Where are they now? Bryan Cox, former Falcons defensive line coach

Editor's note: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution catches up with former Atlanta sports figures in this occasional series. Today: Bryan Cox 

Former Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox has been doing a lot of soul-searching since he was fired three days after the team's historic collapse in Super Bowl LI.

Cox, 52, who wants to get back into coaching, is still waiting for his phone to ring.

Cox was credited with helping to develop defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, and he was the position coach when Vic Beasley recorded 15.5 sacks to lead the NFL.

Cox, a former player and three-time Pro Bowl linebacker, went from his group playing well in the Super Bowl with five sacks and nine quarterback hits to getting fired.

He said he wasn’t given an answer as to why he was fired. He pointed to an incident at the NFL scouting combine the year before, but has since looked internally for possible reasons.

Cox, who was a fiery player, shoved an Arizona Cardinals scout at the combine during a disagreement over access to a prospect during the interview process. He later apologized.

“After I got released, I picked my family up and we ran out of town to Houston,” Cox said. “I ran to Houston. We stayed down in Houston for a year. My now 11-year-old daughter said I stole her life from her, took her away from her life and her friends.”

That didn’t sit well with Cox. He moved the family back to metro Atlanta, settling in McDonough.

“I’m just down here spending time with the family,” Cox said. “I want to get back into coaching. But the phone hasn’t rung in four years, and that’s a hard thing.”

Cox, a native of East St. Louis, Illinois, was a fifth-round pick out of Western Illinois. He went on to play 12 NFL seasons and earned a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots, who won Super Bowl XXXVI over the St. Louis Rams 20-17 in 2002.

He retired after the 2002 season and got into coaching in 2006 with the New York Jets as their assistant defensive line coach. He worked with Dan Quinn, who was the defensive line coach for the Jets in 2007 and 2008.

He went on to coach in Cleveland (2009-10), Miami (2011) and Tampa Bay (2012-13) before landing with the Falcons.

Being out of the NFL, has been tough for him.

“For me, it’s just a matter of doing some self-analyzing,” Cox said. “Trying to make myself better and go from there.

“I’ve been looking at some of the mistakes I made and (thinking about) what I would do differently. Not putting the blame on anybody else, but trying to look at what I could have done personally differently.”

Cox has come up with a few things that he believes will make him a better coach if another opportunity arises.

“One of the biggest things that I think I would come up with, when people that are supposedly close to you, but don’t feel like you’re approachable, that they can talk to you,” Cox said. “You have to take a look at that. The people that said they were close to me. That I was loyal to, that I felt like I was close to them, but they were not able to have a conversation with me.”

Cox said he isn’t blaming everyone else.

“I must not be approachable in some situations,” Cox said. “I’m trying to work through that. I’m trying to figure out some legitimate reasons why that could have been.”

When Cox was hired, the Falcons were making a big "toughness" push.

“When you look at the coaching philosophy, when I came to Atlanta it was all based on getting tougher and being bigger under (defensive coordinator) Mike Nolan and (coach) Mike Smith,” Cox said. “Then I never changed my approach when Dan came in.

“The philosophy didn’t change. I had my thumb on guys too hard. I didn’t let them breathe enough. I felt like that was a mistake on my part. I didn’t change my philosophy with the staff that came in. I could have changed some things, but I didn’t. I think that was on me.”

Cox doesn’t believe that the players are much different today than from when he played (1991-2002).

“It’s easy for people to say these are different kids,” Cox said. “But the game don’t change. For the ones that want to be great, you can push them and hold them accountable. It’s the ones that are fringe guys, whatever their reasons are for playing, or doing it, might be different from my own.”

The Falcons were featured on HBO's "Hard Knocks" in 2014, and one of the episodes showed Cox working with defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman. Cox wishes that he taken a different approach with Hageman, who had legal troubles and has been out of the league since 2016. 

“I regret how things unfolded with Ra’Shede, with me being the teacher and me being the guy who was leader in the room,” Cox said. “I could have maybe fostered that relationship differently.”

Hageman wasn’t a self-starter. The Falcons drafted him in the second round despite questions about his effort and maturity at Minnesota.

“Maybe I could have done something differently, but again, I was in a place and state where I wanted to be around people that wanted to be great,” Cox said. “Not saying that he didn’t want to be great, but some things he didn’t know how to be great.

“Maybe I pushed him to a point of disdain. Maybe dislike for me, dislike for how I was teaching and things of that nature. Again with hindsight being 20-20, maybe I could done something differently to make him be more successful.”

Cox pushed Beasley in his third season, and that helped the Falcons reach the Super Bowl.

“Vic was a guy who grew on me,” Cox said. “He was a guy that initially, I wasn’t overly jacked about, but I came to love Vic. I understood who he was. I was able to get the most out of him because I understood who he was and what he was about.”

Cox described Beasley as a spiritual and very kind person.

“You have to be able to get on his level and be able to understand what makes him tick,” Cox said. “If you can do that, you can get the most out of him. Fortunately, during my last year there, I was able to get him to be the NFL sack leader.”

Cox also credited veterans Dwight Freeney and Jonathan Babineaux for helping with Beasley. After Cox was fired, Beasley recorded five, five and eight sacks in three subsequent seasons. Beasley was not re-signed after last season and signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency.

“You saw the growth that Grady made, the jump that he made,” Cox said. “So, it was a whole bunch of guys. That whole group fought and really filled in the gaps. If I was riding a guy too hard, they were able to go into the situation and really do it.

“I thought Dwight Freeney really made a big impression on the group from his leadership and from his knowledge. By understanding my point of view, he was able to get some guys to understand some of things I was talking about.”

In addition to being a stay-at-home dad, Cox has watched his son Bryan Cox Jr.’s NFL career. The younger Cox, a defensive end who played at Florida, is now with Buffalo after stops in Carolina and Cleveland. He’s played in 25 games and made two starts.

“(Tosh Lupoi), the new defensive line coach with Atlanta, was his defensive line coach up in Cleveland,” Cox said. “So, everything is full circle. Everybody knows everybody. But he’s up in Buffalo. Hopefully, that situation will be good for him up there. ... I’m just being a father. Just being supportive and wanting him to live out his dream.”

Cox plans to be ready when and if his phone rings.

“It’s been hard the last four years,” Cox said. “From a mental standpoint, it’s been a climb. It’s been some struggles mentally being out of it and missing it. Hopefully, something happens.”


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