(Photos by Dave Adams)
by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M coach Tony Scazzero is on the cusp on winning his 500th game this weekend. It’s an incredible feat for a non-varsity coach in an area of the country where the sport is just emerging as a power.
Perhaps more incredible is the 500 wins is the least impressive aspect of Scazzero’s tenure in College Station.
The wins are a byproduct of Scazzero’s underlying philosophy of being a Leader of Men.
He understands the power of the sport, and never wavers or take shortcuts in building the character and creating a measure of responsibility among his players.
“Getting to 500 wins not only shows how committed Tony is to this program, but how much he loves this sport,” said Chris Figueroa ’02. “Tony has put in countless hours building this program; helping the sport grow through the players he has developed. He’s made an impact on all of us.”
“It is a great testament to his enduring love of the game and his unwavering commitment to the A&M lacrosse team,” added Brian DeSpain ’05 of the impending win mark. “His work ethic is unlike any I've ever seen. When I was on the team, his day job was in Austin, yet he drove the 110 miles to College Station every day during the week to practice. That level of commitment is incredible, and it's why he has been able to lead the program for so long through so many ups and downs and waves of students who have come and gone through the years.”
Most A&M alums will echo a similar sentiment. Philip Peter, who graduated A&M in ’95, remembers the mentoring far more than any win or championship.
“He always stressed life lessons to us,” Peter said. "’What did you learn today, and how will you use that tomorrow?’ Tony always pushed me to learn from my mistakes and continually try to improve myself. He taught me teamwork, accountability, resiliency and perseverance. He believed in me, and taught me to believe in myself.”
The first of Scazzero’s 499 wins occurred on April 8, 1978 – a little less than 41 years ago. It was a win over the Dallas men’s club and started a run of wins that includes eight trips to the MCLA National Championships.
That success may be surprising to some, especially if they are working off first appearances.
During his time in East Texas, Scazzero has adopted a quintessential Lone Star look, with a bushy mustache and a weathered face from years working outdoors.
It’s very easy to forget that Scazzero is from Westchester (N.Y.) County and played lacrosse for the legendary Richie Moran at Cornell.
He didn’t just fall off the turnip truck and start coaching the sport. He knows it inside and out, as his record would attest.
And while Scazzero will be the first person to regale you with a story about someone, some place or some occasion, he isn’t always a warm bath on the sidelines. He has the same expectations of any successful coach.
Rene Kozarsky, a ’97 grad, earned the nickname “Pigpen” during his playing day, an homage to the unkempt Peanuts character due to his penchant for having a dirty uniform. Because of his nickname, Kozarsky always knew when the axe was going to fall.
“Coach would get it confused and call me Linus,” Kozarsky said, referring to a different Peanuts character. “But I knew Coach was happy if he called me Linus. But God forbid he ever called me ‘Rennie’ or ‘Rene,’ because that meant I screwed something up and was about to get subbed off for a tongue lashing.”
On the other end of the spectrum from getting chewed out was Scazzero’s alter ego. In the fall of his junior year, Kozarsky’s father died, leaving a big void in his life.
“My last two seasons there, Coach really became like a second father during that time to me and for that I am forever grateful,” Kozarksy said. “I told him that about ten years ago.”
As can happen with a young man between the ages of 18 and 22 – this writer included – Philip Peter made a couple of poor decisions during his time at A&M. Part of his penance required 200 hours of community service.
When Scazzero found out, he made sure that those hours were done under his supervision. There were no shortcuts for Peter in fulfilling those 200 hours.
“He saw me headed in the wrong direction and made sure I got turned around,” Peter said. “Tony was more than a coach. He was a leader, a mentor, a voice of reason and a guiding force in my life. Coaches who only care about winning don’t take that kind of interest in people. Tony is truly devoted to his players and their success during college, and in life.”
“He helped mold us all into who we are today,” added Figueroa. “Tony has taught us countless life lessons through this sport. He’s made an impact on all of our daily lives, most of the time without us even realizing it.”
Whether or not Texas A&M beats Texas State this weekend in College Station, these are the types of stories that will be bantered about as a huge contingent of former players return to campus in hopes of witnessing a milestone.
There will be stories of successes, failures, humor and lacrosse.
And there’s a good chance Scazzero is going to win his 500th win.
The ironic part? Tony Scazzero's legacy will never be defined by a number.