02 May 2008

The John Cooper I Saw

I'll start by congratulating John Cooper on a commendable 23-year tenure commanding D1 sidelines. His 68.1% overall winning record firmly cements him as one of the best football minds in the modern-era.

Cooper's cognitive opus, however, exposes exactly what he lacked: an understanding of team dynamics, approachability, and pride in a team's history and tradition. (Charlie Weis struggles in the first two columns). Like an executive VP at a medium-sized financial services firm Cooper saw programs as opportunities to sharpen skill sets and resumes. His mission was not to be a Buckeye, but rather, the best. As a child at the Horseshoe in the mid-90s, I always felt the man in the oversized windbreaker was more interested in scanning his clipboard for the next play than the players themselves.

Yes. That's why he was good. Distanced from the emotion of the game, Cooper was able to concentrate on its mechanics. But that's also why he couldn't appeal to the soul of the sport. The Game was a game. Week 11. Nothing more, nothing less.

"Cooper won games on Thursdays, not Saturdays"

I've always been impressed that after the 2000 Outback Bowl ouster Cooper stuck around. He didn't go the NFL (at least beyond its scouting office) and he didn't go back to Phoenix. Instead he lives in Columbus, in a comfortable corner of the city that still blames him for a decade he can't change. Cooper takes the garbage out on February mornings in the rain just like the rest of us.

So, I'd like to profile a different Cooper. A Cooper I saw on January, 1st, 1997. I was twelve years old with my dad in Section 14 of the Lower Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Jake "the Snake" Plummer's eleven yard scramble put Arizona State 1 minute and 40 seconds away from the school's first National Championship. Cooper must have felt some admiration in watching the program he carried to a Rose Bowl victory in 1987 on the threshold of immortality. Or perhaps not. Perhaps it was like watching a startup firm you left before the dot-com boom become silicon royalty.

Irregardless, Cooper put down his clipboard, placed his hand on Joe Germaine's shoulder pads, and wafering the bill of his block O cap, put two fingers into the air. He then turned his back and wondered down the sideline. Fifty-nine seconds later Germaine hit David Boston in the north west corner of the end zone from five yards out for the game.

There's no better encouragement than preparing a team to play and stepping aside. Cooper won games on Thursdays, not Saturdays. Maybe that's why he was always No. 2 at the end of the season. Then again, out of 118.

That's not so bad.

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