Playing the long game
While others moved, Carmen Cozza stayed put
By Marc Katz
It would be ridiculous to say there is a drumbeat to get rid of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh after only two seasons and two losses to…well, OK, maybe there is a small drumbeat, but I haven’t heard it yet.
It would be ridiculous to start one, although it’s been done in many places. I’m looking at you, LSU, and you, Oregon.
The Tigers were just 114-34 under Les Miles, but 2-2 this season (in September), when the folks in Baton Rouge had enough. They were kicking themselves because they didn’t let him go the year before, when he turned in a terrible 9-3.
Miles was gone, and now his replacement, Ed Obgeron, who finished the season 5-2, is taking his place.
You know who used to coach at LSU, don’t you? Nick Saban, who said he wouldn’t leave, then left for the pros, then returned to college—where he’d never return—and right into the SEC, same as LSU, only at Alabama.
I wonder if there’s any mixed tail-gaiting at those games.
Oh, and you must have heard last week that Charlie Strong, in his third year of a five-year contract at Texas, is out, and Tom Herman, who was oh so happy at Houston, is the new savior of the Longhorns.
And now Mark Helfrich, 37-16 in four years at Oregon, but 4-8 with a lousy defense this year, is gone. Helfrich has $11.6 million left on his contract, and the Ducks wished him and his family well.
At least they won’t go hungry.
Look, it has always been this way, but not for everybody. Not for Carmen Cozza, of our Cradle of Coaches at Miami, over in nearby Oxford. He coached 32 years at Yale as the top man, and if you’re going to tell me Yale is for students and not for football players, shame on you.
When Cozza started in 1965, Yale was Division I. Then came some Division IAA years in the 1980s, when the Ivy League, of which Yale was a part and had helped establish the college game, decided now was only for buttheads.
Cozza hardly saw the Yale job coming. He grew up in Parma, suburban Cleveland, and went to Miami to play football and baseball. His football coaches at Miami were Woody Hayes and Ara Parseghian, not to drop any names.
Off to play two years of minor league baseball, Cozza returned to Miami as an assistant coach under John Pont, who eventually left for the job at Yale. Cozza wanted the Miami job, but it went to a no-name, Bo Schembechler, not to drop any names.
“In all honesty, he was more qualified than I was,” Cozza said of Schembechler. “He was a teammate of mine, a year ahead of me. He had already been at Bowling Green and Northwestern and with Woody at Ohio State [all as an assistant]. He got the job.”
Cozza joined Pont at Yale. Two years later, Pont left for Indiana. Cozza looked around, but Yale asked him to stay. He worked mostly on three-year rollover contracts, once asking for a 10-year deal, which was granted. Toward the end of his tenure, when coaching contracts were escalating into the millions, Cozza made it into the low six-figures. By that time, it wasn’t all about money.
“The other thing is loyalty,” Cozza said. “Yale took a chance on a person like me. I wanted to stay here. We were successful after a couple of years.”
“My family didn’t want to move,” he added. “And I noticed a lot of my friends in the business were moving every other year.”
He was coaching real student-athletes, too. “In my 32 years here,” Cozza said, “I’m sure some of [the players] took some time off, but only seven didn’t get degrees out of 2,000. Anyone in our league could say the same thing.”
Thirty-two years. Yale was 179-119-5 during that time and went 30-5-1 in four seasons from 1967-70 and 25-4 in three seasons from 1979-81.
“We played [against] good people,” said Cozza, who seriously looked at two other jobs while at Yale, but stayed where he was. “We opened up with UConn, we played Boston College, we played Rutgers, we played all three [military] academies.”
“We played a real ambitious schedule,” he continued. “We won our share. [10 Ivy League championships]. I felt very fortunate to be the head coach here and coach the quality of people we had here. We had 39 players play professionally. Some of them were really good. My first one, Calvin Hill, was drafted in the first round by Dallas.”
Cozza is 86 now and has his own office in the athletics department, the way he always did. He does Yale radio commentary during home games. He is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
When he looks over today’s landscape, with coaches being fired for not winning every game, and others grabbing bagfuls of money at programs that expect to win every game, he’s glad it’s not him.
“The pressure is on them,” Cozza said of the coaches. “You’ve got to win. They don’t care how you treat the players. There’s no loyalty. There’s not so much loyalty on the coaches’ side, either. As soon as they get what they think is a better opportunity, they go. A contract is a binding thing; if you don’t honor it, don’t expect to be honored when it’s your turn.”
You can win that way, you know.
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