Russ Cozart is arguably the best high school wrestling coach in the country. The legendary eight-time Florida Coach of the Year is walking away from the mat, at least for now.
The Brandon High School coach gave way to his youngest son, Joe Cozart, five years ago and has been an assistant for the program since. He also was in charge of the new girls’ team this past season. The Brandon gym, known as ‘The Nest,’ where countless victories took place for the Eagles, will be renamed after Russ in May.
The coach’s legacy has been set in stone for some time. For 34 years, the Eagles obliterated the competition, setting the record for the longest winning streak in American sports history with an astounding 459 wins in a row. The Streak, an ESPN documentary that came out in 2008, chronicled the winning streak that started way back in 1974 under head coach Jim Graves and continued up until 2008 under Russ. The streak came to an end in 2008 when South Dade defeated Brandon 32-28; however, the dynasty didn’t end there, as the Eagles won 17 state championships in a row after the streak ended, and 27 state championships overall. Cozart also coached 119 individual state champions, and over 60 of his players have gone on to the next level — and he remembers each one.
Russ has been a teacher and coach for 47 years, 43 of those at Brandon High School. The coach entered the Florida Retirement System’s DROP program five years ago when he retired and now has reached the end of the DROP period, which means that he’ll be terminated as a teacher. He can volunteer with the wrestling team, but he can’t be reemployed for a whole year, according to the Florida Retirement System’s guidelines and restrictions. Russ isn’t closing the door on a potential return in a few years.
“I’m a pretty energetic guy. I’d like to keep going. I am getting old, I look old,” joked Russ. “I still want to be involved just for my own personal sake. This is a big moment in all teachers’ and coaches’ lives when they get at the end of the Florida Retirement System DROP program. It is a big game-changer. Maybe I’m a little bit like Tom Brady; I may come back, I may not. This is the type of milestone that’s kind of happening at the moment.”
Russ, who conducted thousands of workouts in his time, will miss teaching the sport to all age levels. One of his many proud accomplishments is starting the Youth Club at Brandon, which still runs to this day.
“My gift is wrestling. I was a youth wrestler and I’ve always wanted to give that part of my life back,” said Russ. “When I get too old and I can’t teach half nelsons and double legs and can’t teach them about the great aspects of being part of a sport and committing yourself to the sport and trying, to be a champion of excellence and the discipline and self-sacrifice of it, I think that I’ll miss that the most.”
Russ thinks that the program is in good hands with his son leading the ship. The younger Cozart was a four-time state champion at Brandon, a USA national champion and a two-time national collegiate champion.
“I hope that he has the success that he wants and that he works for that,” said Russ. “It’s not easy being a coach. There’s a lot of sacrifice, there’s not a lot of money to be made, it’s something that you feel inside. For me to do it for 47 years, I truly feel that it was something that I wanted to do, and it was something that I did, but it’s not an easy occupation. For him to go on for it will be a huge challenge, and sometimes you have to dig deep inside and keep going, and you have to love what you do.”