicted Italians playing pro football as a sideline to their everyday jobs.
“They literally play for pizza,” Olivo said. “There are very few Italians who can make ends meet just by playing football. Coaching there taught me patience. You had to be an awesome teacher because you’re teaching players who didn’t start playing American football on average until they’re 17, 18 years old. And you have to teach it in Italian.”
Olivo, who grew up just west of St. Louis, threw his helmet into the political ring in 2008 when the seat in Missouri’s 9th Congressional District became vacant.
“I’ve always been a political junkie,” Olivo said. “When I left Missouri, I would come back for events and certain factions of the Republican party courted me because they wanted some younger faces with name recognition.
“Somebody put the seed in my head … I was at a point in my life, I knew I wanted to get into coaching, but before I sunk my teeth into it, I said, ‘Why not?’ It’s a great experience. It’s humbling. I got my butt kicked. I had no business running against the people I ran against. They were so much more seasoned. I was naive. But I learned a lot.”
Olivo hooked on as running backs coach for the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL in 2011, and when that league folded, he followed coach Joe Moglia to Coastal Carolina, helping the Chanticleers to the FCS playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
O’Dea’s departure created an opportunity with the Chiefs, and Olivo couldn’t be happier to be in Kansas City, where he has brought the same energy and enthusiasm that earned him the inaugural Mosi Tatupu Award, bestowed upon college football’s top special-teams player, and saw his No. 27 retired at Missouri.
“It’s awesome because I’m close to my family and friends,” said Olivo, who lives near former Missouri quarterback Corby Jones in Kansas City. “I’ve seen my father more in the past six months than I did the past six years.”
“When the St. Louis Cardinals broke my heart and went to Phoenix when I was a kid, by default I became a Kansas City Chiefs fan. I remember Christian Okoye and Deron Cherry, who were grinding it out on Sundays.”
Though Olivo doesn’t have O’Dea’s background coaching kickers and punters, he has become a quick study in working with Pro Bowl punter Dustin Colquitt, kicker Ryan Succop and rookie Cairo Santos, the Lou Groza Award winner at Tulane.
“Brock is learning that aspect of it,” Toub said. “Fortunately we have veteran guys. They’re kind of taking Brock under their wing and helping him along. The thing about Brock, he’s such a student of the game. He’ll study tape and he’ll find little things when they start doing things different … and he’ll be able to (correct) them.”
The players appreciate the fact that Olivo was a successful special-teams player covering kicks and blocking in the return game in the NFL.
“He’s a special guy because he has been in those shoes,” Colquitt said. “He knows what it means to make the team as a special-teams guy, and so when you have a guy like that, speaking from experience and has been in those trenches, in those games. …
“When we are trying to get the ball inside the 1-yard line, we are trying to change field position … he’s been there, done that.”