PROFILE: From cleats to clubs: Former county resident Al Del Greco succeeds in multiple roles
By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer
A former college and NFL star kicker, radio personality, accomplished golfer, father and coach all fit the bill of 54-year-old Al Del Greco.
To say that Del Greco is a versatile guy might be a bit of an understatement.
These days, Del Greco can be found on the bottom floor of Samford University’s Pete Hanna Center where his office features photos of family, friends and awards from his golfing and kicking careers. The most important bit of information can be found on the office door, however, that reads “Al Del Greco, head men’s golf coach.”
The journey of Del Greco navigating from Miami, Fla., to Birmingham, Ala., has been an interesting ride but it’s one that Del Greco has thoroughly enjoyed with the majority of his time being spent in Shelby County.
Del Greco was born in Providence, Rhode Island and then moved to Miami, Florida when he was four years old. Del Greco spent the majority of his time in Key Biscayne and attended Coral Gables High School where he played football and soccer from 1977-80.
During his years growing up, Del Greco enjoyed golf and soccer and actually learned how to kick a football from former Auburn University placekicker Jorge Portela, who also grew up in Miami.
Before becoming a successful kicker, Del Greco’s first love was actually on the links.
“I grew up playing golf when I was a little kid and when I was about 13 my dad bought a summer membership to the golf course where we lived,” Del Greco said. “It was $100 for the whole summer and you got to play as much golf as you wanted and I would spend 4-5 days out there. It just captivated me I guess. I played in junior high school but I didn’t play in high school because I played soccer instead.”
In high school, Del Greco focused more on soccer and football and in the end, the hard work and effort paid off.
“I was the first kicker to ever get a scholarship to Auburn out of high school,” Del Greco said. “The chance to play college football was huge and Auburn was really the only school that gave me that opportunity.”
Time at Auburn
When Del Greco came to Auburn in 1980, he had the opportunity to compete for a starting kicking job right away as Tigers head coach Doug Barfield was the one who offered Del Greco a spot on the team.
“When I got there I was fortunate enough to win the kicking job my freshman year and my first road game was at TCU and I think we went 5-6 that year,” Del Greco said. “I just realized my dream came true. I was playing college football at the Division I level in the SEC.”
Although Del Greco had a successful freshman season, the team struggled and Auburn brought in a new head football coach by the name of Pat Dye in 1981 and a new era was born.
“Coach Dye came in and I remember one of the reporters at his first press conference said ‘How long is it going to take you to beat Alabama?’ and his answer was ’60 minutes,’” Del Greco said. “He also laid out that it’s going to be hard work and I’m going to work the heck out of you. If you want to win, you’re going to have to do what I ask of you. That winter and that spring practice was just ultimate hell for a lot of guys and he weeded out the guys who really weren’t there for the right reasons. Two years later we had kind of turned the corner. We beat Alabama and then three years later we won an SEC championship.”
During his time at Auburn, Del Greco completed 110 out of 111 PATs in his career. He also set the Southeastern Conference record for field goal attempts in a game and field goals made in a game when he made six out of his seven attempts against Kentucky in 1983.
Del Greco would later earn his degree from Auburn in 1987.
Del Greco would go on to have a tremendous career in the NFL, which ironically started in his hometown of Miami.
“Coming out of Auburn I was a free agent and signed with the Dolphins which was another kind of dream come true to grow up in Miami and follow them in the Super Bowl years and to be able to go to training camp and play in four preseason games with them was really, really cool,” Del Greco said. “Honestly when I went there it was kind of like alright I got an opportunity to play pro football but am I really good enough to do that? I can’t say with 100 percent certainty I knew that. Going through training camp and competing like I did even though I got cut on the last cut I still felt like ‘hey if I get the opportunity I might be good enough to play.’ And then in the middle of October that year Green Bay finally signed me and I went up there and finished that year. Seventeen years later it finally came to an end.”
Del Greco played in the NFL from 1984-2000 where he amassed 1,592 career points and at the time of his retirement, he was ranked as No. 11 on the NFL’s all-time scoring list.
Del Greco played for the Green Bay Packers, the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals and the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans.
“Knowing that you’re in the NFL playing with the best everywhere and at that time there were 30 jobs available,” Del Greco said. “It was pretty special to get the chance and to know you were one of those 30 people.”
Developing as a golfer, hitting the airwaves and getting the chance to coach
During his time in the NFL, Del Greco said he had more time to pick up playing golf, especially during the offseason.
The Celebrity Golf Association took off in the early 90s and Del Greco had great success.
“I would play in 4-6 celebrity golf events and you were getting paid and playing for prize money,” Del Greco said. “I had some success doing that and it just seemed like it just built my love for the game and the passion that I had for it over that time.”
In 1993, Del Greco officially moved to Shelby County in large part because of former Alabama football player and Green Bay Packers teammate Paul Carruth.
“I used to go to Birmingham to visit Carruth and he told me about a golf course that was being developed called Greystone,” Del Greco said. “I came and played it and I joined not even living in state and then as the houses started being constructed I would come back and play golf and it was the exact vision I had of where I wanted to live. In 1993, we bought a lot and we built a home in Greystone and spent 18 terrific years there raising a family and being a part of the Shelby County community.”
During portions of Del Greco’s NFL career, the JOX radio station would occasionally have Del Greco come in as a guest to talk about the Titans and things around the NFL.
After retiring from the NFL and while living in Greystone, Del Greco had two job opportunities pop up. One with JOX and another was a chance to coach in the Shelby County area.
“When I retired, there was a kickoff party JOX was having on an afternoon show and I was in there and they were interviewing me and right at that time they were thinking about changing the morning show,” Del Greco said. “They said they were looking for a voice that can represent the Auburn Tigers. They heard me on the radio that day and the general manager said ‘call him and ask him if he’d be interested in doing this.’ Here we are 11 years later and I get up every morning at 4:15 and get on the radio at 6. I just share my love for sports and Auburn and just life in general. It was kind of an unexpected gift put in front of me.”
Spain Park High School was also being built right around the time Del Greco retired and the school reached out to the former star kicker and established golfer.
“They reached out and said ‘we’d love to have you help out with the football team and be the golf coach,’” Del Greco said. “I thought about that for a little while and it just seemed like it was a perfect fit. My kids were at the age where they were going to start high school in a couple of years. We grew the program pretty well. We won our first state championship his senior year and then won two more after that. I guess that’s when the coaching bug kind of got me. I can still stay around the game, I can still be influential and maybe the biggest thing is be a good example for the kids.”
During Del Greco’s 10 seasons coaching the Spain Park boys golf team, the Jaguars won three state championships from 2008-2010, finished as a state runner-up and three individual’s won state championships.
The move to Samford
Del Greco’s final season as the Spain Park boys golf coach came in 2010 because of the success his son Trey was having on the golf course.
Trey, who played high school golf at Spain Park for his dad, received a four-year scholarship to play golf at Vanderbilt University and Del Greco wanted to be there for his son.
“I was missing seeing him play in his tournaments and it was something that I gave up the coaching at Spain Park so I could watch him his last two years,” Del Greco said. “When I left coaching golf I missed it, I’ll be honest with you. In 2012, I was going through a divorce and I had everything going with JOX in the morning and it just seemed like I had all this time in the afternoon. The job came open here at Samford and I sent them an email about the men’s coaching job. Within half an hour I had a voicemail saying when can you come in? We met probably 4-5 times and then made sure JOX was OK with my requirements here and that Samford was OK with my requirements I had at JOX and both sides agreed and now I feel like I have the best of both worlds.”
Del Greco was hired as the Samford University men’s golf coach in May 2014 and has spent the last three years in the position.
“It’s kids at a different age now and a different part of their life but it’s still kind of a mentoring thing with me that I want them to know how to compete,” Del Greco said. “I want them to know how to overcome adversity, I want them to know how to represent not only the school but represent their family and themselves everywhere they go and in everything they do. To me grades and attendance in class is very important, which is what Samford portrays.”
Look to the future
Currently, Del Greco co-hosts “The Opening Drive” radio show from 6-10 a.m. on JOX each weekday morning and also serves as the Samford men’s golf coach and he feels like he is in a great spot.
“I feel very fortunate where I sit and the last seven years you look at what’s gone on in this state,” Del Greco said. “It’s either been Alabama or Auburn playing for the National Championship and I don’t think that’s ever going to happen again. The fact that we got to experience that on the radio show for the better part of our career so far has made it a whole lot of fun. Then the opportunity here at Samford where it keeps me around golf. I get to practice or play with the kids when I want to. I get to travel and take them to tournaments and at 54-years-old I don’t feel like I’m a 54-year-old guy. I feel younger than that and I think the two jobs that I have present that opportunity to me.”