LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Before there was Google, there was Earl Cox.

Need an informative description of how the world tilted when Bear Bryant and Adolph Rupp ruled at the University of Kentucky?

Ask Earl.

Wonder why Louisville got left out of the ABA-NBA merger and why our town always remained several dribbles behind in the chase for professional basketball?

Let Earl explain.

Looking for a voice of reason who worked behind the scenes to build a basketball and then football detente between UK and the University of Louisville.

Jump in the car with Earl and former U of L athletic director Bill Olsen and drive to Rupp Arena for a game, the way I did more than three decades ago.

Want to enjoy one of the best newspaper sports sections in America, packed with talented journalists like Dave Kindred, Dick Fenlon, Billy Reed, Mike Barry, Jim Terhune, Mike Sullivan, Paul Borden, Russ Brown, Bob White, Tev Laudeman and on and on and on.

Earl had his hand in that, too.

We lost Earl Cox Tuesday morning. He was 86.

What Paul Hornung was to football, what Pee Wee Reese was to baseball, what Wes Unseld was to basketball, that’s what Earl was to the local sports media scene -- first as the sports editor at The Courier-Journal and later as  the featured sports writer at The Voice-Tribune.

Earl covered events at all-black schools when some writers and papers preferred to ignore them. He encouraged coverage of women's sports and hired the first female sports writers at the C-J.

One of my first jobs in town was writing about high school sports for The C-J and Louisville Times. The 1978-79 basketball season was about to begin, and I was assigned a story about Dirk Minniefield, the best player in the state, a guard who was primed to lead Lexington Lafayette High School to the 1979 Kentucky Sweet Sixteen title.

I made calls. I made more calls I worked every source that I had for extra information about Minniefield.

I wrote my story, including a suggestion there was a possibility that Minniefield might decide to play college basketball for Alabama because his high school coach, Jock Sutherland, once coached at Bama under C.M. Newton.

The next day in the office, Earl complimented me on my work. It was one of the first stories I had produced for the paper.

Then, quietly, Earl pulled me aside with more breaking news:

Dirk Minniefield was not going to Alabama. He was going to Kentucky and it would be announced soon. 

And one more thing -- Sam Bowie, Charles Hurt and Derrick Hord were coming with him.

So they did. And so it was.

I learned to listen to Earl. Earl knew things. Earl knew everybody. Earl knew how the world worked, especially the world in the state that he loved, growing up in Irvine, attending the University of Kentucky and then settling in Louisville, not far from Ballard High School.

Cawood Ledford, Joe B. Hall, Cliff Hagan, Ralph Beard, Clem Haskins, Alex Groza, John Y. Brown, Bob Graves, Howard Schnellenberger, Johnny Unitas, Dan Issel, Reese, Olsen, Sutherland, Unseld, Earl could get all of them on the telephone.

People returned phone calls from Earl Cox. After transitioning from being an administrator to writing a column, Earl sat at his desk with a window overlooking Sixth Street and worked the telephone all day. 

He could be irascible, blunt, funny, challenging or sympathetic -- sometimes in the same conversation. Earl was connected in the local and national sports scenes, through his ties to the NCAA (Dave Cawood, another Kentuckian) and the Associated Press Sports Editors group (Earl was a founding member who once served the organization as president).

There's a reason Earl Cox is the only member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame and the Dawahares/Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.

But that's not what made Earl a Hall of Famer. I learned more from Earl about life than I learned about sports writing.

Make time for your family. Value education. Be at their events. Encourage co-workers. 

The media business makes a mess of family planning because so much happens on weekends. News will break in the middle of a birthday party of family dinner. That happens. 

But Earl made certain that people understood that his wife, Carolyn, and children (Sarah, Scott and Ellen) were his priorities. 

He always gave credit to Carolyn for being the brains of the family. He explained how relentlessly Sarah worked on her path to becoming an OB/GYN.

Long before Scott became one of the most prominent attorneys in Louisville and the chairman of the Louisville Arena Authority, Earl made certain his son was challenged to achieve academically at Ballard High School. Nobody was a stronger advocate for the program principal Pat Crawford created at Ballard.

As much as he celebrated the tennis victories that his youngest daughter, Ellen, collected across the state, I never saw Earl prouder than he was on the day that she was accepted to study at Harvard.

That was the important stuff to Earl. He didn't have to explain it. I saw it.

And will continue to see it -- through Carolyn, Sarah, Scott, Ellen and Earl's six grandchildren (Emma, Hallie, Coleman, Caroline, Virginia, Sophie).

Earl's daughter, Ellen, wrote this in a tribute to her father: "Mom always told us not to be sad when Dad died, because he was the only person she knew who accomplished every single thing he ever wanted in life."

Mission accomplished.

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