“This was a very difficult decision for me,” Cozart said Dec. 15, following a team meeting where he informed his players of the news. “There are no regrets about anything we’ve accomplished in the past eight and half seasons.”
Cozart, 32, said he had been approached about coaching at either the junior college or college level, though he would not divulge more specific information. He departs from the controls with a 59-34 overall record.
Patterson High Principal Dave Stubbs said he was surprised by Cozart’s decision but understands it.
“It’s great for him, and I support the decision,” Stubbs said. “He’s ready for that next opportunity. I have no doubt that he’ll be successful at the next level and help make whatever team he coaches better.”
Patterson junior Pio Vatuvei said Cozart impacted a lot of people during his eight years as the Tigers’ coach.
“When Coach told us, we were surprised, but we were very supportive and we always will be,” said Vatuvei, the Western Athletic Conference’s Outstanding Defensive Lineman. “(Cozart) changed a lot of lives at this program, and he turned this program around from almost nothing.”
Junior Anthony McCaskell was also touched by Cozart’s time in Patterson, adding that there was no indication the coach’s resignation was coming.
“We were really surprised, but I know deep down he is going to do the best he can for himself,” said McCaskell, an All-WAC second-team selection. “We know his family is first, so we support whatever he does.”
Perhaps more than anything else he did at Patterson, Cozart rebooted a football program that had failed to meet expectations. Patterson’s resurgent program under Cozart rejoined the area’s elite, restoring the school to section prominence.
A 1996 Patterson High graduate, Cozart took over as coach in 2003 and led the Tigers to the playoffs the past six straight seasons, qualifying for the Sac-Joaquin Section semifinals during five of those seasons.
In 2007, the program’s first 11-win campaign, he positioned the Tigers to win the school’s first section championship. WAC powerhouse Central Catholic High of Modesto beat Patterson, 24-6, in the Division V Sac-Joaquin Section title game at the University of the Pacific.
“I’m so proud of all that was accomplished from 2003 to now,” Cozart said. “Look how far we’ve come. From playing in 2002 against Livingston, with just 12 players in uniform, to hosting a section semifinal game (this past season).”
Patterson tied a program record for most wins in a season during its 11-2 campaign in 2010. The Tigers also notched their first 10-game winning streak and claimed the WAC championship, the school’s first outright league title since 1968.
“When I took over in 2003, few people believed that we’d come as far as we have,” said Cozart, who will continue to teach physical education at the high school. “Now, Patterson is a team that is known throughout the section as a team and a program that is not to be taken lightly.”
Patterson’s quick rise after Cozart’s arrival solidified his reputation as one of the area’s most innovative football minds.
This past season, the Tigers defeated eventual Division III state champion Escalon 22-15 on the road; they won another big game in November in a much-anticipated Week 10 clash with perennially stacked Central Catholic.
“My goal was always to restore honor and tradition to this program,” Cozart said. “Putting us back on the map was very hard work. I didn’t know how far we could take this thing.
“Over the last eight seasons, I think I’ve grown professionally. I could not be a high school coach for the rest of my life. I want to accept a new challenge. I want to take what I have learned here and apply it to the next level.”
Stubbs anticipated that the opening for the coaching position will be posted internally. If there are no viable candidates, “then we’ll open it up outside and we’ll go try to find a good one,” he said.
“In a perfect world, there would be a teaching position tied to the job,” Stubbs said. “If we felt that there was someone already here, that would be ideal.
“Whoever fills it will have expectations (to win).”
“We hope to wrap it up as soon as we can,” Patterson High Athletic Director Dave Klein added. “I think it’s a great job still. It’s going to be an attractive job to somebody.”
This year, Patterson claimed its first undisputed league title in 42 years with the 17-16 victory over Central Catholic, capping a perfect 5-0 league campaign and earning a No. 2 seeding in the Division III playoffs.
The Tigers fell short of a section title, however, in a hard-fought 28-9 loss to Del Oro High of Loomis in the D-III semifinals at Patterson Community Stadium.
“We expect the team to remain competitive and to succeed,” Stubbs said.
While Cozart’s next move remains uncertain, what’s not in question is his impact on Patterson’s football program.
“He was committed to the program and to the school,” Klein said. “He did a really good job of separating coach from friend. The kids liked him, but they respected him, too. They understood that he was boss.
“In the end, you couldn’t ask for more from a coach.”
Contact Marc Aceves at 892-6187 or email@example.com.