Accolades are nothing new to John Cooper, but the one he receives this week is something else.
The former Ohio State head football coach has been inducted into several halls of fame, including the College Football Hall of Fame and the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. This weekend, the 76-year-old adds another when he heads a class of 14 entering the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame.
“This is like icing on the cake,” the Knoxville, Tenn., native said Friday evening before a banquet at the Ohio Union honoring the inductees.
Cooper was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2012. Still, he ranked joining OSU’s hall among those national honors.
“You go in with coaches like Paul Brown and Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce and some of the other football coaches that coached here a long time ago. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Cooper said.
Cooper’s resume as a college coach is impressive. He won nine conference championships and amassed a 192-84-6 record at Tulsa, Arizona State and Ohio State. He led the Buckeyes from 1988 until 2000 and in those 13 seasons recorded 111 wins – ranking him second in program history behind only Woody Hayes (205).
Of course, Cooper’s struggles with archrival Michigan were well-documented. His Buckeyes went 2-10-1 against the Wolverines and 3-8 in bowl games. Still, Cooper led OSU to a Rose Bowl victory in 1997, coached a Heisman Trophy winner in Eddie George and twice had teams that finished No. 2 in the polls.
Despite his accomplishments, Cooper attempted to deflect praise.
“Let me say this: You don’t go in the Hall of Fame by yourself,” Cooper said. “You go in the Hall of Fame because you won a lot of games. You don’t win games unless you’ve got good players and good coaches, and I had that. I had great support from Jim Jones, the athletic director who hired me, and Bill Miles, the assistant athletic director. Dr. Gee – you cannot work for a better president if you’re a football coach at Ohio State than Dr. E. Gordon Gee. I’m telling you, the guy is fabulous and I love him.
“But I had great players and great coaches. It’s a great place. If you coach here long enough, you’re going to go in the hall of fame because you’ve got to win to be here long. If you don’t win, you ain’t going to be here.”
Cooper came to Ohio as an outsider but has remained close to the Buckeyes and the Buckeye state since his dismissal as head coach in 2000. Currently employed by the Cincinnati Bengals of the NFL as a scouting consultant, Cooper has an office in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and is still seen around the program.
“You couldn’t be treated better than Urban (Meyer) and Jim Tressel treat Coach Bruce and myself,” Cooper said. “We have an office over there. We’re allowed to go over and sit in meetings, watch practice, talk to him, talk to players.”
Meyer has utilized Cooper’s connections to the NFL in preparing for opponents. Each week, Meyer asks Cooper who the NFL prospects are on the other team. Unsurpsingly, Cooper downplayed his role. But Cooper does remain a football lifer. He votes weekly in the Legends poll and stays as close as he can to the sport to which he’s dedicated much of his life.
“I am and always will be (a football junkie),” Cooper said. “It’s all I’ve done all my life.”
• Coop Says: The College Football Playoff begins in 2014, and that’s not a moment too soon according to Cooper.
“I love it. I love it,” Cooper said. “I’m a playoff man. I always have been. It would not bother me to see them go to eight teams.”
Cooper added that he believes all conference should play the same number of conference games and that playing lower division schools is not a good thing.
When asked if he wasn’t a fan of Ohio State playing Florida A&M, Cooper quick said, “No, no I’m not. Absolutely not. Every game can’t be a showdown, but that other team ought to have a chance to be competitive. … My first year (1988), if you remember, we played Syracuse, Pitt and LSU the first three games. All three of them were nationally ranked.”
• Cooper is in favor of a playoff, but the head coach said that if his teams had been able to play in the current BCS system of a playoff, Ohio State would have more than seven national championships to its credit.
“I think back in the 1990s, if we had the same system then that they have now, I honestly believe we’d have won a couple of national championships. I think we had two or three teams here in the mid-to-late 90s that were as good as anybody.
“Alabama, the defending two-time national champion, they lost a game last year. They lost a game the year before. We lost one game and we’re done. You don’t get a chance to play for it.”
• Cooper expects football coaching company in the OSU Hall of Fame in the future.
“Jim Tressel will be in the Hall of Fame, and hopefully Urban will stay around and win enough games,” he said. “If he stays around, he’ll win enough games to go in.”
Read more about Cooper and the other inductees in the next edition of Buckeye Sports Bulletin