s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe
You've read 5 of 15 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read 10 of 15 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
Ooops! You're out of free articles. Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading all of our products and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?

For more than a decade, you always knew when things were getting dicey in a Sonoma Valley girls basketball game. It was measured by the arc of Sil Coccia’s suit jacket.

Coccia, who took over the Dragons varsity squad in 2005, was a coach who liked to dress professionally for games: slacks, shiny shoes, coat, tie, collared shirt. But at some point in just about every game, whether the spark was a questionable foul call or a bit of sloppy ball handling, Coccia would rise to his feet, remove his coat and toss it behind him.

“My senior year, there were two guys that actually wore sports jackets to our games,” said Sarah Semenero, who joined the Sonoma Valley varsity program the same year as Coccia and graduated in 2008. “As soon as Sil took off his coat, they’d rip off theirs and throw them into the bleachers. They’d do exactly the same thing. And people would go crazy. It was never on after the first quarter unless it was a blowout. And maybe not even then.”

Coatless, Coccia would get serious about fixing whatever was going wrong.

That ritual effectively came to an end on Feb. 26, in the moments after Sonoma Valley lost to Campolindo in a North Coast Section Division 3 semifinal playoff game. Coccia let his assistants dissect the game, then announced to his girls that he was retiring after 11 seasons, 163 victories, three Sonoma County League championships, eight NCS postseason appearances and two SCL Coach of the Year awards.

Coccia is also retiring from his longtime position as a coach with the NorCal Academy.

“It’s not cold turkey, but it’s damn close to it,” he said. “I’m at peace with it, though. It’s almost like when I announced it to the girls after our last game. There was shock, and there were tears. But I didn’t shed any, because I’d already worked through it.”

What made Coccia’s decision easier is the vigor of the program he’s leaving behind. The Dragons were league co-champions along with Analy in 2015-16, a year after winning the title outright. Both of those Coccia-coached squads went 11-1 in the SCL. Sonoma Valley has just four girls returning next year, but three of them are among the team’s top seven scorers.

“We managed to have some success these last few years,” Coccia said. “I feel like Peyton Manning. I was watching him at his retirement press conference. Why not go out on top? It would be one thing if I knew the bottom was falling out next year. It’s not. The program is in really good shape.”

Sonoma Valley High athletic director Robert Midgley said the school is in the process of hiring a new coach.

Coccia’s reason for stepping away from coaching is a common one. There just wasn’t enough of him to go around. He became manager of retail sales at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery in June. It’s located in Dry Creek Valley near Healdsburg, which put Coccia on the road for at least a couple hours a day.

“It’s a time-consuming job,” Coccia said. “It’s retail, so weekends are not Saturday-Sunday for me necessarily. That’s a juggling challenge for me. So it’s a combination of factors. It’s the job, it’s the commute, it’s the time constraints.”

And it’s more than that, perhaps. Coccia is just 57, but he refers to himself as a “dinosaur” of a coach. He grew up in northern New Jersey and learned a physical, hustling style of basketball that demands a large buy-in from the athletes. Though Coccia never lost his passion for teaching the game to young women, he found it harder to reach them the past few years.

“As I’m progressing in age, my style and my intensity maybe going forward wasn’t gonna be the right fit for kids today,” Coccia said.

His retirement stunned some former players, and even assistant coach Dino Minatta. But senior Jenny Eggers, the Dragons’ leading scorer and rebounder last season, had noted Coccia’s struggle to remain upbeat.

“He just didn’t seem as happy as he did the previous year,” Eggers said. “But for me it came as a surprise. I thought he’d keep coaching.”

Coccia leaves behind a reputation for passionate instruction and exacting standards.

“I can hands-down say he’s probably one of my favorite coaches in all my years — other than my dad, of course,” said Semenero, whose father, Steve, is a former assistant under Coccia. “He made me realize how good of a player I could be. I think he believed in me more than I believed in myself. He knew how to push me to excel. He did that with every player, not just me.”

Semenero wound up playing at Cal Poly Pomona.

Coccia could work up a sweat during a game, and his booming voice was able cut through a noisy gym. But that doesn’t mean he was overbearing with his players.

“I mean, he’s loud, but that’s the Italian side of him,” said Semenero, who is currently living in Windsor and working as an instructional aide in the Sonoma Valley School District. “He was never degrading. It was more disappointment, like, ‘You know what you’re supposed to be doing.’ If he had to talk to a player, he’d take her aside and explain — mostly with his hands.”

In terms of strategy, Coccia will be remembered for his emphasis on defense. He proudly notes that his Dragons gave up an average of just 31 points per game over the past two years.

“We don’t score,” Coccia said. “But defense is always a great equalizer. Defense is in Sonoma’s DNA. That’s how I’d like to be remembered by my colleagues.”

Getting teenagers to buy into an unflashy defensive mentality is no small challenge. Somehow, Coccia made it work.

“We weren’t used to a coach saying it’s all about defense,” Eggers said. “You hear a lot of coaches saying you have to shoot to win. That’s what I always thought until Sil was my coach. During games, he never said we need to shoot better. He said we have to play better defense.”

Coccia’s impact went beyond the court, though. Semenero said he was almost like a second father to her. Other players would certainly agree. Teaching basketball skills has always been satisfying to Coccia. Watching tentative girls develop into confident young women is even more important.

“That to me is the best part of a coaching legacy, teaching girls valuable life skills using the metaphor of basketball,” Coccia said. “That’s what we’re doing here. Shoot, I like to win and compete as much as anybody. But it’s about making kids more prepared for life. That’s what I’m happiest about. I walk away as a very happy coach.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.