Bryan Cox can be harsh.
The Falcons defensive line coach doesn’t mince words. He uses colorful language when breaking down a player’s performance. He doesn’t spare the veteran or the rookie if he sees something he doesn’t like. He urges his players to impose their will – after they tell an opponent just what they are about to do. He has told players they better fight rather than accept a cheap shot.
Through it all, his mantra is quite simple: Listen to the message, not the tone.
“For me, I just try to be honest with them because when I played I couldn’t stand a coach to smile to my face and then go upstairs and talk bad about me,” Cox said. “So, I try to be direct with them. I try to be honest with them. I tell them here is what we are dealing with. The guys are good because I don’t mind confrontation. If someone were to say something with the way I talk to them, we can hash it out. At the end of the day, they’ve got to know that you love them, that you care about them and that you are trying to get them to be the best that they can. Then they accept it. When they accept it, that is when you start seeing the relationship, the plays and the group comes together as a whole.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan puts it this way: “There is no beating around the bush with Bryan.”
Cox came to the Falcons this season after eight years with the Buccaneers, Jets, Browns and Dolphins working mostly as a pass rush specialist. The Falcons have placed a lot of emphasis on the defensive line during the offseason. The rebuilt unit will certainly be under heavy scrutiny as the Falcons look to rebound from a 4-12 season.
Cox couldn’t care less.
“You don’t worry about that,” Cox said. “Outside influences should not matter. At the end of the day, you should want to go out there and do the best possible job that you can for yourself, the name you wear on the back of your jersey; your family, who I’m sure have sacrificed a lot for you to get to this point; your teammates that play next to you, your brethren. The outside influences, the people that don’t know what goes on day to day, should not play into your role. You want to do well for the fans of the Atlanta community, obviously, but you’ve first got to start from within and work your way out.
“No one should be harder on you than you are yourself. So, the outside influence and the scrutiny, you can’t get caught up in that. You just have to go about doing your job the best you can.”
Cox said his coaching style comes from 12 years as an NFL linebacker and the numerous lessons he learned along the way. He rattles off the names of those he has worked for – Don Shula, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick to name a few. He draws on his experience as a team captain through his career, where he dealt with issues on and off the field. Often it was sensitive material but he called them “real life” locker room issues that needed to be dealt with honestly.
During one-on-one drills against the offensive line, a defensive lineman might look back for approval for a perceived good play. He is not always met with a pat on the back. However, there are times for positive reinforcement. It all depends on what role Cox needs to play.
“To be a coach, in my eyes, you have to be a lot of things,” Cox said. “You have to a father figure to some. You have to be a mentor to some. You have to be a big brother to some. You have to be a friend to some. You have to be strong. You have to be stern like a parent. And yet you also have to let them know when they do a good job and when they do well. …
“I just try to be my authentic self and bring who I am and my experiences to the coaching. The players respond to it. They don’t take it personal when I cuss at them. In fact, most of them laugh a lot of the time. When we get in the (film) room they crack on me. For the guy who can only do it but can’t take it, it’s a problem. But I can take it as well as I give it. That is the attraction because I still think like a player.”