FOOTBALL: Richard Pont, former Yale running back coach of nearly three decades, dies at 90
Richard Pont, a United States army veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his service, coached Yale football’s offensive backfield from 1968 to 1995.
Courtesy of Yale Athletics
Richard Pont, who served as Yale football’s running back coach from 1968 to 1995, died last month at 90 years old.
Pont, who was born in Canton, Ohio, on Sept. 5, 1930, died on Aug. 17. An avid traveler and historian, he enjoyed spending time with his friends and family. In his nearly three decades at Yale, Pont coached five of the top 11 leading rushers in Yale’s history.
Announcing his retirement in May 1995, the News described Pont as “one of the men who helped shape … [Yale’s] reputation as the winningest college in the United States.”
“Rich Pont taught me to do it right, the same way, every time,” Pat O’Brien ’78, a former Yale quarterback, said in a collection of remembrances compiled by Yale Football Association chairman Tom Kokoska ’82. “Not sometimes, not most of the time, but all of the time — no plays off in practice or games. It is my life’s reminder of why you strive for perfection, in practice and games, in things big and small. Coach Pont taught me the value of attention to detail and so much more. His approach, quiet determination, and will to do what it takes to win, have been guiding lights for me through the years.”
Pont graduated from Timken High School in 1948 and went on to star as running back for Bowling Green University. After a tremendously successful two-year collegiate career from 1949 to 1951 — highlighted by team MVP honors after his first year — Pont’s time as a Falcon was cut short in 1952 when he was drafted into the United States Army. After briefly playing football for the Fort Eustis Wheels, he was later transferred to Korea as part of the Second Infantry Division, where he served with distinction and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his meritorious duty.
Upon his return from Korea, Pont soon embarked on a football coaching career that encompassed nearly four decades. After working together with his brother, John Pont, who was the football coach at Miami University, Richard Pont later took on a coaching role of his own as assistant coach at Sycamore High School in Cincinnati, Ohio between 1956 and 1960. It was there that Pont met his future wife of 60 years, Sarah (Russell) Pont. After his brief stint as assistant coach, Pont was awarded the position of head coach at Steubenville Central Catholic High School.
Then in 1968, Pont arrived at Yale to join the staff of Carm Cozza, who had coincidentally replaced Pont’s brother, John, as the Bulldogs’ head coach in 1965. When Richard Pont joined Yale in 1968, Cozza said his new assistant was “familiar with our system and is a found football man,” according to the News’ historical archives.
Richard Pont went on to serve as the offensive backfield coach for well over two decades at the Yale Bowl.
“Never one who ranted or raged, Richie quietly guided his running backs, giving them tips on blocking, catching and running with the ball in such a way, that the rest of the offense never heard him utter a sound,” said John Spagnola ’79, a former Yale tight end who would go on to enjoy an 11-year NFL career. “Although I never had him coach me directly, I felt his wisdom, thoughtfulness and humility whenever I was in his presence.”
Kokoska also passed along heartwarming stories from former players with the New Haven Register — including when Pont made a point of coming out on a cold January night to see a former player act in a play. Another said Pont sat for eight hours at a Connecticut airport waiting for his delayed flight to arrive on a recruiting trip.
“As a teacher and human being, he will always remain a foundational pillar of all our lives,” said Kevin Czinger ’81 LAW ’87, the 1980 Bushnell Cup recipient and one of the best football players to have ever competed in the Ivy League. “Coach Pont is the definition of salt of the earth.”
After Pont’s retirement, Cozza told the News that Yale players “truly loved” the running back coach.
“He had a great relationship with the team, and players always felt comfortable talking with him,” Cozza said.
Pont is survived by his wife, Sarah, four children and seven grandchildren. The family hosted a memorial service for him in late August.