By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Revamped Husky Stadium is filled with shiny and new things. Washington Huskies offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto is not one of them.
Cozzetto is balding, grizzled and has a slowed gate, the result of multiple replacements of multiple joints below the waist.
His first coaching gig was as an assistant for Idaho in 1979. Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian was five years old at the time.
Cozzetto has gameplanned against five of the whipper-snappers on the current Washington staff: Defensive backs coach Keith Heyward, who was a cornerback for Oregon State. Defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi, who was a defensive lineman for California. Assistant head coach Johnny Nansen, who was a linebacker at Washington State. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who was a cornerback for Oregon. And, linebackers coach Peter Sirmon who played that position for Oregon.
The upshot for them is they were never on the receiving end of one of Cozzetto’s vocal assaults. Recently in fall camp, Cozzetto loudly and emphatically explained to a Washington freshman how stunned he was the school provided a scholarship to pay for his enrollment. He also expressed his irritation with texting, explaining it was to blame for college students’ inability to communicate.
Cozzetto’s boisterous disparagements make the older players happy for face masks. Better to hide the bubbling laughter they are trying to contain when a freshman is getting lit up.
Then, he’s quiet. Cozzetto tries to explain to the same freshman the angle he needs to take in order to properly move toward the linebacker being targeted. Or the changes in naming conventions this season in order to mask a play they ran last year when they run it this year.
“The young players will see that side of me if they’re not paying attention,” Cozzetto said. “If they’re attention to detail is a little bit different coming in here from high school, how fast the game’s played, conditioning, those types of things. You might have been able to get away with that (before), you can’t get away with that here because the margin of error is so slight.”
Redshirt junior Mike Criste, who is this year’s starting center, dealt with Cozzetto’s blowback his freshman season.
“I definitely thought sometimes he was trying to bite my head off,” Criste said. “I was that guy freshman year. After that, I definitely learned as I got older it’s not just me. He’s yelling at everyone. He’s just doing his job in order to get the guys he needs to have on the field ready to play or backup the guys that are playing. He’s trying to get the best out of us.”
Asked to describe Cozzetto, Criste smiled, then paused.
“He’s definitely a tough guy, but it’s not for nothing,” Criste said. “He’s tough when he needs to be, he’s a joker when everything is good and we’re doing everything right. That’s great. If we’re messing up, obviously he should be tough on us. I’m happy to have him as a coach.”
Cozzetto and Nansen are the only assistant coaches left from Sarkisian’s original staff charged with rescuing the program in 2009. Though Cozzetto often puts a gruff demeanor forward, he constantly talks about the line’s work benefiting others. It’s a hard-ass approach to push selflessness.
“Two questions I ask these guys every day, ‘What have you done to become a better player and what have you done to help this team win?’” Cozzetto said. “End of story. When it comes down to it, everything else — besides your family and the good Lord — is not important to me.”
Several injuries on the line last year led to a subpar performance, though Washington had its fourth 1,000-yard rusher (Bishop Sankey) in as many seasons since Cozzetto has been in charge of the line. Everyone involved with the line expects more this season.
After using it in chunks last year, the Huskies are moving to a full-time up-tempo offense. The change excites Cozzetto — as does being surrounded by younger coaches — who tries to evolve with the game.
“I’ve been through a few chapters as far as how football is played,” Cozzetto said. “Whether it’s the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, the 2000s, and now the 2010s, that it’s exciting for me. I’m happy for the opportunity and blessed these guys are putting up with my old cranky butt.”