This past offseason, David Cox was named Rhode Island men’s basketball coach, elevating himself from associate head coach. When it came to assessing his path to the position, he could not help but think of Pittsburgh.
Cox’s first coaching job came at Pitt during the 2006-07 season working under Jamie Dixon. Frustrated by being turned away from several coaching positions, Cox was there for 10 months before moving to Georgetown serving as an assistant to John Thompson III.
“I was only there 10 months with Jamie, but wow, I owe almost all of this to him,” Cox said. “What a phenomenal coach, defensive minded and he was the first guy to tell me as a head coach 20% of your job is basketball, 80% is other. I had no idea what he meant until right now. There’s so much to this head coaching thing outside of basketball. That was a great 10 months.”
That was just one connection that attached Cox to this city. Cox attended William & Mary for college and he got to know all of the Tribe football players, including one Mike Tomlin. This, Cox cited, was because of a small African-American population at the university and a lot of friends from his native Washington D.C. played football.
“I remember him being a very confident/cocky, skinny wide receiver, but a fun guy to be around,” said Cox. “He was always pretty mature and it seemed like he had a idea of what he wanted to do in life.”
At the end of Cox’s freshman year, he joined Tomlin’s fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi. The wheels first turned at the end of the first semester when the two communicated daily and then by April the two became fraternity brothers.
With Tomlin being a year older, Cox viewed him as a big brother and the pair have maintained their relationship to this day.
The pair remain so close that when Tomlin called Cox within the past couple of weeks, it was about a young man from Pittsburgh that Rhode Island offered. It was Tomlin trying to offer his two cents on the player.
“We’ll text back and forth throughout football season, and then when it’s basketball season, he will reach out to me and then we’ll talk occasionally,” Cox said.
With Tomlin established as Steelers head coach, Cox reached out to ask for preparation for that next step that each coach dream of.
“He told me a few things that were pivotal to me,” said Cox. “You have to embody and embrace it. You truly have to believe that it’s you and it’s your job. Then prior to you getting the job, you have to own it for a period of time. He told me about being in Minnesota and believing he would have the opportunity in a year or two how he basically in his mind was the head coach. He followed the head coach around all of the time and picked his brain and tried to do things that emulated being a head coach.”
For the past two seasons at Rhode Island, Cox earned former coach Dan Hurley’s trust to the point where head coaching responsibilities such as recruiting, scouting and assisting players off the court.
“That was huge, you don’t always get that as an assistant coach,” Cox remarked. “It was a blessing that he brought me on board but then it was a true blessing that I was able to earn his trust to the degree that he allowed me to spread my wings and really become a coach.”
Cox had followed Tomlin’s advice and now that he is elevated hopes it will have a positive effect on a Rhode Island team picked to place fifth in the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll.
As far as Tomlin’s press conference mantras of “obviously” and “the standard is the standard”, Cox stated those terms did not come from him.
One thing Cox will take possession of is the big place Pittsburgh holds in his heart.
“My son was born in the same year as my first coaching job, 2006,” said Cox. “He was born and lived in Pittsburgh, that was his first state of residence. On my way out as Mike was coming in, we were able to spend a couple of months together before I ended up going to Georgetown. What a huge connection that has been.”