First hired as football coach in 1966, Carzo oversaw Jumbo sports for more than a quarter century
Rocco “Rocky” Carzo, a legendary figure in Tufts University history as the former director of athletics and head football coach, died on January 16. He was 89.
Hired as Tufts’ head football coach in 1966, Carzo was promoted to athletic director in 1973 and mentored countless Jumbo students and staff before retiring in 1999. Recognized for his accomplishments and easy smile, Carzo guided Tufts from the establishment of small college athletics within the NCAA during the 1970s through the growth of women’s sports in the 1980s and into the prosperity of NCAA post-season play in the 1990s.
A member of the National Association of College Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame, Carzo also held numerous leadership positions with the NCAA, the Eastern College Athletic Conference, and college football during his Tufts tenure. He was a member of the first class of inductees into the Tufts Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018.
“Rocky authored an incredible legacy during his long and distinguished career leading the Jumbos,” said John Morris, director of athletics. “Everything Rocky did had the best interests of the student-athletes in mind. He was passionate about providing Jumbo student-athletes with a transformational academic and athletic experience, and he worked tirelessly every day to make it happen. Rocky’s passing is a profound loss for the Tufts Athletics community, and our deepest sympathies go out to his wife Terry and the Carzo family.”
Carzo played college football as a fullback at the University of Delaware from 1950 to 1953. Before coming to Tufts, Carzo had served as backfield coach at the University of California, Berkeley, working alongside future NFL legends Marv Levy and Bill Walsh.
However, when the head coaching job at Tufts opened, his commitment to the educational aspect of sports brought the Woodlyn, Pennsylvania native back across the country to begin a career as head coach of the football Jumbos and as a passionate advocate for Tufts Athletics.
Those who knew him said Carzo energized the campus like a bolt of lightning when he arrived at Tufts in 1966. Jumbo Athletics was languishing in the mid-1960s. The department budget and the quality of its facilities lagged behind those of its peers. However, it was immediately evident that there was something special about this man. Even under difficult circumstances, his enthusiasm was contagious. He preached the importance of working hard, staying focused, and never forgetting to enjoy the experience.
When Harry Arlanson, the successful football coach and athletic director at Tufts for 20 years, retired in 1974, Carzo was the natural successor. Once in the role, he moved quickly to expand athletic opportunities available to Tufts students.
He oversaw the upgrading and addition of women’s programs, as well as the improvement of physical education and intramural offerings. During his tenure, he led development of new and improved facilities, including a fitness center, outdoor track, football stadium, soccer fields, baseball diamond, and tennis courts. In addition, he directed Tufts’ summer fitness program in Talloires, France and served as the university’s commencement marshal.
Leading by Example
“He’s a hero to many of us,” Bob Bass, A70, a former football captain under Carzo, said at the time of Carzo’s retirement. “The way he led by example, how he conducted himself under difficult circumstances, his compassion, his ability to accept change, and his great modesty are all heroic qualities.”
A firm believer in the academic-athletic balance, Carzo spread the philosophy of Tufts Athletics around the country by taking on leadership roles within the NCAA, including a term as Division III vice president. He also served as president of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) and held several leadership positions in the sport of football, including rules and post-season selection committees.
“He was a very special, eloquent spokesman for Division III,” Gene Corrigan, the former commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, who worked on several NCAA committees with Carzo, said in 1999. “Rocky is steadfast in what he believes in. People listened to him.”
Among the many campus, regional, and national awards that he received during his career, he earned in 1996 the National Football Foundation (NFF) and College Hall of Fame Distinguished American Award, one of the highest honors offered by the NFF.
In 1999, Carzo was one of the inaugural winners of the National Association of College Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Athletic Director of the Year Award. The following year he was inducted into the NACDA Hall of Fame.
The occasion of his retirement from Tufts in 1999 prompted three separate celebrations: one with Tufts Athletics, one for the wider campus community, and a third held in a hotel ballroom in order to accommodate all his family and friends.
“Rocky was a terrific person and a great boss and mentor," said Bill Gehling, A74, who succeeded Carzo as director of athletics. “I learned a great deal from him about managing people and understanding the workings of the NCAA. Without his guidance and support, I never would have had the opportunity to follow him as athletic director at Tufts, and I am forever grateful for that. This is a very sad day.”
Sol Gittleman, Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor Emeritus and a former Tufts provost, recalls Carzo from their arrival at Tufts together in the early 1960s. “He was one of a kind as a coach, friend, gym rat, teacher,” said Gittleman. “His players will miss him most. He taught them how to live productive lives. He was the right man at the right time.”
In retirement, Carzo kept an office at Tufts and coordinated the publishing of the first book on the history of Tufts Athletics, Jumbo Footprints: A History of Tufts Athletics, 1852-1999.
His vision, determination, and personality shaped the athletics program from the day he first stepped on campus and his imprint remains today.
“What Rocky Carzo has given Tufts is the passionate belief that what happens on our playing fields, on our courts, and in our gymnasium has far broader application than the final score,” said former Tufts President Larry Bacow at the dedication of Tufts’ Carzo Cage in 2002. “He has taught us that what our students learn through sport they carry with them for a lifetime: the importance of teamwork, leadership, fair play, respect for others, integrity, commitment, and hard work.”
Director of Athletics Communications Paul Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com.