When Doug Cox looks around the University of Guelph varsity wrestling team’s training room now, he knows he’s done a good job.
The longtime coach of the team who’s also a coach with the Guelph Wrestling Club knows that by just looking at all his assistant coaches as all were wrestlers under his tutelage at one time.
“One of my old coaches, Guy Zink, he came and he watched practice two or three years ago, before COVID, and he said, 'You know what Doug? As I'm watching you and I'm watching all of the people, the coaches coach and the kids and what your room is like, you never know how good a coach you are until 10 or 20 years later, until you see the results of your labour.' It was a pretty cool statement because here's all the kids you used to coach giving back and they’re quality, quality people. It's huge.”
Cox, 65, is in his 28th season as head coach with the university team. He’s a three-time Ontario university (OUA) coach of the year and coached the Gryphons to two OUA men’s titles. He’s also had seven wrestlers win the OUA most outstanding wrestler titles, five men and two women.
He’s also been coach of Team Canada at the 2015 world wrestling championships in Las Vegas and head coach of Team Canada at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England.
Cox, who was born in Guelph and grew up just outside the city in Speedside near where Wildwinds Golf Links is now located, had a successful wrestling career.
He made the Canadian team for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, but didn’t get to compete there as Canada was one of the nations that boycotted the games due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. He hung in there on the Canadian team and finally got to compete in the 1988 Olympics at Seoul, South Korea, and in 1996 in Atlanta.
“In 1996, I was almost 39 and decided to give it a whirl,” he said of his final Olympic appearance. “I tried out for the Olympic team in Atlanta. Everything else was freestyle, the Atlanta Games, I tried Greco-Roman.
“My worlds have been pretty good, my Olympics not as good. In Atlanta, I ended up losing my first match 3-2. If I win that ... It's not that I think I had a bad performance, those are the days when you've got to change 3-2 to 3-2 for you.”
He ended up 19th in his weight class at Atlanta. In other meets, he was seventh in the world championships in 1982, a silver medalist at the Commonwealth Games in 1986 and a gold medalist at the Pan-American Games in 1987.
But the Olympics are the Olympics. They’re different and they’re special.
His first Olympics in Seoul will be known for the performance-enhancing drug scandal of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson.
“All of the athletes, we had passes,” Cox said. “There were about four of us wrestlers, we hadn't wrestled yet, and we were able to sneak into the Ben Johnson race. There were no seats there because it was totally sold out, so we just kept walking around and walking around until it started, and then just kneeled down right behind the cameras so we had the best view of everything.
“I wasn't into track and field at the time, so the next morning I actually went early (to breakfast). It was a little hard to sleep. I remember I was one of the first guys to walk into the cafeteria. It was probably about 6 a.m. A newsperson came up and said 'Hey, what do you think of the Ben Johnson story?' And I said 'Oh, that's awesome, eh. That's amazing.' And then they turned off their (recorder) and they said 'Oh, you don't know what happened, eh?' 'No, what happened? In the village we never heard anything.' And then they told me and it was 'Oh, my God.“
The 1996 Olympics came shortly after Cox had become the head coach of the Gryphons. That came about 20 years after he first walked on a wrestling mat at the
university. He’d also been an assistant coach with the Gryphs from the 1988-89 to the 1990-91 seasons.
“I started coming here to the University of Guelph probably about 1975 as a high school kid,” Cox said. “Londo Iacovelli was the coach back then and my coach in Fergus, Frank Corning, he never wrestled but ran an amazing program. Frank actually ended up as a world team manager and Olympic team manager so he was really involved in the sport.
"The one thing he was really good at as a coach was that if he felt if he couldn't do it anymore, he got you where you needed to be and that's what he said. He said 'I can't help you anymore, you need to go train at the University of Guelph with Londo.' I started and I've never stopped so it's been from '75 until now.”
Corning was responsible for Cox’s introduction to the sport and holds his high school coach in the highest of regards.
“There are always those people in every kid's life that sort of makes a change and I'm so glad I met Frank Corning,” he said. “You know, I was a typical kid and you're in high school and you can make decisions to go down that road or go down that road. I remember Frank came up to me in school. I didn't know him from anybody. And he goes, 'You know, I think you think you're a tough guy.' And I said, 'No sir.' And he said, 'Oh, I think you think so.' And he goes, 'Why don't you come out for wrestling?' And I came out for wrestling and never looked back.”
During his time as a coach, Cox has had several wrestlers have successful international careers and performances.
“As a coach I am so much different now than when I first started,” he said. “When I first started it was 'We're going to win this, we're going to win that and we're going to do this.'
"We have done a lot of that through the years, but now I realize that it's such a neat sport that even if you're a first-year kid and you're not the best kid on our team, that's not really what counts. What counts is how well and how far you can go. That's what I love about this sport. Sometimes I'm more excited about the worst kid on the team than sometimes the best because you know how much effort it took to get them there. If you think about it, that's like life. Just give it everything you've got and that's all you can do.”
As he looks around the wrestling room, he takes a good look at his assistant coaches with both the varsity and club teams – Zoltan Hunyady, Cierra Carere, Cody Airdrie, Pat Varamo, Jeremy LaTour.
“All of our coaches volunteer,” he said. “They get nothing to coach. It doesn't pay for their gas. But they love to give back. If they weren't in a position to give back financially or if life wasn't in order, they couldn't do it.”
At 65, Cox knows his time as the Gryphon head coach is approaching its end.
“I'll probably go a couple of years because I don't have to do all the work that I used to do with the coaches I have now,” he said. “The coaches that I have now, they do 80 per cent of the on-mat stuff. They have other jobs so what they want me to do is the recruiting. They want me to do the paperwork here at the university. They want to show up to practices, help the kids.
“I'm lucky. I come to practices and I get to hang out with these guys and they do most of the work. I feel pretty lucky about that.
“I love working with the kids and stuff, but I think selfishly there'll come a time when it's just kind of my time to fade off into the sunset and just come and watch a couple of the tournaments through the year and kind of go from there.”