Friday, May 2, 2008

Profiles In Plagiar-Agism: John Cooper

Profiles In Plagiar-Agism is an offseason series being run to examine the history of exit plans. We will be analyzing some of the greatest football coaches of all time and determining any parallels between their final days and those that are facing Joe Paterno.

Editor's note: I know, I know...John F-in Cooper? Not really Plagiar-Ageworthy, but in light of his puzzling introduction into the College Football Hall of Fame this week, I thought he might make a decent case study.

(Previous episodes: Paul William "Bear" Bryant, Lou Holtz)

John Cooper

Coaching Years: 1977-1984 Tulsa, 1985-1987 Arizona State, 1988-2000 Ohio State.

Mythical National Championships: None.

Conference Championships: Three, all shared.

Backstory: After growing up in Tennessee, Cooper earned his keep as an assistant at Iowa State, Oregon State, UCLA, Kansas, and Kentucky. He was later handed the keys to the Tulsa program where he managed a 57-31 record.

He was given the job at Arizona State and earned a Rose Bowl bid in just his second year. However, as a sign of things to come, in three seasons he never beat in-state rival Arizona.

Regardless, Ohio State came calling and Cooper took the job in 1988. His progress there was slow but steady, leading to his first (Shared) Big Ten Championship in 1993. As mentioned earlier, he would share a total of three conference championships, and as most of you know, could rarely beat Michigan. He was fired in 2000 almost exclusively because of his 2-10-1 record against the Wolverines. The most painful appears to be the 1996 game, in which an undefeated Ohio State team, ranked #2 and playing at home, took a 9-0 lead into the locker and lost 13-9. Michigan was 8-4 that season and cost Ohio State an MNC.

From there the whispers became rather loud calls for a replacement. While Cooper would recruit with the best of them, some said he either lacked coaching skills that were needed at the top level or maybe just didn't have the confidence to "win the big games". He was fired in 2000 after an 8-4 season, a loss in the Outback Bowl (Cooper was 3-7 8 in bowl games with Ohio State), and yet another defeat at the hands of "that team up north".

Current Legacy: When a fanbase gets sick of the "almost made it" seasons, a dramatic move usually comes back to bite them in the ass. This is where I make a Nebraska joke. At one point Cooper finished in the top two of the Big Ten seven years in a row, no MNCs, but he finished second in the nation twice. There are two roads to take at that point: either try to weather the storm and wait to get over the hump, or hire a guy who has never coached at the D1a level.

They did the latter, and as a result of Jim Tressel's success, Cooper is either the but of a joke or, if your a Michigan fan, the face of better times. I can't remember the last time I heard an Ohio State fan say something good about the guy. But we have to be a little bit fair here: if Ohio State's last 8 years had been more like that of any other Big Ten team, Cooper would likely still be highly respected. He's not, though, mostly because of three MNC Game appearances and several additional BCS bowls.

So What Did We Learn? Cooper coached at Ohio State for 13 years, and thus played his "biggest game of the year" thirteen times. Penn State has no active rival, but it is fair to say Ohio State and Michigan tend to be the bigger games.

Paterno's record against Ohio State the last thirteen years: 5-8. Not 2-10-1, but not great either.

Against Michigan: actually I don't fell like typing it out.

Bowl games: 5-2. Since joining the Big Ten that's 9-2.

So the pictures don't exactly fit right over each other, but there is a trend here. For two years now PSU hasn't had a win to hang their hat on (debatable comment, I'll admit that). A rivalry win gives you something to be proud of when your team ends up being mediocre. Paterno hasn't been able to bring that kind of thing home and it has become one of the biggest problems that his critics will bring up.

So how bad is it? That's really what I'm getting at. At what point would a normal coach be fired? Probably at this point. While 2005 was a great season, all it's really been doing, for me, is reinforcing how athletic and driven Michael Robinson was. The loss at Michigan this year was a direct result of coaching, and while I am of the opinion that Morelli was uncoachable (the way he would get batter and then totally revert is a big factor), a coach can either tailor a gameplan for a crappy qb or start developing one of the two other quarterbacks that are ready to play the position.*

What is interesting is that the lack of a rival is probably helping Paterno right now. Can you imagine if he lost 5 of 13 to Pitt (you have to do two things to imagine this: (1) try to remember what the Pitt game meant when it meant something, and (2) try to forget how bad Pitt has sucked the last decade+)? Even the biggest supporters of Paterno would start to hurt a little bit.

*Once again, this is coming off at Paterno bashing. Paterno get more room than guys like Cooper, and think he should. But I can't let that stop me from telling it like it is.


Nick said...

I would say the Captital One win against Tennessee is a win you could hang your hat on and perhaps last year's victory against Wisconsin.

Nick said...

Oops, not only did I misspell Capital, but I meant the Outback Bowl anyway.

Paterno Lives! said...

haha, i didnt notice.

i agree on the outback, it's just that my hopes were so i after that game i'd rather forget it.

i can't get on board with wiscy this year though, yes they beat michigan but their loss to Tenn, i think, brings them down from a 'very good' to 'solid' team.

i understand that's subjective as hell though...if it even makes sense.

Nick said...

Wisconsin this past year was the potential the team had perfectly encapsulated.

Anonymous said...

Painful full disclosure from a Buckeye alum: Cooper was 3-8 in Bowl games, not 3-7. It sucked.

Paterno Lives! said...

anoy, good catch.

right on nick, i actually made it to that game and it was amazing how well the team played. when the offense was on the field you felt excited rather than scared, which was the general feeling i always had during the morelli years.

plus it was cool to see hahn play.

JP said...

Don't you think Lloyd Carr would have been a better pick here?

-Slightly better record at UM
-More (shared) big ten titles
-Arguably went out the same reasons Cooper did
-Won a (shared) national championship

God I'm glad cooper is gone.

Paterno Lives! said...

The problem with carr is that he just left, i wouldn't have a chance judge how his exit affected his legacy.

It is interesting to compare the two, though. Carr didn't have the sustained success that Cooper had, but he did share an MNC.

No question about the same reason for the turnover, though. Too bad they replaced him with an ass clown.