Aug. 24, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
Click here to receive Gregg Bell Unleashed via email each week.
SEATTLE - He looks like Mean Gene Okerlund, the old WWE wrestler, announcer and interviewer.
He sounds even meaner than that.
"MOOOOOVE!!!" Dan Cozzetto screams at a Huskies offensive lineman that is not getting off the ball during preseason practice fast enough for his ultra-demanding taste.
"ATTACK!!" the 30-year veteran of coaching college and NFL offensive lines barks at his Dawgs blockers during a running-game drill.
"How about you get your pad level DOWN?!"
"WHAT THE ....?!!"
Offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto has spent a total of 16 years at four different Pac-12 schools.
At one point Tuesday night he shouted, "Our quarterback is back there getting KILLED!" - even though a Husky QB hasn't really been touched since December's Holiday Bowl. They are off-limits to contact in all practices.
From halfway up the first deck during Monday's wet practice I could tell the wind was whipping down at field level inside Husky Stadium. Because when Cozzetto threw down his play sheet in disgust over a missed block, it blew about like the debris around Dorothy early in The Wizard of Oz.
"Oh, I love him," said his boss, Huskies head man Steve Sarkisian.
How about the guys he drives so hard?
They wouldn't have it any other way.
"Man, I love Coach Cozzetto," left tackle Senio Kelemete, the line's anchor and only senior, told me after another of his coach's uh, teaching points. "He's a great coach."
Junior center Drew Schaefer also loves Cozzetto -- then points out with a chuckle, "Us linemen, we have our own interpretation of fun."
But this isn't some mad scientist of a line coach who only rants at his guys to get them to perform. The rapidly jelling line executed flawlessly on a play Tuesday night and provided time for a long pass play. Cozzetto pumped his fist from behind the offense's huddle while the receiver was catching the ball.
Of course, he then yelled at his blockers, "Why don't you do that every time?!"
"He loves his guys - I know it doesn't always look like that out here," Sarkisian said with a laugh. "And I think in turn, they love him. That's that great camaraderie that offensive lines and their coach have. I think that's neat.
"And we have that here."
Us linemen, we have our own interpretation of fun.
Sure, Washington and new starting quarterback Keith Price have to try to replace many of the talents Jake Locker took to the NFL. The Huskies' skill players can potentially carry games -- foremost among them, junior Chris Polk. The 1,400-yard rusher will be running again soon following last week's arthroscopic knee surgery. In Polk's absence, the Huskies will count on Jesse Callier to keep Sarkisian's power run-game going.
But none of that will happen if Cozzetto's men aren't settled and, eventually, stalwarts. In that way, this demanding native of Spokane, one who has pushed college and NFL linemen from Idaho and Arizona State to the San Francisco 49ers to great heights, could be as important as anyone to Washington's season.
Cozzetto put out seven different combinations as his starting five on UW's offensive line last season. Only one grouping stayed together for more than two games - Kelemete, Ryan Tolar, Schaefer, Greg Christine, and Cody Habben from left to right across the line.
That wasn't because Cozzetto wanted it that way.
"Mixing and matching, that was because of the way it was," he said of 2010 up front. "We came here to clean that up, OK?"
Yes, OK. Got it. I knew not to follow up that question.
"Now that we've got our own people in here and we are starting to develop our own players, it's critical that those guys who have been playing here for us, who have been through the system, they start solidifying positions," Cozzetto said of his 2011 line.
They've done it this month. And it's one of the biggest accomplishments of Washington's preseason.
Kelemete was the only O lineman to start all last season at the same position. He's back anchoring at left tackle. Schaefer started last season at center 11 times and right tackle twice after finishing 2009 as the starting left tackle. He is set at center now. Colin Porter, who started six games at right guard as a true freshman, is back there for 2011. Erik Kohler, the 6-foot-5, 298-pounder started four games at left guard and one at right tackle in 2010, is the right tackle.
And redshirt freshman Colin Tanigawa has won the job at left guard with quickness, a keen knowledge of line calls plus a mean streak that almost makes Cozzetto smile.
Cozzetto brings a grizzled toughness to an otherwise young, smooth staff.
"Colin is doing pretty well - but he hasn't played a game yet," Cozzetto said. "We'll see."
`PASSION,' 30 YEARS INTO HIS CAREER
I asked Kelemete what he's learned most entering his third season with Cozzetto.
"Just his passion for the game," he said. "It's a physical game. You can't just come out here and expect to get through. He always coaches us about pride, you know. You have to take pride in everything you do, in accountability, in making sure we have each other's back."
See, not everything Cozzetto says on the field is at rock-concert volume and intensity. He spent the early part of Tuesday's practice on the back field clapping and encouraging his guys during yet another pass-rush drill with the D-line.
At one point during team drills inside the stadium, he calmly directed Kohler after he got his hands up quickly on a charging defensive lineman but then did little more than that with them.
"Erik, you put your hands on him, you either knock him off his path or you take him where you want to go!" Cozzetto said, more instructively than angrily.
And by all accounts he's just as forceful and loud while praising and supporting his guys in front of the entire team as he is while correcting them. That strengthens the already tight bond they share with their coach.
"I need a CALCULATOR!!! Somebody get me a CALCULATOR!!!" Cozzetto roared the other day, razzing the defense and joking he'd lost track of so many wins for his line in a one-on-one blocking drill.
I wish I could print some of his best ones, but my 8-year-old sometimes reads these.
Cozzetto's theatrics are more than enough to make a bystander laugh. But not a player. Not as far as the coach can see, anyway.
"Yeah, it's kind of hard. You've got to make sure you keep that straight face," Kelemete said. "But then as soon as he turns, you get a little smirk in there. As soon as he walked 10 or 20 yards down, then you can get in a little laugh."
Kelemete was kidding - we think.
"I mean, some of the stuff he says is funny," Tanigawa said. "But you definitely learn a lot. He's been in the game a long time. He tells a lot. I'm definitely going to listen to him. I think definitely everyone else is listening, too."
FROM IDAHO TO THE NFL AND BACK
The husband and father of two sons and two daughters has coached a total of 16 years for four different Pac-12 schools. He spent eight seasons as Arizona State's offensive coordinator and line coach, including the one in which Jake Plummer led the Sun Devils to 43 points per game and the 1997 Rose Bowl.
He is in his second stint as a UW assistant after coaching its line in 2003, before he headed to the NFL to work for Dennis Erickson with the 49ers.
He has been a smash hit with fellow Huskies coaches and players since he began showing up for work early in this latter UW tenure with free bagels. His wife Debbie, who got her MBA from Washington, used to run a bakery in the Madison Park section of Seattle.
But it was more than sourdough and pumpernickel that made Cozzetto valuable to Sarkisian.
Johnny Nansen, Sarkisian's defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, worked with Cozzetto at Idaho. And Sarkisian interviewed Cozzetto for the line-coach job at USC when Sarkisian was the Trojans' offensive coordinator a few years back, "but that didn't end up working out," Sark said.
(Cozzetto) has pushed college and NFL linemen from Idaho and Arizona State to the San Francisco 49ers to great heights, (and) could be as important as anyone to Washington's season.
Every coach in the Pac-10 had known for decades how good a coach and tactician Cozzetto was when Sarkisian was putting together his Huskies staff early in 2009.
Plus, let's face it, Washington's staff needed experience - and some toughness.
"When you assess our staff, we are obviously young. We are upbeat, energetic," the 37-year-old Sarkisian said.
The Huskies had the pretty boys on staff. They needed a grunt, to best relate to game's fundamental instincts.
"I really wanted a guy on our staff that had a wealth of experience. That had a real hard-nosed, tough-minded approach about him. That could really bring some attitude to our offense," Sarkisian said.
"I think it's been a perfect fit."
He's also proven to something of a coaching sage for Sark, "a guy I can really lean on for situations and things that pop up, and get his opinion," the head man said.
This could be the season we see the payoff to all of Cozzetto's teaching. All but Kelemete and fellow seniors Nick Wood and Skyler Fancher have been recruited by this staff for the system they've been in for up to two-plus years now.
Does that mean the Huskies will be far more settled and effective up front than they were last year?
"Of course it does," Cozzetto said. "We had to live and die with (playing freshmen and shuffling) because we had to make a statement as to who we are and as to what we are trying to get done here," Cozzetto said, meaning being more physical up front.
"We've recruited quality players who have been through the system. ... We've got athletes who can run, who can do a lot of things.
"The mindset's a hell of a lot different than it was when we walked in here."
Of course it is. With Cozzetto driving them so hard, do they have any other choice?
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.