New coach laying it on the line
Seattle Times staff reporter
OLYMPIA — When Dan Cozzetto was 15 years old, his father got him a job in the Spokane foundry where he had worked his entire life.
For three hours after school, Cozzetto would pour molten metal into the mold.
"It paid good money," said Cozzetto, who is now in his first year as the offensive line coach for the Washington Huskies. "If you could take the heat, it was great."
But his father didn't necessarily get Cozzetto the job just so he could pick up extra pocket change.
"You see guys who've been in there 30 years of their life, it makes you want to do something else with your life," Cozzetto said. "I think that's the main reason my dad put me to work so early in the mill."
And that may be why Cozzetto bristles at anyone who thinks a college football player has it hard.
To Cozzetto, the chance to earn a degree that can set you up for life simply by playing college football is the best opportunity a young man can have.
You think a 100-yard bear crawl is tough? Just ask the guys in the iron mill if they wouldn't trade places with you right now?
"He's a demanding coach," said junior center Dan Dicks. "But at the same time, I think that's what we need."
Cozzetto, 48, replaced Brent Myers as UW's line coach in February after working the past three years at Oregon State under Dennis Erickson.
In the eyes of most fans, Cozzetto will be judged a success or failure based on whether he can help revive the UW's moribund running attack, which last year averaged an all-time school low 74.5 yards per game. Sharing equal blame were a line that often couldn't move anyone out of the way, and backs who couldn't take advantage when it did.
Cozzetto won't criticize what took place before he got here. But he began making changes immediately, starting with 6 a.m. group workouts in the offseason.
"I like them getting up early," he said. "I want to know where they are. I want to see them every day."
And there is little margin for error in practice — one offside penalty can result in a 100-yard bear crawl after practice for the offender.
"He's a relentless coach," said junior tackle Khalif Barnes. "It's his attitude. Guys fear losing their jobs because if he doesn't see that you are doing what it takes, he will replace you and find some other guy to take that spot."
Barnes said earlier in camp that he guaranteed UW would have a better running game this season because Cozzetto won't stand for less.
Cozzetto won't go that far. But he said he sees progress.
"Do they need to get better? Yeah, they need to get a lot better," he said. "But these players and these runners here, they are not that far away. They really aren't."
Asked if he's ever had a coach like Cozzetto before, Barnes said yes: UW coach Keith Gilbertson.
"They are two of the same guy," Barnes said.
Cozzetto would take that as the ultimate compliment as he calls Gilbertson one of the major influences of his career, along with Erickson.
Cozzetto played tight end and linebacker at Gonzaga Prep High in Spokane. He thought he had a scholarship to Washington State locked up before blowing out his knee in the first game of his senior season.
He ended up playing at Spokane Falls Community College in 1974-75 and was recruited to Idaho by the school's then up-and-coming offensive coordinator — Erickson. He played at Idaho for three years, then began his coaching career as a graduate assistant under then head coach Jerry Davitch. When Erickson was named head coach in 1982, Cozzetto stayed on. He coached receivers and tight ends through 1985, when Gilbertson replaced Erickson as head coach.
It was then that Cozzetto and Gilbertson had a "heart-to-heart" talk that set Cozzetto's career in motion.
"He told me, 'You need to be an offensive line coach,' " Cozzetto said. "That in his experience there is nothing more gratifying than seeing five players working as one, communicating and getting things done up front like it's a closed fist."
Said Gilbertson: "I just saw a guy that was a real aggressive teacher and really worked hard. I think I get up early, and he'd always have me beat to the office.
"He'd be sitting there and he's already had two cups of coffee. I saw a guy who was a real demanding teacher that people gravitated to."
Cozzetto and Gilbertson grew so close that Cozzetto is the godfather of Gilbertson's son, David.
Cozzetto has been an offensive-line coach ever since, also working at Cal and Arizona State under Bruce Snyder before his time at Oregon State. All of those teams were known for their ability to run the ball.
Cozzetto interviewed at UW last February on the same day Erickson was named head coach of the 49ers. But he wasn't sure there would be an opening in San Francisco, and the lure of working in his home state again and for Gilbertson — then UW's offensive coordinator — was too hard to pass up.
"At Idaho, every morning I would have to walk by (Gilbertson's) office and the first thing out of his mouth was not 'good morning' but 'come in here,' " Cozzetto said with a laugh. "Maybe I'm an ornery cuss because of the guy who taught me."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
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