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Former Furman coach, rugby friend dies in Thailand accident

Mike Cobb, who played, coached, and officiated rugby for more than three decades, was killed Saturday when an automobile struck him in Thailand where he was participating in a rugby referee exchange.

In every respect, Cobb’s influence on the game he loved touched many in the U.S. and beyond. Once ranked as one of the top rugby officials in the U.S., Cobb served as Eastern Zone Manager for referees at the time of his death. He was a fixture at national rugby conventions and games and participated in dozens of international exchanges.

“We were shocked and saddened to hear about Mike’s passing, our thoughts and prayers are with Mike’s friends and family at this time,” said USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville. “Mike was such a larger than life character, passionate about his rugby and always going above and beyond to help players, referees and coaches develop their potential.”

Beyond officiating, Cobb found time to coach. In 2004, he led the Furman University women’s rugby team to the Rugby South Finals. From 2005-08 he served as head coach for the Greenville Griffins men’s team, leading them to the USA National Final 16 in 2006. At the time of his death, Cobb was assistant coach for South Greenville, a top high school club that is advancing to nationals.

A native of Greenville and veteran of the United States Air Force, Cobb left a giant imprint on the sport he loved through his mentoring and friendships.

“Few in rugby, if any, could rival his dedication and work ethic, or his irrepressible desire to make the sport of rugby better for all,” said John Meyers, President of the Southeast Rugby Referee Society. “What he meant to our Society cannot be summarized in a few sentences, nor could we give justice to such meaning. He coached, mentored, and evaluated referees and referee coaches both nationally and locally.  He produced innumerable rugby educational videos and gave numerous presentations each year. Suffice it to say that he was a rugby tour-de-force.”

Vince Atkinson, head coach of the Griffins, described Cobb as a “productive, reverent servant of rugby.”

“Not only was Mike committed, he was extremely competent,” said Atkinson. “Mike saw the game of rugby different than most.  At times I disagreed with Mike philosophically on rugby. But now, I see that he was right.  It just took me a while to get there.”

Returning home after serving in the military, Cobb played for the Greenville Griffins from 1983 to 1992 where he served as Captain. The club disbanded in 1992 but was reestablished in 1994. Cobb was one of the few older Greenville players to make the transition to the new team. In 1996, he retired as a player and became a certified referee the next year.

Cobb’s nimble mind, eye for detail and no-nonsense personality helped him quickly ascend the referee ranks. In May 2003, he was promoted to the grade B2, which moved him into the top 20 referees in the U.S. He retired from full time officiating the next year after undergoing hip replacement surgery.

“Mike Cobb’s impact was not in the positions he held or the prestige he garnered, it has been the lives that he touched,” said John Roberts, Coach of the Furman University men’s rugby team. “Cobber was straight-forward and suffered no fools, but beneath that exterior was a guy who had a buoyant personality and wanted to help others.”

Cobb was married for many years to Misty Cobb. Mike is survived by a daughter, Lauren, brother  and teammate (Rich), father (Darrell) and mother (Shirley).

A small group of Cobb’s friends are working with the family to launch a memorial fund that will be used to perpetuate Mike Cobb’s memory and aid a rugby-related initiative. To learn more, please contact Dan Roberts.

Last updated August 5, 2022
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director