Fox, who played baseball for Harold Stout at Milligan (1977-80), returned to his alma mater in 1998 as the dean of students.
Although he’s been arguably the primary cog in Milligan athletics much of the past 16 years, he’ll officially become the vice president for athletics and student development on June 1.
“Functionally, that’ll mean I’ll be operating like a more contemporary athletic director would,” Fox said Thursday. “I’ll have fundraising responsibilities. I’ll have long-range strategic planning responsibilities and I’ll have … some alumni relations, particularly as it relates to former athletes.”
Ray Smith will take on the role as associate athletic director for facilities and compliance.
Fox has seen Milligan athletics make strides the past 16 years. The signature step was the addition of the Mathes Tennis Center in 2005.
An ambitious refurbishment of Steve Lacy Fieldhouse is about two-thirds completed. Lights were installed at the baseball field thanks to a generous gift from the late Lyn Jeffers.
Fox was the key to the University of Tennessee practicing at Milligan in August of 2012, an excursion that translated into nearly a six-figure windfall for the college.
Fox’s new task involves three identified priorities.
“We’ve got to get an on-campus track,” he said. “That’s a huge priority for us. And we’ve got to get an additional auxiliary gym … a multi-purpose building that we can use for academics as well as athletic strength and conditioning, and some conference space. … We need to refurbish the baseball field and expand the stadium there.”
It’s a labor of love. While enhancing his alma mater, he is also looking out for family.
“Milligan’s had an instrumental role in my family,” he said. “My dad (Jim) is a Milligan graduate from Greeneville, Tennessee, the only one in his family to graduate from college. And then I meet my wife (Beth Keefauver) here, and the two of us and two of her sisters are Milligan grads as well.”
Milligan and the value of athletics are dear to Fox, and he’s still a child at heart when it comes to being a sports fan. Until moving to Amarillo, Texas for his senior season, he played football, basketball and baseball at Science Hill for Snake Evans, Elvin Little and Dennis Greenwell, respectively. He started in football and baseball.
“I was the designated fouler in basketball,” he said.
Fox reels off athletes’ names while recalling his high school and college days. Van Williams, Billy Wise, Brien Crowder and Marvin Christman were at Science Hill. Derek Carrier, Tony Mitchell, Joe McClain, Marty Street and Gary Walker made impressions at Milligan in an era when Milligan played NCAA national champions such as Miami, NAIA national champion Lipscomb and Charley Lodes’ East Tennessee State.
“I would argue from ’79 to ’80 was probably – may have been – the heyday of Milligan baseball,” said Fox, whose teams took on the likes of Georgia Tech, Tennessee, North Carolina and Eastern Michigan. “We were successful against a lot of those schools. We were never embarrassed. We played Eastern Michigan when I was a freshman and they were the NCAA national champions that year. … I think one year we played Miami they won the NCAA. Of course, David Lipscomb won the NAIA two of the four years I was here. …
“ETSU was very good during that time and we were very competitive with them. … That was probably the heyday of their baseball when Charley Lodes was coaching, as far as success on the field and producing pro players and that sort of thing.”
Gary Walker set a career home run record that lasted until Dustin Price broke it while playing for Danny Clark after Fox returned as an administrator.
“Gary Walker hit the furthest ball I’ve ever seen hit,” Fox said. “He hit one at Mars Hill that I could take you over there and show you where it landed and you’d call me a liar.”
Fox often inadvertently touts Milligan athletics history in passing conversation. His dad played baseball and basketball at Milligan in the same era as Sonny Smith and Del Harris. When Science Hill and Milligan alum Will Little began umpiring at the major-league level, Fox was quick to point out that he’d be calling a game with Baltimore manager Buck Showalter, whose father played football at Milligan.
Little played baseball for Clark when Price was breaking Walker’s home run record.
“I’ve been out here long enough now that we’ve had graduates like Gabe Goulds, Nathan Jenkins, Caleb Gilmer, Dustin Price, Will Little … and Glenda Blevins and some of our track athletes that have done great,” Fox said. “There are a lot of different levels of alumni that have remained engaged with the college. And not all of them are completely happy with the college, but most of them are. And most of them want to be involved in the future of the college. …
“We’ve got a chance of making an impact on the campus and the athletic experience for our student-athletes. We’ve got a lot of people that love the college and want to be involved. It won’t be an easy sell, but it’s something that I feel good about and I won’t have any problem talking to people about, because it is exciting and athletics is continuing to grow with the college. It’s something that I envision doing the last part of my career here at Milligan … until it’s time to go to the house.”