Skip to main content

Before Boyle And Walseth, Cox Established CU Basketball

Nov 6, 2014

The fourth of nine CU Athletic Hall of Fame profiles as celebrates this year's class which was inducted at the Coors Events Center's George Boedecker, Jr., Court, on Oct. 30.

One evening, perhaps in the late 1930's, the University of Colorado basketball team was practicing in Balch Fieldhouse. A young Forrest Cox, Jr., watched as the head coach, also his father, "Frosty," became ever frustrated with the effort that his players were emitting.

"Practice was going really bad" the junior Cox recalls.

This wasn't okay with the perfectionist coach so he "walked over, turned off the lights, and left." The young men were stuck in complete darkness trying to find their way back to the locker rooms.

His point was made.

Forrest "Frosty" Cox led Colorado to two NIT and three NCAA Tournaments.

The legendary Frosty Cox coached the CU basketball team from 1935-50 only taking a break between 1942-44 where no games were played as the Navy used Balch Fieldhouse to prepare for potential battle in World War II. During this time, Cox became the winningest men's basketball coach at CU, percentage wise. His winning percentage of .623 has only recently been topped by the Buffs' current head coach, Tad Boyle (.648).

Cox's road to CU is what you might expect from a basketball coach of his caliber. Born in Newton, Kan., Cox played on his high school basketball team from 1924-27. His team won the state championship each year.

After that, Cox made his way to the University of Kansas where he was an all-conference football player and All-American in basketball from 1927-30. Immediately after his stint at KU, Cox acted as an assistant coach for the Jayhawks under "Phog" Allen until he made his way to Colorado in 1935. That year, five years removed from college, Cox became the head coach of the CU basketball team succeeding Earl Clark. From then until Cox's departure from CU in 1950, the team recorded some of CU basketball's most successful years.

His son, who resides in Colorado, described Cox as "really competitive."

"He was a no-nonsense type of person," Cox Jr. said "He was dedicated to perfection and discipline....on the court, he was pretty intense."

Perhaps it's this discipline and intensity that led to the team's immense success under his coaching hand. The consensus is that Frosty Cox was someone that accepted nothing less than perfection, and near perfection is what he got.

Along with leading his team to four Mountain States Conference Championship titles (1938-40, & '42), Cox also took his team to two NIT and three NCAA Tournaments. In 1938, the Buffs took second in the NIT falling to Temple in the finals.

In 1940, Colorado beat out DePaul in New York and took the NIT title during an era where that was the more prestigious championship. That year, CU also made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament becoming the only team in history to play in both the NCAA's and the NIT in the same year. CU lost in the first round but when they returned to the NCAA Tournament in 1942, that team made it to the Final Four. Colorado would return to the NCAA's one more time under Cox, in 1946 where the Buffaloes would lose in the first round to California.

The 1940 team heads to New York for the NIT

Following three seasons in the Big 7 Conference, Cox left CU after the 1949-50 season and started a cattle ranch with his brother. Despite his apparent retirement, Cox still loved the sport of basketball and returned to coach at the University of Montana from 1955 until his death in 1962.

While at Montana, the junior and senior Cox's were reunited. Cox Jr., who was quite the athlete himself, played basketball under his father at the university. This is not something the young Cox would necessarily recommend, however. "I think it was hard on both of us," Cox Jr. recounted.

Despite that fact, as a young kid, Forrest Cox Jr. was able to experience his father as a coach up close and personal during, what the younger Cox would call, "the greatest basketball years."

Cox was focused on fundamentals. So focused in fact, that he penned his own book in 1949 entitled "Basketball Outline." The book includes diagrams and small little tips like "why teams should wear dark sweat suits to warm up in at away games."

Though the pages of that book, more than 50 years old, are worn and torn, the stories about Frosty Cox as a coach are still just as vibrant.

His son spoke of how, if the players were struggling with a certain concept, coach would get out there and "play with them to try to help them understand the system a little bit better." In fact, at one point, Cox was only three years older than his oldest player.

Perhaps that is the true mark of a legendary coach. Wise beyond his years but young enough to relate to his players and demonstrate what needs to be done. Enlightened, yet youthful. Experienced yet only a few years removed from college. It seems that Cox had the ability to relate to his players yet still teach them a thing or two about how to win basketball games.

Off the court, Cox was more of a mystery. His son stated that he understands that his father is recognized for his success in basketball but that he "wasn't really well known as far as his personality like some coaches are."

When describing his father off the court, the younger Cox described his dad as someone with a "great personality" who was "really personable...yet still a perfectionist when it came to parenting."

Sox Walseth, legendary coach in his own right who preceded Cox into the CU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002, played for Cox from 1945-48. After his graduation in 1948, Cox called up Walseth and offered him a job as the freshman coach at CU. Eventually, Walseth went on to coach the Colorado men's basketball team from 1956-76 and then the upstart women's team from 1980-83. During his years as a men's and women's coach, Walseth won more basketball games than any other coach in CU history with 261 successes over his 23 seasons as a head coach.

Walseth once described Cox, whom he coached under for five years, as "tough-nosed...but, he was a good guy."

Cox was there for Walseth and countless other men, teaching them the fundamentals of basketball and a thing or two about life. Although it may seem that history had forgotten Cox along the way for some of its more recent legends, he is one of this year's inductees into the CU Athletic Hall of Fame. This is an honor that is well deserved and well over due for a man who shaped and developed Colorado basketball in a way that is still felt today.