When University of Rhode Island athletic director Thorr Bjorn stepped to the podium on Thursday at 2pm, it signified a turning of the page from the Dan Hurley era – no doubt a successful one by all accounts – to what will become the program’s next chapter.
Bjorn was poised, confident and clear in his remarks. It was important for him to control the narrative, reinforce the program vision and enunciate goals. Rhode Island will convene a full search, expected to last two to two and a half weeks, to identify and secure its next head coach.
So let’s take a closer look at him:
Background tale of the tape – A 1995 graduate of William & Mary, Cox cut his teeth in the high school ranks at Archbishop Carroll in Washington, D.C., and spent time at St. John’s Prep as Assistant Principal with athletics oversight. Cox also coached several high-level college and even NBA talents as an assistant coach with the DC Assault AAU program, helping them to the U-16 national championship in 2004.
He entered the college scene at Pittsburgh (2006-07), before serving as an assistant at Georgetown (2007-2010) and Rutgers (2011-2014). Since pulling into Kingston four years ago, Cox has been instrumental in helping the Rams compile a 91-43 record during his tenure alongside Hurley. In May of 2016 he was elevated to Associate Head Coach, a position he currently holds. According to reports, he’s also tabbed as coach-in-waiting; here’s what that means.
As a tactician – Cox served as an interim head coach while at Rutgers and is well rounded. In game situations, Hurley frequently bent Cox’s ear and relied upon the latter for in-game strategy. He was also responsible for opponent scouts. Less well known are Cox’s significant practice and player development contributions. He charted out many practices in terms of areas of emphasis, drills, cadence and flow. Cox also implemented actions and schemes on both sides of the ball. For example, he conceived, installed and taught the zone defenses that were occasionally mixed in — since it’s well known that Hurley was a man-to-man zealot.
As a recruiter – If appointed head coach, Cox won’t be out on the road in quite the same fashion as his assistants, but it bears mention that he was critical in the recruitment of Stanford Robinson, Jeff Dowtin, Fatts Russell and Michael Tertsea… and also served as the lead recruiter on three of the four members of Rhode Island’s highly touted incoming class, ranked 25th in the nation.
Continuity – There’s utility to the continuity a guy like David Cox offers in this situation. Extension of the existing culture, familiarity with player development progress and goals, and relationships with current players and incoming recruits are all useful.
But, in my opinion, it’s a disservice to Cox for people to lead with this point in describing his candidacy. Candidate Cox hopes to establish that he’s the best fit to lead the program first… and also an individual that can continue to promote that continuity. History has often proven – at URI and other programs – that elevating a coach simply to mitigate risk of player attrition doesn’t always work out. But Cox isn’t the only one named right now simply because he can “keep the kids around”. He’s a sound basketball mind ranked among the top assistant coaches in the country. It’s an important distinction.
Demeanor – Balanced. That would be the most accurate description of Cox’s demeanor I can offer. He’s not stoic and void of emotion. But he certainly isn’t as animated as Hurley… Let’s face it, there aren’t many who are. Over the past four seasons, Cox has demonstrated a measured approach to sideline demeanor. Off the court, he’s personable and approachable, two qualities that are helpful in external relations settings (i.e. alumni events, development, program marketing/pr) which are an often overlooked but time-consuming part of a head coach’s responsibilities.
We’ll examine other qualified candidates if/when the time comes, but Cox is at that “ready” point in his career and possesses the versatile set of skills required of a program CEO, so to speak. While I’m not the guy determining all the boxes – he seems to check many of them.
Bjorn is steadfast in his commitment to open up the search and I believe that’s best for all involved.
If I’m Bjorn, I know that the program is in a much better place than it was in 2012. I want to be diligent, widen the lens and be sure I field inquiries from what figures to be an intriguing pool of interested and highly qualified candidates.
And if I’m Cox, I want to navigate through this search process and earn this job by outpacing that pool of candidates.
Let’s see what happens…