viewpoint Carm Cozzo knew the name of every player because he cared
NEW HAVEN — It has been 11 months since Carm Cozza passed at age 87 from complications of acute leukemia at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. Eleven months and less than two miles from where one of the great men of American football will be celebrated later this week.
Coxe Cage, adjacent to the Yale Bowl, is the home to the school’s track and field teams, and anywhere you run there on Saturday morning you surely will run into someone whose life Cozza touched.
“I was in his first recruiting class, so he was pretty young when I had him as coach,” said quarterback Brian Dowling from the celebrated Class of 1969. “Later on, I used to ask him, ‘How do you remember all your players?’ As we all get older, fatter, grayer, how do you do it?’ It’s hard to remember all your classmates, let alone 32 years of them.”
Cozza won 10 Ivy League championships at Yale, a remarkable seven in one eight-year stretch. He won 197 games. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Yet here is the number that is almost too awesome to digest: Of the more than 2,000 athletes he coached at Yale, only seven did not graduate.
“Carm had a great arm, he was a quarterback (at Miami, Ohio), a pitcher in the minor leagues (for the Indians and White Sox),” said Dowling, who played alongside Calvin Hill. “It was a little embarrassing to be the starting quarterback and your coach has a better arm than you do.”
Yet it wasn’t Cozza’s big arm that has inspired Dowling to be among the half-dozen former players who will speak at the memorial celebration. It was Cozza’s heart.
“There have been a bunch of emails going around the last couple of weeks with remembrances by his players,” Dowling said. “In addition to being a Hall of Fame coach, he’s a Hall of Fame person. There are so many instances where Carm interacted with his players that had nothing to do with football. He was always there for his players. No matter what the situation.”
Asked how he specifically helped him, Dowling answered, “He got me my first job. He got me signed with the Patriots. Those are two pretty good things, right?”
So how did Carm remember 32 years of names? He cared.
Eleven months have passed since Carm left us on Jan. 4. Frank Litsky, the man who authored his obituary in The New York Times, has passed since then. There has been a time to mourn. Now it is time to remember and celebrate.
“You’re going to find a lot more laughter than tears,” said Dowling, who grew up only a few miles from where Cozza did in Ohio.
The celebration that starts at 9:30 a.m. is open to the public. I think Carm would love that. More than 700 chairs are being set up. Yale video producer Evan Ellis has put together a montage. President Peter Salovey will start the event. Dowling will speak. Hill and Jack Ford, among others, are expected to speak. So is Steve Skrovan, former defensive back, well-known as a writer for “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Current Yale player Jacob Van de Grift has put together a video, too, that will culminate the 90-minute event. And then Yale will take on Princeton in the Bowl.
“Carm leaves a legacy that we try to build on,” coach Tony Reno said. “This incredible tradition and history that makes Yale football so unique, really, what I feel is the marquee program in college football.”
When Reno was an assistant under Jack Siedlecki, he went down to the floor where Cozza’s office was for a meeting.
“His office was behind this door,” Reno said. “I never got into there. When I came for the interview for the head coaching job, my intent was to meet with him.”
They met. Behind that door.
“It was like the Hall of Fame in there,” Reno said. “There was Heisman Trophies and pictures of Yale greats. He sat behind his desk with a rotary phone. We talked for an hour.
“When we first got here, there was a lot we needed to clean up. Having him around to bounce ideas off. For him to be able to relate something to when he was coach was incredible for me. He’d stop in and tell stories a couple times a week. He knew the game as well anybody right until the time he passed.”
Reno broke into a small smile.
“Although he wasn’t here for a lot of the games last year, what made me really happy was we were able to get Yale football back where it belongs in his final year.”
The Bulldogs won their first outright Ivy League title since 1980.
“Outsiders know he was so successful, a Hall of Fame coach, but he also was one of the greatest people I’ve ever met,” said Siedlecki, who succeeded Cozza in December 1996. “He had been the head coach for 32 years. You’re the new guy. People don’t know who you are. They don’t care.
“When I got here, he told me he’d stay away for a year, but if I had any questions with alumni or anything … That’s the one thing I went to him for, a couple of alumni things.”
The following year Cozza started doing radio with Dick Galiette. He’d be around practice a couple days a week.
“He was so unassuming,” Siedlecki said. “Everybody thinks it’s so hard to inherit a job from a coach like that. It was unbelievably easy.
“He rode the bus with me in the front row. I know he really enjoyed that, being around the players.”
Did he offer any play suggestions?
“Once in a while,” Siedlecki said. “But Carm wasn’t an offensive guy. He was a defensive guy.”
“And adaptable,” Dowling said. “Unlike some Hall of Fame coaches who did it their way or the highway, I mean, he ran the wishbone for a couple of seasons because he didn’t have quarterbacks who could throw very well. Who’d do that and go back to something else?”
When Rich Marazzi was working on his 2014 book, “A Bowl Full of Memories: 100 Years of Football in the Yale Bowl,” he sat with Cozza for more than an hour.
“I asked him, ‘If you could have two players that you’d like to be in a foxhole hole with, who would they be?’ ” Marazzi said.
Cozza gave him two names. Later, after reading an early draft, he stopped Marazzi at the weekly Tuesday luncheon and asked him not to put the names in the book.
“He didn’t want to slight any of the other players he coached,” Marazzi said.
“That’s him in a nutshell,” Reno said.
He loved them all. He knew all their names.