As Mark Cox informed his team Thursday night he was retiring as Battlefield High School’s head football coach, he emphasized one point above all others in explaining his decision.
“It was never a reflection of how the season went,” Cox said.
It was important to Cox his players understand that.
No one debated the fact that the season didn’t go the way the Bobcats hoped. Injuries left the team reeling at times as Battlefield (5-5) lost its final three games.
For the first time since 2006, the Bobcats did not make the postseason as their Prince William County-record of consecutive playoff appearances ended at 11 following Thursday’s 28-14 loss to Patriot.
So in his second stint with a program he started from scratch when the school opened in 2004 and built into a perennial power, Cox decided it was time to leave and let someone else take over.
“I think the game is passing me by a little bit,” said Cox, who in 13 years at Battlefield went 97-45 and won the Group AAA Division 6 state title in 2010. “In my mind, they needed to get some new ideas and more energy than what I have to offer. My time has run its course.”
And the sooner he shared his decision, the easier it would be for everyone. Battlefield now had sufficient time to find a replacement and the players could prepare for the next chapter without any last-minute surprises.
“I had to be upfront with the kids,” Cox said. “I had to clear the air.”
Cox returned to the sidelines in December of 2016 after Battlefield dismissed Jared Van Acker as head coach. At the time, Cox said he felt an urge to coach again and approached the school about coming back.
Cox said he there was no set time frame for how long he’d coach.
“Probably in my mind I’d do it for at least two years and then see how I was feeling,” Cox said.
Cox said he hasn’t ruled out coaching somewhere else again, but only as an assistant.
“I can’t say I’m done done coaching, but I am done wanting to be a head coach again,” Cox said.
Cox had no regrets about coming back.
“It was an opportunity to work with the kids,” Cox said. “I’m grateful for that.”
It’s been an emotional last couple of days for the 55-year-old Cox, who plans to retire from teaching after this school year.
He let players know of his coaching decision after they arrived back Thursday at Battlefield. On Saturday, he celebrated with fellow teammates and coaches at the 40th anniversary of Annandale High School’s 1978 state football championship team.
Cox, a starting quarterback on that squad before going on to start at Virginia Tech, introduced VHSL Hall of Fame coach Bob Hardage. Hardage, Cox's mentor, coached for 31 years before retiring, the same number of years Cox coached and taught.
“I have a lot to be thankful for,” Cox said.