FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Bryan Cox epitomizes toughness. The Atlanta Falcons knew that when they hired him as their defensive line coach.
He played with a chip on his shoulder as a player with the Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, New England Patriots, and New Orleans Saints. The numerous fines he compiled for bad-mouthing officials and spitting toward fans provided evidence.
But for anybody that doubted his reputation as a "tough guy," Cox simply reaffirmed it when he reminisced following Wednesday’s session of organized team activities.
"I only lost two fights out of about 60, 70," Cox said, referring to his time growing up in rugged East St. Louis, where he was a proclaimed street fighter. "If I thought I was fighting, I was getting the first lick. Just know that."
By the way, the two bouts Cox chalked up as losses were to his brother and his best friend.
"I wouldn’t fight him back because if I fought you, I was trying to hurt you," Cox said, referring to the fight with his brother.
"And one was my best friend, so we had to fight each other. At the end of the day, he took my little brother’s bike and my big brother made me beat him up, so we had to fight. So I let him hit me a couple times and I lost that fight."
Cox was hired to help instill some fight in the Falcons after they got bullied too often last season. The defensive line wasn’t pushed around nearly as much as the offensive line last season. Still, toughness was sorely missing up front whether it involved getting after the quarterback or stopping the run.
Cox’s direct coaching style and a few profanity-laced tirades obviously have had an effect thus far. You can see a lot more scrap in the defensive players; a lot more physicality.
"It’s not my defense to say that we’re going to have this personality," Cox said. "Defensive line-wise, I like them to play on the edge.
"To me, my mentor was Joe Greene, one of my mentors as a D-line coach in Miami. And his thought process and his mindset was you don’t need a referee to officiate the game. You have to be your own man sometimes. And sometimes when things crossed the line, you’ve got to get it corrected. And you’ve got to make sure it don’t happen again. We just want to play with some toughness, within the rules. You don’t have to like the rules, you just have to play within the rules. But sometimes, we’ll be our own officials."
A couple of defensive players mixed it up with some offensive linemen in practice last week. Cox was asked if he encourages such behavior.
"I don’t encourage fighting, bro," Cox said, obviously mindful of anything that could be interpreted as bounty talk. "I don’t encourage none of that. To me, the aggression occurs when the ball is snapped. Whatever happens afterward, I don’t really necessarily have an opinion on.
"I’m nobody’s peacemaker. But I just think everybody’s got to be their own man. … Would I encourage anybody doing anything the wrong way? No."
Cox might take an issue with a shove after the whistle, but he has no problem with a little trash talk.
"I was good at it, so it doesn’t bother me," Cox said. "To me, it makes the game a little bit more fun. And for me, that’s how I grew up in my neighborhood. In the ‘hood, you had to learn how to talk trash. That was a part of the play. You just get so used to it in that environment that it became second nature for me when I got to this league. And I just talked.
"Banter back and forth is good. It’s no disrespect. It’s no unsportsmanlike – well, maybe sometimes it is. I can think of some guys I didn’t necessary like that probably it was. … In other guys, it’s just like playing with your brother."