Cozzetto Thrilled to be Back Home

His coaching resume spans 27 years, and yet it's the eight years Dan Cozzetto spent in Tempe are the ones he reveres the most. Naturally, we he got word that he'll be joining newly appointed head coach, and close friend, Dennis Erickson at ASU; he was elated to return to his old stomping grounds. Devils Digest caught up with the football team's new tight end coach reuniting with the Sun Devils.

"Happy is probably an understatement," replied Cozetto when asked if he was happy when he first learned that he will be coaching at Arizona State University again. "My nine years here were good and the people were great. I developed a lot of relationships and some of those people are still here. This is probably the most memorable place I coached at. My family stopped moving with me (staying at their Phoenix home) years ago, so it's good to be home. It's a tough situation when you're living away from you family."

Cozzetto, who aside from coaching tight ends will also assist in coaching the offensive line, has known Erickson since 1975. At the time he was a JC player while Erickson was the offensive coordinator at the University of Idaho. "He recruited me, showed up at my house and my dad told me that this is where I'm gonna play," recalled Cozzetto. "That started a long friendship and camaraderie with Coach Erickson. He was the best man in my wedding…not only was I fortunate to be recruited by him, but so was my son."

Cozzetto has coached under Erickson for five seasons at the University of Idaho (2006), with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers (2004) and at Oregon State University (2000-02). As someone who has not only coached with the new Sun Devil skipper, but also was a member of the offensive staff in each of those years, Cozzetto has had a comprehensive first-hand look at Erickson's pioneering offense which has been emulated for nearly 20 years in various college programs.

"He's been around quality people," explained Cozzetto. "He coached for Jack Elway (John Elway's father). His dad is a football coach and football has always been big part of his life. Numerous good coaches have been a big influence on his life. I know that what I learned from Coach Erickson, I brought over here to Arizona State. Having a head coach that not only won two national championships, but also was good enough to coach in the NFL for two different teams, says a lot."

Suffice to say that the lessons that Cozzetto has learned from Erickson were put to good use here in Tempe some ten years ago. As ASU's offensive coordinator and offensive line coach from 1992-99, Cozzetto's offenses averaged 396.3 yards of total offense per game and he guided a total of 20 offensive players (eight offensive linemen) that were ultimately drafted into the NFL. In 1999, Cozzetto led a Sun Devil offense that averaged 172.1 rushing yards-per-game, an average that has not been topped by an ASU offense since that season. His 1998 offense averaged 411.8 yards per game, the third straight season ASU cracked the 400-yard mark. That year, ASU averaged 259 yards per game passing, which at the time was the highest average in school history.

Cozzetto's offense for the 11-1, 1996 Pac-10 Conference Champion and Rose Bowl participant Sun Devils was one of the most potent and dangerous in school history, averaging 474.4 total yards-per-game and 42.6 points-per-game. Leading the way was quarterback Jake Plummer, a Heisman Trophy finalist and the Pac-10 Conference's Offensive Player of the Year, one of eight offensive players for ASU to earn All-Conference recognition. In the past 34 seasons, only the 1981 Sun Devil squad topped ASU's 234.1 rushing yards-per-game average that year. Also, Cozzetto's offense helped to accumulate the 64 touchdowns scored by ASU as a team that season, the second-highest single-season total in Sun Devil history.

The outgoing ASU coaching staff employed a two tight end set as base offensive alignment. Cozzetto noted that while this scheme could be once again a staple of the Sun Devils' offense that other formations may come into play and are contingent on various factors. "If you have followed us and watched us play, like the Oregon State team that went to the Fiesta Bowl (and beat Notre Dame 41-9), we had two tight end sets. We also had very good receivers like T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson, good running backs like Ken Simonton and Steven Jackson…it depends a lot on personnel, on what Zach Miller decides to do…I know that at times will empty it (i.e. the backfield) and have five wide receivers and spread it out or flex the tight end out and have three receivers on one end and two on another…these are things that we've always done and we're a very quarterback friendly offense. I think the quarterback here will jump into it with a lot of excitement and this offense will compliment some of the things that he has always done."

The aforementioned Miller will certainly be a vital cog in the new ASU offense, if he decides to pass on an opportunity to enter the NFL draft in April. How does Cozzetto feel about his chances of coaching Miller in 2007? "I haven't had any discussions with Zach," he replied. "He called me and said that he will talk to me after he comes back from Hawaii and the bowl game. I've know Zach since he was a little kid. He lived right by me in Ahwatukee. I know the whole Miller family. We'll see what happens. I'm sure he has some questions he needs answers to and hopefully I can help him to decide whatever is best for him. I obviously would love to have him stay here."

While Cozzetto is undoubtedly in familiar surroundings, he's also in a very unique situation. He and the new coaching staff were working in the same building as the outgoing Dirk Koetter staff who has been preparing the Sun Devils for their bowl game in Hawaii and only left for the islands earlier today. "It's a tough situation, but we're handling it professionally," he stated. "We're definitely not taking anything away from Coach Koetter and the preparation of his team. I think we handled it pretty good. We had to take over the recruiting and make sure that the guys that were committed are still committed and there are some JC guys we need to get after now because of the (mid-year transfer) signing day and there are still some scholarships to fill out. We need to look at our needs and go from there."

Many around the Pac-10 have called ASU the proverbial sleeping giant. The maroon and gold realized their potential under Cozzetto and the Bruce Snyder led staff in the mid-90's. Coming back to the Sun Devils, removed just ten years from that magical 11-1 Rose Bowl year, does ASU's new tight ends coach believe that history can repeat itself? "No question," he replied with a doubt in his voice. "The schools and its fans have high expectations here and they should. When we were here we set our recruiting sights on Washington. If we recruited anybody we asked ourselves ‘is he good enough to help us beat Washington?" Now the mindset is ‘is he good enough to help us beat USC?" We have to battle against those guys on the filed and in the recruiting wars and not blink, and that's what we'll do."

Déjà vu will suit Cozzetto and the maroon and gold faithful just fine.

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