Hired away from Morristown (Tenn.) East High School in 1973 to revive a moribund program that had struggled since its inception in 1966, Fox brought almost overnight success. In a little over a year, the Trojans were transformed from everybody's favorite homecoming opponent into a state contender.
Cawood fans will have an opportunity to reflect on one of the more successful eras of the football program's history Friday when Fox and his former players will be honored before the Trojans' game against Cumberland. Former players and coaches are invited to a reception at the high school cafeteria from 5 to 7 p.m.
"I'm looking forward to going back," said Fox from his home in Johnson City, Tenn. "I always consider my time at Cawood as a high point of my life. I enjoyed it."
The Trojans had never won more than five games in the six seasons before Fox arrived in Harlan County, hitting bottom with an 0-9 mark in 1971. After posting a 2-7-1 record in Fox's first year, the Trojans reeled off four straight winning seasons and won the school's first two district titles (1975 and 1976). The 1975 squad defeated Belfry for the Region 4 championship, the only regional football title in school history.
Cawood went on to have similar success under Jim Cullivan in the 1980s and also won consistently under Tim Saylor in the 1990s, but it was all new in the 1970s for Cawood fans, and Friday nights were something special.
"There was a lot of Barnum & Bailey in him. He sold every aspect of the program. He didn't leave anything to happenstance," said former assistant coach Johnny Ashurst.
"Everything that coach Fox did, no matter how small it was, you had to have it down to perfection," said Daven Hoskins, a star linebacker for the Trojans under Fox. "He let nothing little slide. Any little thing you did wrong, you backed up until you did it right."
Fox immediately turned around the Trojans' expectations after years of losing.
"The thing I remember was this great sense of right now, we're going to be the best we can be," Ashurst said. "We're not waiting. We're not building. It's right now. That's what I'm giving, and that's what I expect.
"He knew every kid's positive response button. He know how to motivate every player on the team, and he made you believe in yourself."
David Parks, who was the quarterback on Cawood's regional championship team and went to serve as basketball coach at Evarts, said Fox had the respect of all his players.
"I think a big part of his success was motivation," Parks said. "That seems to be the one thread that runs through all these guys who have success. They get kids to do things they ordinarily wouldn't do. They find a way to coach them to play as well as they can play."
Fox credits his assistant coaches for much of the Trojans' success. Johnny Mills, a standout receiver at the University of Tennessee, was Cawood's offensive coordinator during much of Fox's tenure with the Trojans.
"Johnny Mills came in with me, and we lured Joe Campbell back into coaching. We also had people like Johnny Ashurst and Gary Hackler and Darwin Walters. (Superintendent) Dr. (James A.) Cawood wanted a winning program at the school, and of course (Principal) John Howard supported the program 100 percent," Fox said.
"We literally went first class. Our kids had the best of everything. They traveled first class. They had the best uniforms. They had the best equipment."
Fox said opening the new football field in his second year was a boost for the program. The Trojans previously played on what is now the baseball field.
"A lot of the kids worked on it, and it was just a community effort," Fox said. "We put a lot into the program and had some good kids."
Fox also stressed the importance of academics and got his point across to the players in memorable fashion.
"Intensity is a mild word," Ashurst said when asked to describe his former boss. "When the grade cards came out, they lined up in the coach's office. He liked A's and B's and could tolerate a C, but a D was one lick with a paddle and an F was two, and I'm telling you he could wear them out."
"The first report cards came out, and a lot of them had F's and D's, and I got them lined out. I never did have to do that again," Fox said. "We always had football players near the top of the graduating classes every year. If kids know that you really love them, you can discipline them and get something out of them. But if they think they are being used, it's all over."
Hoskins, who now serves as strength coach for the Trojans, describes his former coach as the "ultimate leader."
"Anything he said, he had everybody's attention," Hoskins said. "We had some brutal practices, there is no doubt about it, but he always told us that