JOHN COOPER, TULSA (1977-84), ARIZONA STATE (1985-87), OHIO STATE (1988-2000)
First and only coach to lead teams from both Pacific-10 and Big Ten to Rose Bowl victories
Led teams to bowl games 14 times in 24 seasons
At the three schools, Cooper’s teams won or shared nine conference championships
By Steve Richardson, NFF Correspondent
John Cooper’s blue print to becoming a coaching legend began as a high school player in Powell, Tenn., a Knoxville suburb. It extended through a stint in the U.S. Army, his college football playing days at Iowa State and assistantships with the Cyclones, Oregon State, UCLA, Kansas and Kentucky. He rubbed coaching elbows with many great head coaches, including Tommy Prothro at UCLA, Pepper Rodgers at Kansas and Fran Curci at Kentucky.
In 1977, Tulsa gave him a head coaching break, and he suffered just one losing season before turning the program around. He had just one other losing mark – his first season at Ohio State – in nearly a quarter-century of head coaching.
“My high school football coach told me once, ‘John I think you will be a great football coach some day.’ Cooper said. “He planted the seed in my head. Until that time, I didn’t have a goal. When I got out of high school, I would get a job and get whatever job I could get. I found the prettiest girl in high school (his wife, Helen) the prettiest cheerleader, and found I could do a pretty good job recruiting her. And she told me if we got married, I had to go to college. My dad was a carpenter and I was one of six kids. And the only way I could go to college was get a football scholarship.”
Cooper formulated his coaching philosophy at Tulsa, dominating the Missouri Valley Conference with the splitback veer and posting a 56-32 record. Tulsa would play bigger-named teams on the road for large pay-days, posting wins against Florida, Texas Tech, Air Force, Kansas State and Virginia Tech, and he won or shared five straight MVC titles from 1980-84. Following time in Tulsa, his three-year stint at Arizona State produced a 25-9-2 record where he won a Pac-10 title and captured a Rose Bowl victory over Michigan, 22-15, after the 1986 season. Starting in 1988, over 13 seasons, Cooper compiled a 111-43-4 record as his Buckeye teams tied for three Big Ten titles and posted five 10-win seasons.
“In the mid-1990s, we were pretty good (at Ohio State),” Cooper said. “The best feeling you can have is when you are on the field before the game and you are watching the other team warm up, and you are out there visiting with the other head coach, and you look at their players and you know, ‘We are going to kick your butt today’…..You win with people.”
He wound up eight victories shy of 200 (the NCAA excludes a forfeit Cooper includes in his record) during his tenure at the three schools. He considered another head coaching job to get to 200 wins, but his younger brother dissuaded him. The former AFCA President settled in Columbus near his children and grandchildren. He keeps close tabs on the Buckeyes from an office provided by Ohio State and works as an ESPN football analyst.
The 2008 Hall of Fame Class will be officially inducted at the NFF’s Annual Awards Dinner, held at New York City’s historic Waldorf=Astoria Hotel on Tuesday, December 9. The National Hall of Fame Salute at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl follows on January 5, giving the class recognition on a national stage, and events culminate with the College Football Hall of Fame’s Enshrinement Festival in South Bend, Ind., July 17-18.
The 2008 class includes Troy Aikman (UCLA), Billy Cannon (LSU), Jim Dombrowski (UVA), Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern), Wilber Marshall (Florida), Rueben Mayes (Washington State), Randall McDaniel (ASU), Don McPherson (Syracuse), Jay Novacek (Wyoming), Dave Parks (Texas Tech), Ron Simmons (Florida State), Thurman Thomas (Oklahoma State), Arnold Tucker (Army), Coach John Cooper (Tulsa, ASU, Ohio State) and Coach Lou Holtz (William & Mary, NC State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame, South Carolina). To attend the 2008 Hall of Fame Press Conference prior to the Annual Awards Dinner, please contact NFF Director of Communications Phil Marwill at firstname.lastname@example.org or via telephone at 917.579.4256.