Riding the friendly skies with a legend

The hat – a beige baseball cap with a scarlet “M” outlined in white – gave me reason to pause.

The bespeckled man beneath that cap – well, his face was unmistakable.

“They sent this hat to me in the mail,” he would joke. “I think they were worried I might show up wearing a Yale hat.”

Meet Carm Cozza, the legendary Yale football coach.

I had the privilege of meeting him Friday. We shared a row – seats 6C and 6D – for one of the most enjoyable two-hour plane rides of my life.

I was en route to Louisville for UConn’s game against the Cardinals on Saturday. He was meeting his grandson in Cincinnati before taking a 40-mile trip to Oxford, where he will be honored Saturday by his alma mater – Miami University of Ohio.

And man, did I enjoy this history lesson.

Most of you know his history at Yale. He was the longest-tenured coach in Eli history (32 years) and has more career wins by far (179-119-5). His Yale teams won or shared 11 Ivy League titles from 1965-96, he coached seven Rhodes Scholars and he coached NFL stars Calvin Hill and Dick Jauron. “Calvin was the only player I ever coached,” Cozza told me, “who could have played all 22 positions. He was that good of an athlete.”

But what Cozza accomplished before arriving in New Haven, and the list of people he played with or played under at Miami, is even more impressive.

The coach who recruited him: Sid Gillman.

Two of his coaches: Woody Hayes and Ara Parseghian.

Miami’s captains in 1950, when it beat Arizona State in the Salad Bowl (now the Fiesta Bowl) in Phoenix: Bo Schembechler and Bill Arnsparger.

“It really was a special time,” Cozza said.

Saturday will be special too. A statue of Cozza will be unveiled today in the new “Cradle of Coaches Plaza” outside of Miami’s Yager Stadium prior to the Red Hawks’ game against rival Ohio University.

Cozza, Paul Dietzel and the late Weeb Ewbank will be the first three coaches to be honored. Dietzel (Class of 1948) led LSU to the 1958 national championship and later coach at Army and South Carolina while Ewbank (1927) went on to enjoy a great career in the NFL, coaching the Baltimore Colts from 1954-62 and the New York Jets from 1963-73, leading the Jets to the 1969 Super Bowl championships.

Then next year, five more legendary coaches with ties to Miami will also have their sculptures unveiled in the “Cradle of Coaches Plaza” – Red Blaik, Paul Brown, John Pont, Parseghian and Schembechler.

Cozza, who turned 80 in June, still keeps an office at Yale and does color commentary on the radio.

He still keeps tab on UConn, too. He considers Andy Baylock, UConn’s director of alumni affairs in football, a good friend and is really impressed with coach Randy Edsall. “What he’s done with that program in such a short time is remarkable,” he said. "He coached with Dick Jauron (at Jacksonville) and Dick always speaks high of him."

He also told a funny story about the old Yale-UConn series.

“My very first game as Yale’s coach was in 1965,” Cozza said. “and UConn beat us 13-6. It was the first time UConn had ever beaten Yale, so you can imagine all the nice letters I got … but then I got a phone call from our old SID who joked, ‘There’s a train leaving for New York in the morning. Maybe you should be under it.'”

With that, and a friendly handshake, we went our separate ways. Thanks, coach, for a memorable two hours.

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