A 27-year coaching veteran who has been influential in preparing many players for the NFL, Mike Cox is entering his fourth season as K-State’s linebackers coach under Hall of Fame head coach Bill Snyder.
In just three seasons in Manhattan, Cox has tutored four linebackers that have earned All-Big 12 honors, headlined by 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Arthur Brown, who went on to become a second-round draft pick by Baltimore in 2013.
The latest All-Big 12 linebacker was Jonathan Truman in 2014. A 13-game starter, Truman carded 128 tackles to finish season third in the Big 12 and 18th in school history. He tallied the most stops by a Wildcat since 2003, while his total was carried by 79 unassisted tackles, the third most in school history and 14th most nationally during the season. Thanks to Cox’s guidance, Truman, a former walk-on, carded seven double-digit tackle games, including a career high 17 in a win at No. 11 Oklahoma, which were the most by a K-State defender in 11 years. Truman was also a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, presented to the nation’s top walk-on.
With the coaching of Cox and leadership of Truman, the K-State defense ranked second in the Big 12 in scoring defense and third in both total and red zone defense.
Cox made an instant impact on the Wildcat linebackers in 2012 as he tutored two All-Big 12 performers and an All-American in Brown. Under Cox’s tutelage, Brown was named a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy and a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award. He also helped K-State finish first in the Big 12 in scoring defense as the Wildcats yielded 22.1 points per game. The Wildcat defense also finished second in the conference and 10th in school history in fewest rushing yards allowed per game. In addition, Kansas State’s 376.5 yards allowed per game were the third-fewest in the conference.
In 2013, All-Big 12 linebacker Blake Slaughter led a Wildcat defense that ranked third in the Big 12 in rushing, scoring and total defense. Slaughter’s 110 tackles on the season ranked sixth in the Big 12, including third among linebackers. Truman, in his first year as a starter, also had 89 tackles.
A 1989 graduate of the University of Idaho, Cox came to K-State from Washington where he served as linebackers coach for three seasons. Prior to joining the Huskies, Cox worked two seasons (2007-08) for the St. Louis Rams, coaching the secondary and linebackers.
Cox was vital to the success at Washington in his three years as he tutored Cort Dennison to All-Pac-12 honors in 2011 before coaching one of the conference’s top linebacker groups in 2010. Senior Mason Foster led the league and finished second in the nation with 163 total tackles, the most by a Pac-10 player since 1989. Foster went on to earn First Team All-Pac-10 and First Team All-America honors. Meanwhile, Victor Aiyewa finished first in the conference and seventh in the nation in tackles for loss, while Dennison was seventh in the league in total tackles.
In his first season as the UW linebackers coach in 2009, Cox helped oversee one of the Huskies’ strongest units. Washington’s 2009 linebacker corps was led by a pair of veterans in Foster and Donald Butler. Those two combined for 193 tackles, including 94 from Butler, who was a Second Team All-Pac-10 selection. Cox also helped coach a defense that made vast improvements over the previous season as opponents’ total offense was reduced by an average of 62 yards per game and opponents scored 12 fewer points per game than in 2008.
A native of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Cox joined the UW staff from the St. Louis Rams where he worked for two seasons. In 2007, he was a defensive quality control/defensive line coach before moving to assistant secondary coach in 2008. After a mid-season coaching change, he became linebackers coach for the Rams. Before his time in the NFL, Cox spent four seasons as linebackers coach at Michigan State, where he was also the recruiting coordinator in 2006.
Much of Cox’s coaching career has been spent on the various coaching staffs of John L. Smith. In all, Cox served 17 seasons for Smith at Michigan State, Louisville, Utah State and Idaho.
Cox coached the linebackers for five seasons at Louisville (1998-2002), helping the Cardinals to consecutive Conference USA championships in 2000 and 2001. He coached three All-CUSA selections and, in 2000, was part of a defense that forced an NCAA-best 37 turnovers. The 2002 Louisville team was 17th in the nation in rushing defense and 22nd in total defense.
From 1995-97, he was on the staff at Utah State where he coached a pair of All-Big West linebackers, David Gill and Tony D’Amato. In 1995, Gill broke Utah State’s season record for tackles with 168. Utah State won back-to-back Big West Conference championships in 1996 and 1997.
As an assistant at Idaho from 1987-94 coaching linebackers and defensive line, Cox helped his alma mater to a combined record of 73-26 (.733) during that time, capturing four Big Sky Conference championships and finishing in the top 10 five times. In 1994, the Vandals led the Big Sky in rushing defense, allowing only 65.3 yards per game.
Cox was a four-year letterwinner at linebacker for Idaho from 1983-86, starting for three seasons. He played for head coaches Dennis Erickson and Keith Gilbertson. He still ranks among the Vandals’ all-time leaders with 252 career tackles. For his efforts in both high school and college, Cox was inducted into the Idaho Athletic Hall of Fame last April.
Cox earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies from Idaho in 1989. He and his wife, Jill, have three children, Zac, Jake and Addison.