How did a football player, born in Hawaii and raised in California, come to play at one of the coldest NFL stadiums in the country?
Simple. He was drafted.
Glen Kozlowski, a former Chicago Bear wide receiver, played eight seasons at Soldier Field. The 46-year-old said five years at Brigham Young University had somewhat prepared him for the Windy City’s brutal temperatures, and he’s grown fond of the midwest – though he could still do without the winters.
The former pro turned high school coach will leave Wauconda High School, where he coached for the past seven years, this fall. He leaves the team in the hands of his best friend from college, Dave Mills, while Kozlowski will take over the North Chicago program.
Kozlowski recently answered questions from Lake County Journal reporter Stephanie Lehman.
Lehman: What are your hobbies?
Kozlowski: I really don't have many hobbies. With four boys, it was pretty much just coaching them. They all played all the sports: soccer, football, basketball, baseball – you name it, I've coached it at some point.
Lehman: Were you always an assistant coach on their little league team?
Kozlowski: I would usually coach them. I don't like being an assistant in anything; I like to be the boss. I was always going to manage, and I wanted to make sure they were being taught fundamentals.
Lehman: Can you give me a brief background of your Bears career? A favorite memory?
Kozlowski: I played from ‘86 to ‘93, so I played eight seasons. I came in, I had blown my knee out my senior year of college. I tore the ACL, all the ligaments in my knee and broke my knee cap. It was a devastating injury, and back then nobody made it back off that injury. So really I [dragged] one leg around for eight seasons. But I got to play with probably the greatest football players of our time, in Dan Hampton, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Otis Wilson, the list goes on, Steve McMichael, Jim Covert. I mean the list goes on and on and on of just great football players. To me that was probably the most memorable part of the Bears, was the players I got to play with and the friendships I have with these guys.
Lehman: What was your favorite sport to play?
Kozlowski: Probably volleyball. I enjoyed that the most ... I played really five sports in high school. I got to double up [in] volleyball and football at the same time. And then I ran track and baseball at the same time [and played basketball].
Lehman: But there isn’t much of a career in volleyball?
Kozlowski: In 1980, I was considered one of the top setters in the country, but we boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games, leading up to what would have been that team, so there really wasn’t much. I never thought of it as a career. What’s interesting is I never really thought I’d be a professional athlete in anything. I just enjoyed playing sports.
Lehman: Where did your love of sports come from?
Kozlowski: [I have] seven brothers and sisters, and my mom's Hawaiin-Somoan and my father's Polish – they met in the war, the Korean War. And my mom was a great athlete on the islands, and so we all played sports and sports were our way to an education, because we didn't have a lot of money. All of my brothers and sisters have won zillions of awards. We all got athletic scholarships – all seven of us – that's how we went to college. And the only thing that she hangs on her wall are diplomas. That's the thing she cares most about. It was interesting. She never got to go to college and she wanted us to go to college. Brother played for the Dolphins, all my sisters were great volleyball players, so they all had volleyball scholarships.
Lehman: Was it hard to transfer from playing to coaching?
Kozlowski: No, because I had done it for so long with my sons in youth sports that, really, I had logged in 18 years of coaching before I got into the high school level.
Lehman: What was the most important thing that a coach ever said to you?
Kozlowski: I would say, pay attention to the details. LaVell Edwards, he was my college coach. Obviously he’s a hall of fame coach, but he really emphasized the little details; doing the little things right. By doing that, you’d have success. And it’s the same thing in anything you do – pay attention to the little details and you have the opportunity for success.
Lehman: Is that one of the things you’ve tried to pass on to your kids?
Kozlowski: Oh yeah, I’m a detail guy. When we’re in practice, I’m worried about where the quarterback puts his foot, down to that kind of detail. His first step back, where he ends up; if he’s supposed to get five yards, I don’t want him at four, I don’t want him at five and a half – I want him at five. I’m really detail-oriented as far as how we go about our business.
Lehman: Why did you take the job at Wauconda?
Kozlowski: Most people said that you couldn't turn it around there. When I took over seven years ago, it was to the point I think there was 42 total kids in the whole program, from freshmen to varsity. There was a sophomore team pitcher of 12 kids the year before. So it really was at rock bottom. And I just liked the idea of trying to fix something that nobody thought I could fix.
Lehman: So, is that what fuels you, somebody saying you can't do this?
Kozlowski: Absolutely. But I think all athletes are like that. Anybody that's participated in sports loves the "you can't." OK, I'll prove you wrong. And so, in this case, it really was, we were changing how the community viewed itself in a lot of ways, too. It wasn't me. When I say this, the football program's in great shape at Wauconda. But it was a community effort. The [program] is really strong now. When I got there seven years ago, there were 120 kids in the youth program, and there's like 350 now. So it's tripled, or actually 2/3rds doubled up twice in size, and it was the community, you know, the people that are involved. The leadership in the youth program really believed in what I was doing, and in turn, they did it also. It was a neat thing to transform Wauconda into a football school, and that's what we are now.
Lehman: Do you think what has happened to the football program has leaked into the other programs?
Kozlowski: Absolutely. ... Everything is better. Do I want to say that it started from football? No. I think it started from everybody in the community wanting to be successful, you know, and football was one of the catalysts to get everybody thinking that way. It used to be OK to lose at Wauconda, and now it's not, and I'm proud of that.
Lehman: What’s one of the biggest things you’re going to miss about Wauconda?
Kozlowski: The kids, obviously. It was hard to move on, but at the same time, it was a promise that I made to a friend that I brought out here, that at some point the idea was he was going to take over the program. I felt like we had reached where I could take them, and now I’m hoping Dave [Mills] can take them to a new level, and then I get to start over at North Chicago trying to do the same thing again.
Lehman: What are your goals for North Chicago?
Kozlowski: I’ve always wanted to coach at North Chicago. I just think that there’s an untapped resource of great players there ...
The things we’re going to change there is we’re going to try and focus on education. I believe that most kids at North Chicago can go to college on academic scholarships ... They don’t have to play sports; sports just provides that opportunity. ... I want them to go to college. My idea at North Chicago is to have as many football players go to college, and I'm hoping they go academically, not through football or sports. So that's the plan. Whether I do it or not, we'll see, you know, but I think it can be done. There's things that we have to change, and part of it, too, is just confidence. The ACT test is overwhelming at times for all kids. So we're going to start practicing that test their freshman year, and we're going to get them ready for when it really matters. So that's the game plan. Whether we get there or not, only time will tell.
Lehman: Do you keep in contact with some of your players?
Kozlowski: Oh yeah, all the time. All my kids that are in college playing football, I'll call them at least once a month just to see how they're doing them, even though I've moved to North Chicago. It's about half a dozen. So, it's six calls over the course of a month. What I've found again, it's a little detail, but it means a lot to people. I try to call everyone I care about at least once a month just to check on them, see how they're going.
Lehman: What is one thing you hope your athletes will remember about you?
Kozlowski: That I was always fair, that I did love them. And I think that's what you want as a coach. You want kids to say, You know what, the guy was tough at times, but he always treated us fairly. And they know that I would go to the end of the earth for them, if need be.
Who he is: A former Chicago Bear, former Wauconda football coach, current North Chicago football coach
Family: Wife, Julie, of 27 years; four sons, Brent, Tyler, Kyle and Kelin
Favorite sports team (besides the Bears): San Diego Chargers
Favorite sports magazine: ESPN
Favorite movie: "Tommy Boy"
Grass or turf: Grass