When the Yale football team hosts league frontrunner Princeton on Saturday for its penultimate contest of the 2018 season, it will have something to celebrate regardless of the outcome: the life of late, legendary head coach Carmen “Carm” Cozza.
Cozza, who passed away in January at the age of 87, served as head coach from 1965 to 1996. In his 32 years at the helm, he led Yale to 10 championship titles and racked up a slew of accolades. He is still the winningest coach in Ivy League history. A quarterback at Miami University of Ohio who was inducted into the College Hall of Fame in 2002, Cozza remained a well-loved presence to members and friends of Yale football after his retirement from coaching. On Saturday, before the Bulldogs tackle the Tigers at the Bowl, Team 146 will join other members of the community to celebrate his legacy beginning at 9:30 a.m. in Coxe Cage. The festivities, which are open to the public and are expected to draw around 700 attendees, will include remarks from University President Peter Salovey.
“When I was hired it was great to have him around to talk football and to talk Yale,” current head coach Tony Reno said. “When we first got here, there was a lot we needed to clean up. [It was great] having Coach Cozza around and to be able to bounce ideas around and for him to tell stories. Whenever there was a situation happening within our football family — for him to be able to relate it to something that happened when he was here, that was pretty incredible for me as a young coach. It really made me happy last year that we were able to get Yale football back where it belonged in his final year.”
In 1965, at just 34 years old, Cozza took the reins as head coach after spending two years as an assistant coach. He first came to Yale to accompany John Pont, a fellow Miami alumnus, when Pont took up the head coach position at Yale. The duo arrived in New Haven after six years as head and assistant coaches at their shared alma mater. When Pont returned to the Midwest, Cozza stepped up. Although his first contest as head coach ended in a loss to in-state rival UConn, Cozza wasted no time in grooming several Yale football legends in his first few years at the head of the program.
Under Cozza’s leadership, quarterback Brian Dowling ’69, receiver Bruce Weinstein ’69 and running back Calvin Hill ’69 led the Bulldogs to multiple Ivy League championships. Hill went on to play in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns, becoming the last Ancient Eight player to be selected in the first round of the draft.
Cozza’s early successes translated to the rest of his coaching career: The team won 10 league championships over the course of his three decades at the helm. However, his players credit Cozza with having a much more significant impact on their lives.
Although Cozza retired from coaching in 1996, before most of Team 146’s players were born, his presence continued to loom large, both physically and spiritually. Recognizing the challenges of following a storied, long-time coach, he told his successor Jack Siedlecki that he would detach himself from the team and program in his first year of retirement and offered minimal advice only when Siedlecki sought him out.
The following year, Cozza reattached himself to the team, and, for the next two decades, his commitment to and enthusiasm for Yale football never waned. He worked on Yale Sports Publicity and on radio broadcasts for the team while continuing to attend games. He even travelled on the team bus with Siedlecki and his players to matches, remaining a prominent figure in the team’s extended network. Both Siedlecki and his successor Reno had meetings with Cozza in their hiring processes, as Cozza retained an office and spent a lot of his time after retirement in the Ray Tompkins House.
When Cozza passed away in January, just after Team 145 brought home Yale’s first solo crown since 1980, many former players attended his memorial service.
“He is one of the greatest people I have ever met,” Siedlecki told the News. “He would come up to the office. He’d love talking to the coaches. He had that camaraderie with guys. He’d joke with them and talk with them. He was just a great person; really second to none.”
The celebration at Coxe Cage will begin on Saturday, Nov. 10 at 9:30 a.m. before the Bulldogs host the still-undefeated Tigers at 12:30 p.m. in the Yale Bowl.
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Correction, Nov. 8: A previous version of this story stated that Athletics Director Victoria Chun is speaking at the Cozza celebration at Coxe Cage. In fact, she is not speaking at the event.
Correction, Nov. 8: A previous version of this story stated that Calvin Hill ’69 was the first Ancient Eight player to be selected in the first round of the draft. He was, in fact, the last.