April 5, 2009 - The Lake City Reporter

By H. Morris Williams


My 62-year earthly friendship with Gene Cox (CHS 1952) ended abruptly Monday night, March 30, around 8:30, when he died of a heart attack, but that friendship will live on in my heart.

Most of you know that Gene was born and grew up in Lake City, and that he became a famous high school football coach. He was the first Florida coach to win 300 games.

He had been inducted into six Halls of Fame because of his coaching excellence and he was considered the legend of Florida high school football coaches.

Gene was also a legend as a football player at CHS. His senior year he led CHS to an undefeated 10-0 season and their first Northeast Conference championship in 16 years.

Gene was a religious man. He grew up in the Lake City Advent Christian Church and committed his life to Christ when he was a teenager. When he became a coach, he taught a Sunday School class in every city where he coached and eventually organized the first Fellowship of Christian athletes in North Florida.

He did not smoke or drink or curse. Whether on the practice field or at a game, he did not permit his assistant coaches or his players to use profanity.

He had such a reputation among his fellow coaches as a clean living guy that they affectionately dubbed him "Clean Gene."

Gene was a devoted family man. He and his wife Patsy wrapped their lives around their four children, David, Alan, Cynthia, and Gary. All three of his sons played football for him.

Growing up, they went everywhere and did everything together. Even just a short time ago, the entire family—children, grandchildren, everybody—took a family cruise together.

Gene coached at Tallahassee's Leon High School for 28 years and during that time his teams compiled an impressive list of state and district championships, and undefeated seasons. Accordingly, Tallahassee honored Gene by naming their high school football field "Gene Cox Stadium".

For 20 years Gene was the all time winningest coach in Florida high school history, then when he retired Coach Corky Rogers of The Bolles School overtook him.

When that happened, Lake City radio announcer Bo Hendrick interviewed Coach Rogers and asked him how it felt to be the new winningest coach. Coach Rogers answered, "It's a good feeling. But we all know the real master lives in Tallahassee."

Gene may have been proudest of the fact that well over 100 of his players got four-year college scholarships and some 90% of them graduated from college.

Gene's monumentally successful coaching career would have been enough for most coaches but not Gene. He also wrote and published "Go Big Red", a 383 page hardbound history of Leon High School from 1916 to 2001, a four year project that tells the story of every Leon football team and features a photo of every player and coach in Leon's football history.

Then, to do even more, 32 years ago, Gene started the Leon High School Sports Hall of Fame as his ongoing way of recognizing Leon's exceptional players and school supporters with a spectacular yearly banquet that is one of Leon County's social events of the year.

In the preface to his book, Gene paraphrases the apostle Paul (I Corinthians 9:24-27), comparing the game of football with one's spiritual journey in life: "Remember that in a race everyone runs but only one wins the prize. Run in a way so you will win the prize. Run straight and run with purpose in every step."

Gene applied these words to his earthly and his spiritual life. He has received his earthly rewards and now he will receive his Heavenly reward.

If you want to make a donation in Gene's memory, make your check payable to "Fellowship of Christian Athletes" and mail it to East Hill Baptist Church, 912 Miccosukee Road, Tallahassee, Fl 32308 with the notation 'made in memory of Gene Cox' square

H. Morris Williams is a local historian and long-time Columbia County resident.