FORT COLLINS, COLO. — When Joe Cox’s football career ended at Georgia, he walked away from the game. Since the age of 8, the sport had consumed him. He played quarterback from then until he graduated from UGA in December of 2009. In between, football had brought him joy and notoriety. It also broke his heart.
So when Cox left Athens with his psychology degree in hand, he decided to do something totally different. He wanted to make some money, so he went into sales. First he sold orthopedic products in Augusta, then it was scholastic supplies in Charleston, S.C.
And suddenly, football didn’t seem so grueling.
“I found out I probably wasn’t a great salesman,” Cox says with a laugh. “I wasn’t real passionate about it and it was just tough.”
It’s funny now because Cox is back in the game he loves. This particular conversation is taking place in the office of Mike Bobo, head football coach at Colorado State University. Bobo, who was Cox’s position coach at Georgia, hired his former pupil as an offensive graduate assistant back in January.
In a lot of ways, Bobo brought Cox back from the brink. By the time they made contact Cox had dipped his toe back in the game. But to pluck Cox out of Mallard Creek High in Charlotte and prop him up with a full-time job in the Mountain West Conference is the kind of career catapult of which most coaches can only dream.
“I texted Coach Bobo when I found out he was taking the job to congratulate him and just told him, ‘if you ever have a position and thinking about bringing somebody in, I’d love to be part of your staff,’” says Cox, dressed in a green Colorado State pullover and a gray bucket hat. “About a month later, he said they had a graduate assistant spot come open and asked if I’d be interested. I asked him when I needed to start.”
Cox’s life – and career – have been moving at breakneck speed since then. He moved to Colorado in February, got engaged in March, and he hitched fiancé Erica Smith’s car to the back end of a U-Haul and they drove to Fort Smith last month. They’ll be married in a ceremony in Roswell next March.
In the meantime, Bobo has Cox back up to his eyeballs in football work.
Though he’s a mere G.A., it could be argued that Cox is the most important person on Bobo’s offensive staff. Bobo is implementing his playbook, but he is utilizing as much of the Rams’ terminology and formations as he can. Therefore, between Bobo’s commands and Cox’s signals into the quarterbacks, effectively he is Bobo’s translator from Bulldog to Ram.
“Half the time I’ll call it what we called it at Georgia and Joe will clean it up for me,” Bobo said with a laugh. “Joe Cox is an excellent football coach who can not only teach but can motivate players. I will not be able to keep him as a G.A. for long. He is that good.”
Before Cox came to Colorado, he was teaching and coaching at Mallard Creek back in his hometown of Charlotte, where he once starred for Independence High. Cox came on as quarterbacks coach in 2013 and served as offensive coordinator last year as the Mavericks won back-to-back state championships.
The year before, Cox came crawling back to football. He was literally working for nothing as a volunteer coach at Porter Gaud, a private school in Charleston.
He didn’t care, though. He was living at the beach and wasn’t trying to sell anybody anything.
“I had probably been away from football for three years and, the first day I was out there, I was like, ‘What are you doing? You should have done this from the get-go,” Cox said. “I think that’s probably why I enjoy it as much as I do now. I actually had a chance to try some other stuff and found out it wasn’t for me. I kind of came back to it.”
Cox’s career at Georgia didn’t turn out like he planned either. A Parade Magazine All-American and No. 7-ranked quarterback prospect in the country in high school, he signed with the Bulldogs to great fanfare. But after some early successes at Georgia, Cox was overtaken by a young phenom named Matt Stafford, who would go on to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
After that tidal wave subsided, Cox was able to take over as Georgia’s starting quarterback as a fifth-year senior. He started all 13 games of the 2009 season, but results were mixed. He threw for 2,584 yards and 24 touchdowns but also had 15 interceptions and the Bulldogs limped home with an 8-5 record after an Independence Bowl victory.
“I’m proud to say I had the chance to play quarterback for the University of Georgia,” Cox said. “Did it end like how I would have drawn it up in a dream? No. But the people that I met, the friends that I made, the coaches that coached me, the people I look up to, being part of that community and the people that matter to me, it was an unbelievable experience from that standpoint.
“From a football standpoint obviously you go to Georgia wanting to be the quarterback. When you do get to be the quarterback, you want to win. You want your name to be one of those names that won an SEC championship or whatever it is. It just didn’t work out that way. But there were still a lot of great things that happened to me and still happen to me because of the fact I went there. I owe a lot to the school and to being a Georgia Bulldog.”
There were highlight moments. With a young Stafford struggling at home against Colorado in 2006, Cox came off the bench in the second half to rally Georgia from a 13-0 deficit to a 14-13 victory. And he tied a school record with five touchdown passes and was named SEC player of the week with a win over Arkansas in Fayetteville.
But Cox didn’t play at all in what he describes as his greatest moment as a Bulldog. He was redshirted in 2005 when Georgia won the SEC championship. He still wears the ring today.
“I was part of one,” he says. “I was pretty much a fan on the front row, in uniform watching the game. But to see something that special, something that doesn’t happen a lot, that was pretty cool.”
Cox believes similar successes are ahead of him working with Bobo at Colorado State. And now he could foresee one day doing what his old position coach is doing today.
“That’s my plan,” he said. “It takes a lot of work. You’ve got to have the right opportunities fall in place. But that was why I wanted to come out here. There’s nobody else I would’ve G.A.’ed for than Coach Bobo. As soon as I found out this was something he was doing, I didn’t care where he was going, I still would’ve followed. I know what I think he’s going to do as a head coach and I want to be a part of it.”