In his playing days, Cox was a starter on the football team, including the 1940 Cotton Bowl Championship team that won Clemson's first-ever bowl game. He was also named All-State that year and later returned to the team as a coach. He was inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame in 1984.
A Belton native, the son of Walter T. and Grace Campbell Cox came to Clemson in 1935 as a freshman cadet. Except for a year of military service during World War II, he never left. As a student, he was a company commander in the Cadet Corps, a letterman in the Block "C" Club and an All-State guard on the football team. After graduating in 1939, he stayed on for a year of postgraduate study, during which he anchored the Tiger front line that helped defeat Boston College in the Tigers' first post-season game, the Jan. 1, 1940, Cotton Bowl.
During the '40s, he worked for Clemson athletics in a number of capacities (assistant football coach, business manager, baseball coach, recruiter, IPTAY promoter). He even filled in for the boxing coach, who was called into the military, and helped clear land, with handsaws, chains and mules, for the football stadium.
In 1950, Cox became the director of public relations and alumni affairs and assistant to the president. In 1955, he was named vice president for student affairs and took a leadership role in directing Clemson's transition from military to civilian status.
"Dean Cox," as he was known to generations of Clemson students, served as vice president for student affairs for three decades. During his tenure, enrollment grew from 2,700 to more than 12,500, and he presided over some of the most important milestones in Clemson's development into a major university, including the enrollment of women and the peaceful desegregation of the student body. At the request of the Board of Trustees, he left the student affairs post in July 1985 to become Clemson's 10th president. The third Clemson graduate to be the school's president, he served until Max Lennon assumed the presidency in March 1986.
Cox once again was called upon to fill a key position temporarily when, from July 1986 until March 1987, he served as vice president for institutional advancement. Although he retired from full-time employment in April 1987, he remained active as a consultant and goodwill ambassador for the university.
Reminders of Dean Cox are all around Clemson University.