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Cox looks to create a positive culture at FLC football

New coach busy building the program up
Fort Lewis College’s new head football coach, Johnny Cox, was introduced to the community on Feb. 11 at the Wells Group of Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

When Fort Lewis College’s new head football coach, Johnny Cox, was a player at Overland High School in Aurora deciding where to play college ball, he said, “Durango seemed like a natural fit for me.”

“When I came here, I really liked the coaching staff – they were real personable and had a really good bond with the guys,” he said. “I met some of the players, and they all seemed like-minded and really positive people.“

Newly named Fort Lewis College head football coach, Johnny Cox, center speaks on Feb. 11 as he is introduced to the community during a gathering at the Wells Group of Durango. Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

The beauty of Durango, he said, is something he didn’t truly understand until he arrived, but he remembers looking up from the practice and staring at the mountain ranges surrounding the town.

He called Durango “one of the top five Division II destinations in the nation.”

“When you compare our town to others we play against, it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “The city and the setting, I feel like it’s a diamond in the rough.”

On the field, Cox started four years for the Skyhawks at wide receiver, earning All-American honors in 1992 and 1993 while setting school records that still stand in receiving yards (3,611) and touchdown receptions (33).

Cox has coached since then, including stints in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Before returning to lead Fort Lewis, Cox coached at UNC Pembroke since 1994, most recently as the team’s associate head coach.

Now that he’s back in Durango, Cox said he feels like he’s home. He also has been reunited with his former quarterback, Thad Trujillo, who works with Wells Group.

Fort Lewis College head football coach Johnny Cox, left, longtime friend and coach Steve Thyfault, center, and Thad Trujillo, who was the quarterback when Cox played at FLC. The three met up Feb. 11 at the Wells Group of Durango office. Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

“Thad was so accurate and had great timing,” Cox said. “He made my time as a receiver here easy.”

Trujillo, however, gave Cox the credit. “I could throw it anywhere, and he’d get it,” Trujillo said, calling Cox “elusive.”

Trujillo and Cox were also Spades partners on the team’s road trips to games in Montana, Texas, Oklahoma and elsewhere.

“We like to say we were undefeated in seven states,” Cox said. “When you spend 12 hours on a bus with guys, you end up becoming really good friends.”

Those experiences are a big reason why Cox feels Durango is home.

“I don’t know if it’s nostalgic, but I had a really great experience at Fort Lewis College with the students, professors and the staff,” Cox said. “I remember having a good time going to Purgatory. Home is that time period of being in college; I felt comfortable and safe here.”

Now, as he builds the program, he tries to convince other players that Durango can become their home too.

“I think (recruits) can see my passion and genuineness of bringing in the right type of players,” Cox said. “I want to do things right. I have a passion for Fort Lewis, and that drives me to work harder. This is not just a job; it’s a place I really care about.”

Cox plans to finish selecting a coaching staff in a couple of weeks. He also has worked with the Skyhawks an hour a week, teaching team schemes and drills and giving players a base as they work toward spring ball on March 14.

“I really like the attitude of our football team,” he said. “The guys returning, they’re really listening, and they’re really hard workers. I feel everybody wants to make the season the best it can be, but it will take discipline, energy, execution and effort.”

His time in the NFL, he said, helped him develop a solid scheme to run. “It’s sound and tested, which allows the players and staff to believe in what we’re coaching,” Cox said.

Cox also said a lot of Division II players want to get to the NFL, but feel they don’t have a path to get there.

“I tell them don’t worry, just be the best you can be and everything will take care of itself,” Cox said. “If you focus on being the best player you can be, (scouts) will find you. What you can control is your best effort.“

He said he hopes to recruit guys who not only can play collegiate football, but also are good students and good people, people who cherish what Durango has and like the outdoor environment.

They must also accept accountability.

“I’m not just here to win football games,” Cox said. “I’m here to shape young men into being better employees and employers, better fathers and husbands.”

The college also hopes the community will get behind the Skyhawks under coach Cox.

“One of the biggest things I liked in coach Cox is he will be able to rally this community,” said FLC President Tom Stritikus. “He’s a culture guy. Coach is aligned with building a positive culture, and his ability to connect to the community is going to be a big asset.”

Stritikus called the response to Cox’s hiring from the broader FLC community as “extremely positive.“

“I’m so excited,” Trujillo said. “I think it’s a pivotal point for Fort Lewis at a time when it really needs a boost.”

Cox said his goal is to make FLC one of the top teams, but understands getting there will be a process.

“I feel like we can be competitive; that’s the goal right now,” Cox said. “I’m really excited about this opportunity. I consider it a blessing to be here.”