That touch of gray alongside both temples reflects a big change in Bryan Cox.
The new defensive assistant of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers no longer views football or life itself in black-and-white terms. At age 44, the former volatile linebacker has emerged as a teacher, rather than a taunter.
Two decades after running out on the field at Buffalo and giving Bills fans a middle-finger salute, earning a $10,000 fine from the NFL, Cox is extending a helping hand to the young front seven of the Buccaneers.
"I watched Coach Cox play when I was growing up and I actually had his Miami Dolphins jersey,'' Tampa Bay rookie outside linebacker Lavonte David said. "He has helped me a lot. I admired his physical style of play and he's a great motivator. For me, it's an honor to have him here.''
After 12 NFL seasons, Cox began his coaching career with the Jets in 2006.
"I always kind of knew I wanted to coach,'' Cox said. "It just had to be the right situation. I'm thankful to Eric Mangini for giving me that chance. He called and said, 'I have a job for you, I just don't know what it is at this time.' I said, 'As long as it's not quality control, I'm in.' ''
Cox played both middle and outside linebacker, earning three Pro Bowl berths while developing a reputation as a nasty hitter with the Dolphins, Bears, Jets, Patriots and Saints.
In Chicago's 1997 opener against Green Bay, Cox was involved in two fights and incurred three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. The league docked him $5,000 for that meltdown and the Bears lightened his wallet by an additional $10,000.
Growing up in crime-ridden East St. Louis, Mo., Cox learned to fight as a matter of sheer survival.
"I coached at Eastern Illinois when Bryan was playing at Western Illinois,'' Bucs defensive line coach Randy Melvin said. "He was a heck of a tenacious player and we knew we had our hands full going against him. Now we're working together and it's been awesome.''
Cox shuttles between Tampa Bay's front four and linebacker units, coordinating the pass rush and coverage schemes.
"He's been very helpful,'' said Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has three sacks during a 1-3 start. "From the jump, he told me he's got some ideas that can help. I'm using some of the things he taught me. It means a little something extra coming from a guy who has been there and knows what it takes to get there.''
Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan worked with Cox last season in Miami and Bucs head coach Greg Schiano said Cox has made an immediate impact on his players and his staff.
"Bryan has contributed in a lot of ways with his energy and enthusiasm,'' Schiano said. "I coached him as a player in Chicago and you always knew he was one of the smartest players on your team. He's really evolved into a great coach.''
Just because Cox has mellowed a bit, don't think he wants Tampa Bay players to win the Mr. Congeniality Award.
"Coach Cox has a linebacker's personality,'' strong-side linebacker Quincy Black said, "and that's something we haven't had around here for a couple of years.''
The Bucs have struggled at times defensively through the opening month, but Cox is determined to provide players with a winning edge.
"As a coach, you're powerless,'' he said. "You can know all the answers, but unless you can get the players to know all those answers, it doesn't matter. To me, coaching is getting players to see the game through your eyes. You don't need to be an ex-player to have great coaching ability, but it can help because we understand their mentality. I can call players out when they're trying to (fool) me.''
And who would dare to try?
"Anything Coach Cox tells me, I listen to,'' second-year middle linebacker Mason Foster said. "He's fiery, but he's not a wild man anymore.''