PLYMOUTH — Dave Cox never planned to be a head coach. Things just sort of fell into place that way.
Twenty years and more than 300 wins later, Cox announced his retirement as the head coach of the Plymouth High School girls basketball team Wednesday.
“I’ve thought about it, but to really solidify that, all along I knew I would get out of the season because the rigors of the season can give you different emotions. Once you got done and you’d kind of gradually gotten to that point, I kind of decided the last few days that it was time for somebody else to do it,” said Cox.
“I have a lot of other interests. I started out my life as a dairy farmer and at 34 years I got into coaching and teaching. I never really had a lot of free time. I’ve got nine grandchildren and other things that we do, and it just got to the point where we felt like it was time to go. My mother’s getting older, and I don’t spend any time with her. It was more of a time factor. I’m going to be 60 years old in the next two weeks. I’m not a spring chicken any more, and I think basketball has become almost a young man’s sport. You’ve got to go year-round, and there are a lot of things out there to do.”
Cox began his career in 1987 as a junior high coach, spending a combined six years first at Triton and then at Caston High School. He served as the freshman coach at Plymouth from 1990-1992 before taking the helm of the Lady Pilgrims, and his head coaching resume since boasts a career record of 308-152. He’s guided Plymouth girls basketball to nine Class 3A sectional championships, four Northern Lakes Conference titles, two regional and two semistate titles, and a state championship in 2007-08 when the Pilgrims edged Indianapolis Chatard 47-46 for the school’s first and only such girls basketball title.
With so many memorable games behind him, Cox said it’s hard to single out any specific recollections.
“The first game I coached was against South Bend Adams, and they had an All-Stater. We got beat I think 71-30. That started it all. They pressed every minute and just killed us,” said Cox, whose teams over the years have often been known for their fullcourt pressure. “We won four ballgames that year, and from that point on there were memories. Pretty soon you get to pull upsets over teams, and we’ve done that often. It wouldn’t be fair of me to pull anything out. I’ve enjoyed obviously the state runs, but some of the other runs have been awfully, awfully special.”
In addition to his many accomplishments at the high school level, Cox initiated a summer league in 1993 that has since grown to include more than 85 teams and 874 participants. Having coached at various levels before taking over as head coach of the Lady Pilgrims, he’s remained heavily involved in the Plymouth feeder system as he’s built a consistently competitive program from the ground up.
“I really can’t believe he’s survived this long with as many hours as he put in to girls basketball,” said longtime friend and Northern Lakes Conference competitor Steve Neff, who notched his 600th win as the 35-year head coach of NorthWood this season. “I don’t put nearly the time that he puts in with the summer leagues that he runs over there, and not only that, but he has all of his elementary programs. He’s just really put the time and effort in, and it’s really paid off for their program. Plymouth was an easy win before he became coach. And obviously everybody knows in our conference that Plymouth is never an easy win now, no matter whether you’re at home or on the road or what kind of team he has. They’re always going to be in the game.”
It’s a level of commitment that Cox said he’s found harder to maintain as he’s gotten older, and rather than stick around at a diminished capacity, he’s decided to give up the game.
“It’s not the in-season that drives you out, it’s the out-of-season. It’s a lot of work. I’d be starting this week,” he said. “Everybody goes ‘What are you doing now with all your free time?’ and if you were still coaching they wouldn’t say that. The minute you get done with your sectional or regional or whatever, you are planning the next summer. You are setting everything in place, making contacts, getting kids around and so forth.
“At 60 years old it gets a little harder to put in those long days, but that’s what you’ve got to do. I told myself that when I wasn’t as excited to do summer, offseason ball it’s probably time to move on. Right now there are other things I could go in and do instead of that.”
It’s those long hours and the hard work that Cox said he hopes he’ll be remembered for.
“I think we as a coaching staff, we just got up every day and went and worked, and I think our work ethic was the key to what we did. I’ve been forced to have a tremendous coaching staff to help. (Coach Dave) Duncan has been with me all 20 years. We have two alums back with Lindsay Houin and Corey Duncan coaching with us. (Ted) Hayden’s been around now going on seven years, (Eric) Carmichael has been there seven years, Dan Dewar’s been there five, and the people ahead of them were there a long time, and there hasn’t been a lot of coaching turnover. But I think the legacy overall has been hard work, and I think they would all say the same thing.”
“We’ll miss Dave. I like Dave a lot, he’s a great guy, and there isn’t a person who puts more time into basketball than Dave Cox,” said Neff. “His teams have always been really, really hard to play against. They play defense with the best of people; it’s always tough to run your offense against his club. Plymouth’s going to miss him. He’s a good man and a great coach and a very nice guy.”