Bullying Claims Anger Cohen's Former Players

Angered by the recent portrayal of Rutgers defensive coordinator Dave Cohen in the media, his former players came out in hordes to support the man accused of bullying by former cornerback Jevon Tyree. Players from Cohen's stints at Hofstra, Lafayette, Delaware and Rutgers ardently spoke in support of Cohen's character.

The way Bergen Catholic assistant coach Dominic Santoli looks at life, he might not be alive if it was not for Dave Cohen. Santoli was on the brink of suicide, and Cohen brought him back because of the relationship they built at Delaware.

Santoli played for Cohen at Delaware, and won a national championship as a defensive lineman. Media assaults on Cohen's character have Santoli and many of his former players outraged and quick to jump to his support.

"I was in a dark room by myself contemplating if I even wanted to live my life, and this guy called me and pulled me out of drowning water and depression," Santoli said. "He talked me off the ledge.

"This is a guy that I didn't even think liked me when I was being coached by him. I'm telling you this guy is a good man. He made me feel like I have to succeed in this world no matter what. He was not unfair to anybody whatsoever."

Cohen helped Santoli stay in school when he could have left, and has been there for him for the last 10 years. In the case of Santoli, Cohen literally helped save a life.

When 20-month old Nico Santoli received a cancer diagnosis, Cohen was in his first year as Rutgers linebackers coach. He was one of the first to offer the family support, and used his position at Rutgers to spread the word on the "#ForNico" support movement.

"To have to go through what I went through with my son, having rare childhood cancer, and know that the coach who taught me how to live life still extremes, was still there when I had to handle the hardest thing that could ever happen to a human being," Santoli said. "That's what helped me not quit."

Santoli said he plans to tell anyone that will listen about Cohen's character and coaching ability.

"Without coach Cohen there would be no 2003 Delaware national championship team," he said. "I have a ring bigger than some Super Bowl rings because of this guy and the defense that we had. We were the best defense that Division I ever had because of Dave Cohen."

Santoli was simply the first to voice his support in a series of messages sent out by ScarletReport.com Monday afternoon. Within 30 minutes of a series of text messages, ScarletReport.com had more than a dozen players from every school in Cohen's 25-year career that were eager to refute the claims by Jevon Tyree's family and what Santoli called the "assault" by NJ.com.

Cohen asked Tom Ottaiano of East Hanover (N.J.) Hannover Park to walk on during his tenure at Hofstra, and changed his life forever.

Ottaiano went from walk-on offensive lineman, to scholarship player, to successful entrepreneur after joining Cohen at Hofstra.

"I played for him for four years and he and I have an unbelievable relationship," said Ottaiano, who is the CEO of Today's Business, a digital marketing firm. "He wanted nothing but the best for every player. I'm 100 percent, myself and my entire family, behind coach Cohen. He really has helped shape me into the man I am today."

Good Energy owner Pete Ohnegian has made a career of shaping young men, and said he learned it from his time as a team captain on Cohen's Lafayette defensive line.

Ohneigian, who trained names like Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty and Alquadin Muhammad, played for Cohen more than 20 years ago and is equally frustrated with the attacks on his character.

"I've called [NJ.com] trying to get a hold of somebody there because at the end of the day all you have is your name, and it's wrong that his name isn't looking too good right now," Ohneigian said. "… Everybody is going for the dramatic instead of looking at the two sides to every story. He is like a brother to me. He coached me more than 20 years ago as a young coach with a lot of fire. He was hungry, and we literally would have done anything he said. We would have run through walls for him – all of us."

Ohneigian visited Rutgers practices twice during the spring, when the alleged incident between Tyree and Cohen occurred. He sat in meetings, and stood on the sidelines during practice and saw nothing but professionalism from his longtime friend.

"I don't know exactly what happened with the context or the words, but it just doesn't sound like coach Cohen," Ohneigian said. "He is totally the opposite of a bully. … I couldn't be more proud to sit in the meeting rooms and see how he ran the meetings. I felt like, even at Rutgers which is such a good program now, he was still the same guy. He still had that same rapport with the guys in the meeting room. It took me back 20 years."

Sidney Haugabrook made 74 tackles on Cohen's national championship defense in 2003, and got a look from the Tennessee Titans out of college. Now in a managerial role at Home Depot in Atlanta, he stands in full support of Cohen.

"I wanted to call to give my support to him and tell you that he was a great coach," Haugabrook said. "He never treated me in any way other than with the utmost respect. After I finished playing, anything I asked from him, he was always there for me. I started coaching seventh grade football this year and I told him I needed some information about coaching. He was right there for me. He's always had my back, and I wanted to call and tell you that I have his."

Class of 2003 Delaware graduate Jason Nerys signed out of Don Bosco prep after a successful in-home visit with Cohen. Cohen push the Delaware staff to stay on Nerys after a season-ending knee injury, and turned him into a key player on a title team. Nerys got multiple NFL looks after graduation.

"Mad isn't even the right word for it," said Nerys, who now works in medical sales. "It's such an inaccurate picture, I can't even think of the right word. … I will never forget what he did for me. When most of the other schools bailed on me, Dave stuck with me. He's an unbelievable coach and a great person.

Kimberly Clark senior account manager Craig Browne would not be a successful business man today if not for a significant helping hand from Cohen 11 years ago. Facing expulsion from Delaware, Browne received consistent support from Cohen to make sure he graduated. A member of the 2003 national championship team and class of 2005 graduate, Brown remains in touch with Cohen.

"He got me into school after I was released because of my grades," Browne said. "He got me in and did whatever he could. We stayed in close contact throughout that year. He always followed me, and made sure that my grades were appropriate to get back into Delaware. I wouldn't have a degree without him, and he didn't have to do that for me."

Current Rutgers players made available to the media horde Monday morning had nothing but positive things to say about their defensive coordinator.

Sophomore defensive tackle Darius Hamilton -- "That's the game of football. Men are going to be men, and I don't think coach Cohen has done anything wrong. I think he's a great guy, a great man. I think he's a great coach."

Junior linebacker Kevin Snyder -- "Obviously people yell. That's a part of this game, but there's never a bullying aspect to it. I've said it before, he's a passionate coach and he's trying to get the best out of everybody he coaches and the best out of our entire defense. Obviously he's trying to put the best players on the field at all times, and that's just the way it goes. If you're not playing, it's because you're not doing what's right."

Senior linebacker Jamal Merrell -- "Dave Cohen is a great coach. I love him personally. I had a lot of ups with him, no downs. He's a person to bring the best out of every player, that's really it."

Junior defensive lineman David Milewski -- "He is a coach that demands effort and hustle, and as long as you provide those two things and you play with passion for football, and passion for the game, then he loves you."

Scarlet Report Top Stories