As the sixth round gave way to the seventh round and it became increasingly apparent Bryan Cox Jr. wouldn’t be drafted last month, the food at his draft party started getting cold but none of the attendees got too hot – including the host.
Considering Bryan Cox Sr. racked up fines totaling roughly $150,000 during his 12-year NFL career for offenses that included fighting, cussing at officials, spitting and throwing his helmet, you’d expect him to have heaved the remote or at least knocked over the chip bowl when his only son went undrafted.
But cooler heads prevailed at the Cox home in Duluth, Ga.
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“He wasn’t really upset. We were all just sick to our stomachs,” Cox Jr. said recently. “We had a bunch of food prepared, but nobody ate. Everybody was kind of just moping around.”
The mood improved when the Panthers called a short time later. They wanted Cox Jr., a defensive end from Florida, to sign as an undrafted free agent.
He had similar offers from Tampa Bay and the Chargers, but Cox Sr. – an NFL defensive line coach for the past decade – was confident his son would thrive under the tutelage of the Panthers’ Eric Washington.
“He’s by far the best defensive line coach in football,” Cox Sr. said. “He’s not paid the highest like some of these guys are. But when you turn on the tape you see the physicality, you see the hand placement, you see the pad level. You see just no-nonsense football.”
Cox Sr.’s playing career featured its share of nonsense, at least in the eyes of former commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Cox Sr. was fined one game check ($82,352) in 1996 for yelling and making an obscene gesture at an official. He then lined up for a PAT without a helmet, prompting Tagliabue to describe his behavior as “unprofessional, offensive to NFL fans and unbecoming an NFL player.”
But both father and son say the Panthers won’t have to worry about game-day extracurriculars with the younger Cox.
“He’s a little more contained than I was. But he’s like me in a lot of ways ... until he trusts you he’s a little standoffish,” Cox Sr. said. “He is a self-motivator but he is not as fiery as I was. He can get hot under the collar from time to time, but not nearly as much as I did.”
While the two have similar builds, the 6-3, 265-pound Cox Jr. concedes he’s a “little bit different” than his dad.
“I’m a little bit more timid, but I have a switch,” he said. “I definitely have a switch.”
Cox Sr. grew up in the rough-and-tumble streets of East St. Louis, played at Western Illinois and was a fifth-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins in 1991. He made three Pro Bowls in a four-year span early in his career, then won a Super Bowl with the Patriots in 2001.
As the son of an NFL player, Cox Jr. had more opportunities than his dad, but in a lot of respects was a self-made man as well.
Cox Jr. was overshadowed at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale by teammate Joey Bosa, and was a three-star recruit when he went to Florida. He had a strong junior season, establishing career high in tackles (45), tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (3.5).
But injuries cut into his production as a senior and caused his draft stock to drop.
Cox Sr., fired by the Falcons in February two days after their Super Bowl loss, said he heard from several friends around the league who indicated Cox Jr. was on their draft boards.
But Cox Sr. says he was more disappointed than upset when his son did not hear his name called.
“I just know how hard he’s worked and how he’s made himself and nobody’s really helped him,” he said.
Cox Sr. says he would have helped him more. But Florida required its players to attend both sessions of summer school, and Cox Sr. didn’t want to inundate his son with football during his only week off during the summer.
But Washington said he can see the influence Cox Sr. had on his son.
“His football IQ is very high. He has picked things up as well as any rookie that I’ve worked with in the seven springs that I’ve been here,” Washington said.
While Cox Sr. was quick-tempered, Washington says the younger Cox has a quick first step that is key for an edge rusher.
“Bryan Sr. is very intense about the game of football. His play reflected that and his experience as a coach certainly has said that. So you see that in his son,” Washington said. “But his son is his own man.”
Following dad’s footsteps?
Cox Sr. and his wife have four girls between the ages of 8 and 33 and one son, but never tried to push football on the boy they called B.K. (short for Bryan Keith).
Like any kid, Cox Jr. wanted to touch the ball when he started playing football, but was too big for the weight restrictions for the skill positions at his pee-wee league. So he played the line, where his father could have helped him had he not been coaching the defensive linemen for the Jets, Cleveland, Miami, Tampa Bay and Atlanta.
“He worked with me a little bit, but honestly not that much. He was pretty busy with his coaching career,” Cox Jr. said. “But we talk about a lot of stuff, watch some film and stuff like that.”
Some of the film clips live on through YouTube, including one from a Monday night game from Cox Sr.’s rookie season when he challenged the entire Bengals’ sideline for what he viewed as a cheap shot on Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich.
Cox Sr. wasn’t that dad who pulled his son into the man cave and dusted off his old game tapes.
“I didn’t want him to feel like he had to follow in my footsteps to be a certain way or act a certain way,” he said. “I wanted him to develop his own style of how he thought football should be played.”
Following the Panthers’ rookie minicamp this month, Cox Jr. said he’d seen the various clips of his father.
“That’s just my dad. At the end of the day, living in the house with him, he’s goofy as hell,” he said. “So he’s always been goofy.”
Cox Jr. also politely answered several questions about whether he was, in essence, as crazy as his dad.
“I’m chill. But I can get there, for sure,” he said. “I’m a competitor, so I have a real competitive edge.”
Cox Jr. says his first goal is making the 53-man roster, no easy task given that the Panthers brought back Julius Peppers and re-signed defensive ends Charles Johnson, Mario Addison and Wes Horton.
But Washington has been impressed with Cox Jr.’s attentiveness in meetings and his initial burst, which should play well in the Panthers’ get-up-the-field, pass-rush mentality.
Cox didn’t collect a lot of sacks for the Gators, but is confident that will be a bigger part of his arsenal in the NFL.
“I think I do it all,” he said. “I think I can do anything.”
Well, almost anything.
Bryan Cox Sr.
Bryan Cox Sr. was drafted in the fifth round by the Dolphins in 1991. Playing 12 seasons in the NFL, he was a three-time pro bowler and finished his career with 51.5 sacks. Cox also played for the Jets, Bears, Patriots and Saints. After his playing career ended, he has worked as an NFL assistant coach for several teams, most recently for the Falcons.