Paging Phil Cox: Your record is toast

Matt Freije needs just six points to break Vanderbilt's all-time scoring record. The man whose record Freije will soon break, Phil Cox, is almost too busy with a demanding job and a growing family to pay much attention. But Cox, reached by phone last week at his office in Clinton, Tenn., says he couldn't be happier for Freije in his quest for the record.

When Vanderbilt upset No. 5 Kentucky in Nashville back on Jan. 31, former Commodore great Phil Cox was watching the game on television at home with his nine-year-old daughter. ESPN2 flashed a photo of Matt Freije, on track to become Vandy's all-time scoring leader-- next to an old, black-and-white photo of Cox, the current record holder.

Cox's daughter's eyes widened as she stared at the screen, then peered over at her dad with a "Was that you?" look.

"I've always said, when someone breaks the record, I hope my kids will be old enough that it means something," said Cox, reached last week by phone from his office in Clinton, Tenn. "My daughter knows now that her daddy played somewhere, and played real hard."

Indeed he did, young lady.

Cox, the diminutive marksman who starred at Vanderbilt from 1981-85, is still currently the school's all-time scoring leader with 1,724 points. But his days as scoring king are numbered-- Freije is breathing down his neck with 1,719 points and at least five more games left to play.

Is Cox concerned? Hardly.

"Some of the people I teach with have kept up with the record more than I have, and have reminded me my records are about to be broken," Cox says, implying he might not even have been aware otherwise.

"Records are made to be broken. Matt's a great player, just a tremendous athlete, so he's a very deserving guy. From what I hear, he's a great person too. He's worked very hard to get to that point. I couldn't be happier for him."

Cox, who did plenty of his scoring from outside and played before the era of the 3-point shot, might rightfully be embittered seeing his record fall to a modern-day player like Freije, whose point total includes over 480 points on treys. But 19 years after setting the record, Cox repeatedly stressed how blessed and awed he feels just to have been a part of Vanderbilt and its storied basketball program.

"Not a lot of people get to attend Vanderbilt," he philosophizes. "When I look back, it's not the basketball, the scoring, the All-SEC, doing this and doing that that stands out. The thing I'm most proud of is that I graduated from there. Playing ball was just a nice bonus. That's the way I look at it.

"And I think I made the best of it. I made some great friends, and got a quality education that enabled me to be where I am right now."

Where is he now? Cox lives in the Knoxville suburb of Clinton, Tenn. When he says his job as Assistant Principal at Norris Middle School is far more challenging than anything he ever faced as a player or coach, few would doubt him.

"Middle school is a tough age. I deal with a lot of the discipline, bus issues, scheduling, a little bit of everything. I'm kind of learning as I'm going.

"I've coached college basketball, played college ball, and this is one of the most challenging things I've encountered," he says with a smile. "It's trying to make a difference in the lives of young people. It's trying to get kids put in the right direction and making better decisions."

Without doubt, ol' double-zero holds a special place, not just in the record books, but in the hearts of Commodore fans everywhere. He was a Mr. Basketball in Kentucky, and was the first player ever signed by beloved coach C. M. Newton. He was named first-team All-SEC twice, in 1983 and 1985.

Cox became just one in a long line of Kentucky natives who have prospered wearing black and gold. Out of high school he was offered by several OVC schools, but Vanderbilt was his only SEC offer.

In addition to his nine-year-old daughter, Cox also has two sons, ages five and one.

"I do keep up with Vanderbilt some-- I think Coach Stallings has done a tremendous job with the talent he has there," Cox said. "But quite honestly, I'm so busy with my kids, with my daughter playing basketball, and then my job-- I just do the best job I can."

Freije's quest for the record does resurrect some memories for Cox, however.

"I remember back in 1985 when I broke the record. It was an exciting time. I'm sure it's an exciting time for Matt, and I truly wish him the best."

Cox surpassed Mike Rhodes in his senior year in a meaningless late-season game vs. Mississippi State in Starkville-- but as long-time fans may remember, he might never have done so if not for an assist from the folks in sports medicine. Cox fractured his thumb vs. LSU, and for a while it appeared he would conclude his fabulous career 15 points shy of Rhodes' 1,699 points.

"I ended up having to have a silicon cast made to finish out the last few games. Originally I thought I wasn't going to get to play any more, and it was all over.

"But after conferring with a specialist, they made a cast for me, and I was able to finish out the season and break the record in the last game."

Coincidentally, Freije is also likely to break the record in the state of Mississippi-- the Commodores' next game is Wednesday vs. Ole Miss at Oxford. Cox says he may try to listen in over the radio with his basketball-playing daughter.

"I'm truly happy for Matt, and I really mean that," Cox said. "The record has held up for a long time. But I guess as you get older, you realize that there are more important things. And my three kids and my wife are the most important things to me.

"I just feel fortunate to have been able to attend Vanderbilt and graduate and get a degree. The only memorabilia from that era I have on my wall is my degree from Vanderbilt. That means more to me than just about anything."


Cox has probably been asked in the thousands of times about a block-charge call his freshman year vs. Tennessee. A controversial call late in the game that went Vanderbilt's way helped lift the Commodores to a memorable win over their cross-state rivals.

"Yeah, that's the one thing I do have here in my office at work," Cox said. "They had a poster made of me running over [Tennessee guard] Tyrone Beaman.

"It's amazing the number of people who remember that here in the Knoxville area. I guess it depends on who you talk to.

"But I thought it was a pretty good call," he says, with a wry grin.


Are you fully subscribed to VandyMania? If not, you're missing out on all the top premium Commodore news and features we provide daily, as well as access to our members-only discussion forums. Click here today to sign up for the biggest and best in Vanderbilt sports coverage. Top Stories