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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 Cooper? Not really Plagiar-Ageworthy, but seeing as he is now a card holding member of the College Football Hall of Fame, I thought he might make a decent case study.

(Previous episodes: Paul William "Bear" BryantLou Holtz)

Programming Note: This is the last re-run of the series; a real-live-actual "great" football coach will be part of the soon to be released new episode.

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- 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. Nebraska and that whole story. At one point Cooper finished in the top two of the Big Ten seven years in a row, no MNCs, but 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 (or any other team, period), Cooper would likely still be highly respected. He's not, though, mostly because of three MNC Game appearances and several additional BCS bowls under the first installment of the Tressel era.

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.  

So how bad is it? That's really what I'm getting at. At what point would a normal coach be fired? 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 better 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.  That was not done even in the slightest for two years.

What is interesting is that the lack of a rival is probably helping Paterno right now. Can you imagine the reaction if these big game records were against 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 that Pitt has been garbage for the last decade+)? Even the biggest supporters of Paterno would start to hurt a little bit. 

But let's be clear: we need to be totally sure we understand what is being given up before we say with confidence that it is time to move on.  Sure, things could turn out like they did in Columbus, but they could also turn out like they did in Lincoln or South Bend.  Risks, rewards, ect.