A mid-summer thunderstorm delayed former Yale head football coach Carmen Cozza’s flight from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis. Cozza was on his way to attending his enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana. But this football legend is familiar with waiting.
The winningest coach in Yale football history, Cozza was officially inducted into the nation’s most elite club for collegiate football on August 9 alongside the sport’s other greats, such as Dan Marino, Ronnie Lott and Reggie White. Over 6,000 fans attended the weekend of festivities.
But Cozza would not have had the chance to take the stage at South Bend if he had not waited in the spring of 1965. Cozza, who was an assistant coach at Yale under John Pont at the time, had just received an offer from the University of New Hampshire for the head coaching position. He was about to take the offer when then-Yale Athletics Director Delaney Kiphuth asked Cozza to postpone his acceptance. Cozza agreed and was appointed days later to the spot that Pont vacated when he decided to take a job at the University of Indiana.
“I didn’t apply for the job,” Cozza said. “I didn’t think that I would be a candidate. Yale took a chance on a young assistant coach, and I will never forget it.”
Fortunately for Cozza, his wait at the Pittsburgh airport was temporary, and he made it to South Bend on time. Cozza was one of three inductees — along with Napoleon McCallum and Willie Richardson — to speak at the South Bend Mayor’s Breakfast on August 8.
Following the speakers, the United States Postal Service unveiled four 37-cent stamps commemorating gridiron legends Walter Camp, Red Grange, Ernie Nevers, and Bronko Nagurski. Camp, Yale’s first athletics director, was both a player and a coach for the Bulldogs and is widely credited as the father of American football.
In an action-packed weekend, other highlights included an inductee-fan golf tournament, a flag-football game between the inductees, and two autograph sessions. The second autograph session — open to fans — lasted over three hours.
“We were really kept busy,” Cozza said. “I don’t think we had 10 minutes to ourselves all weekend.”
The weekend culminated in the Enshrinement Banquet Saturday night.
“To be there honoring a remarkable man and a great coach and to see the impact that Yale has had on college football history celebrated by the College Football Hall of Fame is a wonderful combination,” Athletics Director Tom Beckett said.
In his 32 seasons with the Bulldogs, Cozza tallied 179 victories, 10 Ivy League Championships, and seven Kodak District I Division I-AA Coach of the Year awards. At the time of his retirement in 1996, Cozza ranked No. 12 in number of wins among active Division I coaches at his retirement in 1996.
Perhaps even more telling of his achievement, Cozza’s tutelage yielded five National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Scholar-Athletes, seven NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship recipients, and five Rhodes Scholars.
Interestingly, the memory that comes most readily to Cozza also involves waiting. During the 1968 playing of The Game, Cozza needed to wait just 42 seconds to extend a 16-game win streak. But Harvard backup quarterback Frank Champi orchestrated a 16-unanswered point comeback to force a 29-29 tie.
“The tie in the ’68 game, it seems to haunt me a lot, and it always seemed to come up,” Cozza said. “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. We had won 16 in a row, and we were Top 20 in the nation, and we ended up in a tie. Being a coach, you always remember the ones that got away.”