WHEN JOE CUOZZO retired as the chair of the health and physical education department at Ward Melville ( East Setauket, N.Y.) in July 2005, he didn't expect his coaching career there would soon end as well. Cuozzo, the alltime winningest lacrosse coach in the country, had led Melville to seven state championships in his 37 years and was coming off an 18--1 season. But that summer athletic director Don Webster surprised Cuozzo while the two played golf by raising the possibility that he might not be able to stay. "It wasn't a great round," Cuozzo says.
The problem: The school district's union gives preference to full-time teachers for coaching spots. To Cuozzo's surprise, Mike Hoppey, a former player and assistant whose long-standing ambition was to coach Melville, applied for the job and was hired. Eventually, the two agreed to become co coaches—Hoppey coordinated the offense, Cuozzo the defense. The Patriots went 16--4 last year, but Cuozzo missed being in control. "I figured it was time for me to move on," says Cuozzo, 69. He didn't have to move far. In October 2006 he was hired by Mount Sinai, four miles away. Says Mustangs A.D. Scott Reh, "He brings instant credibility to our program."
Mount Sinai will draw some early attention when Cuozzo, with a record of 699--73, wins his 700th game. (The season opener is March 21—the two schools, in different divisions, won't play each other.) Says senior midfielder James Wittpenn, "It's new and exciting for us."
Also new are the demands Cuozzo makes on the team. Cuozzo's highly organized practices resemble college workouts. "He's hard on you because he expects a lot from you," says Jay Negus, who played at Massachusetts and is one of 52 All-Americas Cuozzo has coached. Cuozzo says he'll coach "maybe three years" and wants to lay the same foundation at Mount Sinai that he did at Melville: "I'm trying to change the culture of lacrosse here and make it something special that everyone wants to be a part of."
Mount Sinai, N.Y.