Story by Ashley Beall
Photo Courtesy of Drake Athletics
Drake athletics announced assistant coach Rick Fox as Creighton’s successor. The Times-Delphic sat down with Fox to learn about his vision for Drake football and how he got his start on the field.
The Times-Delphic: How did you get into coaching football?
Rick Fox: It’s a funny story. When I was in grade school, that’s when the Apollo moon launches were happening and so I wanted to be an astronaut. I decided if for some case I couldn’t be an astronaut, I wanted to be a football coach.
My brother and I were watching one of the moon launches, and I was expressing my desire to be an astronaut, and he said, “I don’t know if you could fit in one of those rockets, they look real skinny.” It made sense to me, so literally I was in second or third grade when I thought “Eh, I guess I’ll be a football coach.”
TD: What initially brought you to Drake?
RF: I coached against Drake in 1991. Drake was a Division III football program at the time, and I was coaching a Division III school, Aurora University, and we came here to play Drake and that was the first time I came to Drake’s campus, and Drake beat us.
In December of 2007, Chris Creighton was named the head football coach at Drake, and Chris and I have been friends since the early ’90s and we’ve never coached together. But we’ve been good friends, so then I had the opportunity to come here with him and be on the new staff here.
TD: What were your initial reactions when you heard Creighton was leaving Drake?
RF: He made me aware of that possibility, and that all started to develop the week after this season was over. It wasn’t a total shock to me when he was offered that job. A couple days before he was offered it, and it looked like there was a pretty good chance it could happen, Coach Creighton told me, “Sandy (Hatfield Clubb) might be contacting you about being the next head coach.” And she did do that.
So a few days before he took the job, she talked to me about this, and said, “If this happens, I may ask you to be our new head coach, and I want you to have some time to think about this beforehand.” So I had the choice of either going with Coach Creighton to Eastern Michigan or staying here and becoming the head coach at Drake. And when that opportunity presented itself, and after talking to my family and praying about it, I decided that this was the right place for me and my family.
TD: What is the big difference between Coach Creighton’s coaching style and your own?
RF: When I came here with Coach Creighton, a big reason that I came was because I knew that he and I shared the same perspective on football and coaching and how that should fit on a college campus and the impact it should make. So all of those things I was in total agreement of with (the five programs of success). It wasn’t a matter of, “Oh I’m going to keep this just for now just to make the transition smooth.” That is what I believe in as an assistant coach, and I believe in it as a head coach. So those things are staying the same.
The biggest difference is that I have a different personality than Coach Creighton. He and I worked really well together and were very close friends, and our families were very close friends.
One of the reasons we worked so well together was because we complemented each other in our personalities, and we knew that about each other because we’ve been friends for over 20 years.
Coach Creighton is probably a more gregarious, outspoken kind of a guy then I am. Like, when a recruit would say “yes” over the phone, Coach Creighton would immediately start barking like a Bulldog, and I tried that one time, and it just wasn’t me. I’m imagining the kid on the other end saying, “That did not sound cool.” So I’ve learned to be myself.
As far as the principles of what our program is all about, we’re on the same page and always have been.
TD: How would you describe your coaching style?
RF: We believe that love is a greater, more powerful teacher and motivator than fear and intimidation.
We want to always care for each other. That creates tremendous team morale. It creates excitement and motivation. It is fun to be around people that you know care for each other. Fear and intimidation is kind of the stereotypical football coach, and it’s easier to do in one way, but it has short-term results. “If you don’t do this, then I’m going to make your life miserable,” but it doesn’t have the long-term impact. That’s a coaching philosophy.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have discipline. There’s discipline in every loving family, obviously. That doesn’t mean we’re always talking nice. We’re challenging and encouraging and pushing, but we never want to demean. That is taken right out of Coach Creighton’s playbook.
We want to be trustworthy, and we want to care for people other than ourselves. We want to be committed to excellence. We want to go on and do great things in football, on and off the field.
Some people would say that’s kind of crazy to dream that kind of dream. Great things that are accomplished were never called easy when they were first thought of. So why don’t we dream it? Let’s be crazy. If we don’t accomplish it, at least we know we gave everything to accomplish it. We fell short. I’m not going to live with regret. The thing that will bother me is if, “Maybe I could have done it.” Well, then, I should have taken a shot at it.
TD: What are your goals for the off-season and upcoming season?
RF: There are your regular goals that you have with a new head coach. We got a new defensive coordinator and those are each of our goals becoming stronger, faster, each of our guys becoming better football players, becoming better artists at their positions. That’s every spring.
Then there are the goals where we have to learn a new defense. Our defensive guys have a challenge this spring to learn that defense. We were the No. 1 defense in our conference last year, and we expect the same this year, so we have to learn the new defense so they have to be ready to do that. The offensive guys have to learn the new plays, and how we’re going to call them is going to change a little bit.
The more significant things, these are the two things that I think in our football program, if we can accomplish, it takes us to another level. One is we have to be willing to take the risk to realize those dreams. That’s not just big things like dreaming big. It’s the little things, too.
I want our guys to be a little reckless, willing to take risks, not to be undisciplined, not to be foolish, but don’t be afraid of failing. I want us as a team to be more willing to do that.
The second thing that’s my goal for our team, is I think we have a group of phenomenal leaders, not perfect leaders, including this coach, and I’m talking about all our players all our coaches, but we have to get to a point where we are just totally investing ourselves in each other in order for our group to reach their goal.
When we get to that point, kind of that selfless leadership, then crazy things happen on a team, in a business, in a family, whatever it is. That kind of culture … where we are thinking of the person in front of me, behind me and I’m thinking, “How do I help them win?” That’s what takes our team to another level. That’s what I want for our guys.
TD: What do you for fun when you’re not coaching or watching football?
RF: When I was a young coach and we had young children, and some good friends that are older friends of my wife’s family asked us, “So Rick, what’s your hobby?” and I’m like, “Well, between football and being a father to two toddlers, there’s not much time for anything else. I used to have hobbies.”
Football is one of those jobs where it’s not just a job, it’s something you love to do, so it’s also my hobby. But I love to spend time with my family. That could be playing a board game, going to a movie, just hanging out.
We just have a blast together. I love to read. I actually have a theology master’s degree, so I’ll read theology. I’ll read history, and the rest of my family loves fiction literature novels and things like that. I’m not as much into them, but I always hear them talking about them, so I feel like I’ve read countless books that I haven’t really read. I like to work out, but I don’t get to work out as much I like to.