April 5, 2009

 

Cox's family stages a flawless farewell ceremony

By Jim Lamar
DEMOCRAT SPORTS EDITOR

In so many ways, it looked like one more Gene Cox game plan put into play.

The script was flawlessly executed, with attention paid to every detail. The star players performed. The role players did their jobs. And the crowd showed its approval every step of the way.

The 450 or so folks who attended Cox's funeral service Saturday afternoon witnessed something special at Bradfordville First Baptist Church. In place of tear-choked eulogies, there was laughter and smiles and, above all else, an appreciation for one of Tallahassee's true sports treasures.

It shouldn't surprise anyone, of course, that Gene Cox's final public appearance turned out so perfectly. The men who coached football with Cox through the years and the dozens of Cox-coached players who attended Saturday's service will certainly testify about how their mentor demanded perfection in preparation for every game.

And this performance was absolutely perfect.

From the hilarious stories told by long-time friend Morris Williams as well as the four Cox children to the touching eulogy provided by Jim Sauls and the stirring solo performance of "Amazing Grace" by Brett Cleveland, the crowd witnessed a fitting farewell to a coaching legend.

Not that anyone should have expected anything differently.

For so many years, that's how Cox's teams at Leon High performed. When the crowd showed up, they were ready to play and ready to put on a show.

They didn't win 'em all, of course. No one can. But they won enough to become the state of Florida's winningest football program. When Cox retired from coaching for good in 1996, he was the state's all-time winningest coach.

Many of the men who played their part in that incredible coaching dynasty were there Saturday to say goodbye to their coach.

It would be impossible to list in this space everyone who was there, and it probably wouldn't be appropriate either. That's because Saturday wasn't about who showed up as much as it was about what showed up.

And what was seen, clearly, was an appreciation for the man who mentored an entire generation of Tallahassee football players.

More than anything else, Gene Cox taught his players how to out-work and, in many cases, out-think the opponent.

His practices were brutally difficult, so much so that you rarely saw a Gene Cox team with more than 30-40 players on its roster. Too many kids decided they didn't want to work to Cox's standards and opted out of football. And, truthfully, that didn't bother Cox.

As much as Cox focused on creating toughness on the football field, he also possessed one of the game's most flexible minds.

Gene Cox didn't care how he beat you. He just wanted to beat you. As his son Alan said earlier this week, "his only vice was winning and he made no beans about that."

And Alan's father piled up the wins every way possible. He won one state title using the wishbone offense. He won another running a pro-set offense. He was running the Run 'n' Shoot offense in the 1960s. He was running the Wing-T in the 1980s.

For the better part of two decades, he produced this area's most dominant passing game through a rich and storied lineage of quarterbacks from Wayne Folsom through Billy Sexton and Wally Woodham and Jimmy Jordan and Blair Williams and all the way to Tony Robinson, James Thompson and Moses Collins.

He produced record-setting running backs, too, led by the Holloman brothers (Tanner and Darrin) in the early 1980s.

But Cox's reach was about so much more than teaching X's and O's on a football field.

To understand that, you have to look at men like Rocky Hanna, now the Leon High principal. Hanna remembers coming home the day his father died "and seeing Coach Cox sitting on my front porch waiting for me."

"He was always there for us," Hanna added. "He was always there for me."

He was there for all those players through the years. And many of them were there for him Saturday afternoon. But this time they were simply spectators as Cox's final game plan unfolded.

And it was his family and two longtime friends who carried out the details of this plan.

Perfectly, of course.