Carm Cozza, Ivy’s winningest football coach, beloved mentor

Photo of Carm Cozza at a Yale football practice.
Carmen "Carm" Cozza

Carmen “Carm” Cozza, Yale's longtime head football coach, died on Jan. 4 at the age of 87.

Cozza, the father figure to more than 2,000 Yale student-athletes from four different decades, molded young men into future leaders while serving as the head football coach at Yale for 32 seasons.

Tom Beckett, director of Yale Athletics, said, “Coach Carm Cozza was one of our nation's outstanding role models and leaders of young men. His legacy will have a lasting influence on the Yale community and beyond.”

Dr. Pat Ruwe ’83, a former Yale football captain and president of the Yale Football Association, said: “Today we men of Yale Football, the Yale Football family, Yale University, and America herself lost a piece of our foundation. For over 50 years, legendary coach Carm Cozza represented Yale Football and his community with unmatched honor, dignity, and class. Ferociously competitive yet humble and unfailingly loyal, Coach was once called Yale’s greatest teacher and was the ultimate role model to those young men fortunate enough to play for him.

I was blessed to stay involved with Coach after my playing days as his team doctor, chauffeur, and friend, and I saw up close the real man, which is where his star shined even more brightly,” said Ruwe. “There was no finer human being who ever walked the sidelines or wore the Yale Blue. We will miss you, Coach. You were loved.”

When Cozza took over the Yale program, Vince Lombardi was leading the Green Bay Packers to an NFL Championship and Lamar Hunt had not come up with the name “Super Bowl” for the championship of professional football.  Future NFL star Calvin Hill ’69 was a freshman on Yale’s Old Campus.

From 1965 to 1996 Cozza compiled a 179-119-5 (.599) record in 303 games while earning the admiration and affection of his players and the utmost respect from his opponents.

He is still the winningest coach in Ivy League history, earning him a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004. Cozza led his teams to 10 Ivy League championships and 19 winning seasons. Mixed in with all those wins was a 16-game win streak between 1967 and 1968 that helped make his name synonymous with Yale Football.  

Cozza coached in numerous all-star games. An assistant coach for the 1970 East-West Shrine Game in Palo Alto, Calif., he served as a head coach in the 1972 contest. Cozza also served as defensive coordinator in the 1981 Blue-Gray Classic in Mobile, Ala.  When the 1989 Ivy League All-Stars went to Japan for the first Epson Ivy Bowl, Cozza was the head coach of the Ancient Eight in its victory over the Japanese College All-Stars.

Cozza was born June 10, 1930, in Parma, Ohio. In high school, he was a stand-out athlete, earning 11 varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball, and track. He attended college at Miami (OH), playing football under the tutelage of Ara Parseghian and Woody Hayes. He saw triple duty as a Miami quarterback, running back and defensive back.

On the baseball diamond, he pitched and played the outfield, posting a 1.50 earned run average and a career batting average of .388. He briefly spent time in the minor league organizations of the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox before taking a coaching position at Gilmour Academy in Ohio.

In 1956, he was appointed head coach of the freshman squad at Miami, and in 1961, he joined the varsity staff. Two years later, he accepted a job as an assistant coach at Yale under head coach John Pont. When Pont resigned in 1965, Cozza was named head coach. At the time of the announcement, Yale Athletics Director Delaney Kiphuth said, “The future of Yale football is in very capable hands.”

I’ll be happy to be here all my life,” Cozza said on the day of his hiring.

A recipient of a master’s degree in education from Miami in 1959, Cozza had administrative experience as well. In 1976, he was appointed Yale Athletics director with the expectation that he would leave coaching after a few years of performing in both capacities. Instead, Cozza decided to give up the director’s position in 1977 and remain the football coach.

Cozza not only coached NFL football players, but he tutored five Rhodes scholars and the former mayor of Baltimore, Kurt Schmoke. Of the more than 2,000 players he coached, only seven, who remained in his program, failed to graduate.

“Every guy I recruit I tell, 'If you don't have a thirst for knowledge, don't come here,' ” Cozza once said.

After he retired from coaching in 1996, Cozza served as special assistant to the director of athletics at Yale, while also handling the radio color commentary (1998-2016) for Yale football.

Tony Reno, the current Joel E. Smilow ’54 Head Coach of Yale Football, said: “Words can’t express how much Coach Cozza has influenced me as a coach and a person since I met him. When I was fortunate enough to become the head coach of Yale Football, we became very close.  He became the mentor that everyone would dream to have.”

It is my job to make sure everything we do with our players and Football family is right by the men who played football at Yale, but also right by Coach Cozza, who built the great family we have today. I look at every decision that way.”

Ron Vaccaro ’04, the radio voice of Yale Football, added: “Carm was the ultimate gentleman. I can’t think of a more impactful leader. He was an excellent teacher because he never stopped being a student of life. He was curious, very well read, and always came up with the perfect one-liner at just the right time. He leaves a shining example for all of us on how to live an inspired life in service to others.” 

Cozza, one of the fabled “Cradle of Coaches” from Miami University, earned a George H.W. Bush Lifetime of Leadership Award from Yale in 2009 and was the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s Distinguished American recipient in 1992. Cozza was also instrumental in raising money for the renovation of Yale Bowl.

He is survived by his wife, Jean Cozza; daughters Kristen (and husband, Dave) Powell, Kathryn (Anthony) Tutino, and Karen (John) Pollard; and grandchildren Michael and Mark Powell, Elizabeth Tutino, and Eric and Christopher Pollard. Cozza was pre-deceased by four sisters, Ange, Pat, Theresa and Josephine.

The services will be private, and a memorial celebration of his life is being planned for the near future.

YaleNews invites readers to share their remembrances of Carm Cozza by sending an email to news@yale.edu.

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Media Contact

Steven Conn: steven.conn@yale.edu, 203-432-1455