The year 2020 has presented trying challenges; and here in our Florida Parishes region, the passing of an iconic figure, Coach Ronald Cox, has make it that much harder to bear.
A giant of a man both in physical stature and in moral fortitude, Coach Cox touched countless lives during his meaningful and storied career.
I first met Ronald Cox in 2004 when my son Jesse became a member of Coach Cox’s Albany Hornet Basketball Team. As a volunteer driver and chaperone for several basketball camps, I had the privilege of traveling with Coach Cox and getting to know him personally.
We talked basketball, politics, family, and general life topics. I found Ronald to be a coaching master, a teacher, a counselor, father figure, mentor, and friend.
Coach Cox first made his mark in our area as a basketball player for Springfield High School, where he led his team to a 2-A state championship in 1982.
One of the best players to come out of Livingston Parish, Ronald won a scholarship to McNeese State University where he was a teammate and roommate of NBA Hall of Famer guard, Joe Dumars.
I remember having breakfast with Ronald and my two sons, Jesse and Carey, at one of the coach’s favorite places, Golden Corral.
Jesse asked what it was like to play with Joe Dumars, who has been hailed as one of the great defensive guards of all time.
Coach Cox grinned and said in his deep trademark baritone: “We used to make fun of him for not playing defense. He was more interested in scoring.”
Another memory coach liked to share was when he matched up, one on one, with Karl Malone, who would go on to become the second leading scorer in NBA history, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabar. Ronald recently told a friend that after one game in which the 6-foot-4 Ronald held the 6-foot-9 Karl Malone in check, Malone had to begrudgingly shake Ronald’s hand and say, “Good game with your solid butt.”
After his playing days were over, Ronald turned to coaching. He was on the coaching staff of several college programs, including Auburn University and Southeastern Louisiana University. Coach Cox started his high school coaching career in Ruston, but later took the job in Albany to be close to home and family.
Upon taking the position in Albany, Ronald Cox became the first African American to hold a head coaching job in Livingston Parish since desegregation. The parish milestone proved to be advantageous as Coach Cox took a team that had not had a winning season in over a decade and turned it into a contender in his first year. In his second year at Albany, Coach Cox led the squad to the playoffs, and they ended as District 7 3-A Champs.
Most recently, Coach Cox was the head basketball coach at Amite High School. My son Jesse as a sportswriter covered many of his former coach’s games. He had this to say about his coach: “He coached many winning teams, and he became a community leader. Not just on the court either. He was a counselor to many students.”
Jesse went on to reminisce of his days as a player and as a student in Coach Cox’s classroom. Jesse said, “He saw a lot in me. He believed in me. He gave me an opportunity when others had written me off. He bucked the system, and he changed the community.”
Jesse is not alone in his admiration and respect for Coach Cox. Love and adulation have been expressed by everyone that I have spoken to, and not just because of Coach Cox’s winning ways. He is being remembered for his professionalism, for his devotion as a teacher, and for his common decency and general concern for people’s welfare.
For example, Amite head football coach Zephaniah Powell said of his colleague that Coach Cox supported all of the young men and women in their journey, whether they were athletes or not.
Powell explained: “He was totally unselfish and went out of his way to welcome me, when I came to Amite.”
Team bus driver and statistician Marcus Downs remembered Coach Cox as a patient mentor who taught the importance of punctuality and how to be a family man with Christian values.
Coach Chris Gordon, who was an assistant under Coach Cox, and Coach Troy Green, who was recruited by Cox at SLU, remembered Ronald as a father figure who filled a void that existed in many young lives – and in many not so young.
So it is with sadness that we say good bye to our gallant and noble friend, Coach Ronald Cox, but we will be forever glad that our paths crossed with his.