Over a decade of Auburn players have been molded into tougher men by Coach Kevin Yoxall. As he exits the Auburn program having served it in an elite manner for 14 years , there will be a generation of former and current Auburn players who feel a piece of them exit with Coach Yox.
And I was there to see the transformation he ushered in. I was there the night Coach Tuberville told us in a team meeting he was hiring a strength coach that could and would physically throw us out of the weight room if he deemed it necessary. I was there the night we performed our very first conditioning regimen under Coach Yox-a measly three gassers inside the indoor complex. It was the least amount of running we'd ever do for him and we had more players than you could imagine who failed the test. I was there to see many teammates walk out never to return. And, I was there to see us go from a 3-8 team to a SEC Championship game merely two years under a work ethic he instilled.
Before he came to Auburn, we were incredibly weak in mind and body. He blew us away with his structure, intensity, demands, expertise, and his passion. As he walks out the door at Auburn, I believe I can safely speak on behalf of my teammates and all those who've followed, Kevin Yoxall positively impacted our lives for the better, forced us to grow up, demanded excellence every single day. He shaped the way we think, work, respond, raise our children.
We hated his guts initially. Cussed him within the confines and anonymity of our locker-room. Would have bet my life he conferred with Satan himself to create daily workouts. Dreaded each day during class, wondering what torturous running he had planned, what awkward lift he would stand and observe me perform. There was no guessing, no cheating, no way to coast through a workout. He, or one of his GAs, watched every rep of every exercise of every individual that entered the weight room. He had even prepopulated the weight to be placed on the bar for each lift along an algorithm to be certain he could track our progress and see who was producing and who wasn't.
He made us dress exactly the same. Auburn issued orange shorts with Auburn issued gray t-shirt. You wear something different, you wished you hadn't. You show up late, not five minutes, but one second-you wished you hadn't.
As we began to see results of our hard work, a work ethic we all thought we epitomized prior to Coach Yox's arrival-however a work ethic we hadn't come close to obtaining-we began to buy in. It not only became crystal clear there was no easy path to success, that "work, hard work" was the price to pay to reap rewards, it was also evident and not lost on the players the effort and desire Coach Yox put into his daily grind. He was the hardest working coach on staff, hands down.
Yes, he was building us into leaner, faster, stronger versions of ourselves, but he was laying the foundation for each of us to live successful lives. He was equipping us with mental toughness, with overcoming seemingly insurmountable circumstances, with what it meant to be held accountable, and the understanding that to be and beat the best, no matter what the task, you must outwork, outcompete, outlast the best. He was the catalyst that resurrected a program from the ashes to national preeminence.
The longer we were around him the more we appreciated him. We understood the reasoning behind the hellish routine and grew to expect it, to persevere, and to be better off because of the effort. In the moment, he was a bastard sent straight to Auburn from the pit of hell. In the aftermath, he was a father figure, a mentor, a leader, the master; the best there is or was.
You go ask any football player from 1999 to 2012 and 99.9% of them will tell you Yox was the most instrumental and respected coach they had during their career. More so than the head coach. More so than the coach that recruited them to campus. More so than their position coach. We all spent infinitely more time with Yox than all of the above combined. He coddled no one. He played favorites to no one. He loved us all the same, and we never questioned his commitment to us.
After the 2010 national title victory I wrote the following on my blog:
"My biggest behind the scenes contributors go to the two men that were brought to campus by Coach Tuberville and who have been the most instrumental hires Auburn University has made in its athletic department bar none...to you Coach Yox and Chette Williams...you're like fathers to us players, you mold us physically and spiritually into men by pushing us beyond our comfort zones, you make us believe in our abilities and in each other by the work ethic you instill, the ear you lend, the encouragement you provide. You are the best in the business at what you both do and Auburn is lucky to have you. You both deserve this more than anyone else associated with Auburn athletics and I for one am grateful for what you meant to not only this team, but what you have meant to my life! Thank you!"
In my mind, Coach Yox leaves a legacy at Auburn University that will live on as long as any of us that played under his tenure are breathing air. We'll all forever be indebted to Yox for forcing us to push beyond our comfort zones down deep into a core existence we never knew we were capable of achieving. He brought out the best in us. He demanded it every day. I'm a better husband, father, optometrist, person because of the lessons I walked away from Auburn with. Many of those lessons came from Kevin Yoxall.