Friday, December 13, 2002
Cooper is gone
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Losing to the biggest rival and losing in
the biggest games finally caught up with Ohio State football coach
He was fired Tuesday, a day after the Buckeyes were defeated
24-7 to unranked South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, leaving him
3-8 in bowl games.
Though the loss extended the school's poor bowl showing,
athletic director Andy Geiger said Cooper's dismissal "did not
hinge on winning or losing the Outback Bowl."
Cooper's Buckeyes struggled under the spotlight, going just
2-10-1 against archrival Michigan to go with the losing bowl
record. Six times in his 13 years, the Buckeyes closed out their
season with consecutive losses to Michigan and in a bowl game.
"I'm sure that was a big factor, and the reason I won't be
coaching here anymore," said Cooper, who had hoped to coach at
least one more season.
Geiger said the Outback Bowl's outcome was "sort of a capstone
on what we have seen as a deteriorating climate within the football
"Concern about discipline, competitiveness, academic pursuits,
a whole series of things. I thought yesterday, unfortunately, was
an exhibit of all those things rolled into one," he said.
Cooper disputed those concerns and said he couldn't think of an
off-the-field problem this year that affected his team.
Ohio State will pay Cooper $1.8 million to buy out the last
three years of his contract, which paid him more than $1 million
per season. Cooper said he hoped defensive coordinator Fred Pagac
would be his replacement.
Although favored in Monday's game, Ohio State lost to a South
Carolina team that went 0-11 last season and was the only unranked
team in a New Year's Day bowl.
In the weeks before the Outback Bowl, a starting wideout fell
off the team with a 0.00 grade-point average, the team MVP and
leading rusher was held out of the starting lineup for missing the
first practice in Tampa, and one offensive lineman sued another for
$50,000 in the wake of an on-field fight in the spring.
Minnesota, coached by former Ohio State player and Hayes
assistant Glen Mason, upset the Buckeyes 29-17 this season. Mason,
who may be a top candidate to replace Cooper, said he cried on the
way to the game when he thought how much Ohio State had meant to
Mason told WCCO-TV Tuesday night that he had not been contacted
by Ohio State.
The 63-year-old Cooper was 111-43-4 at Ohio State, which
finished second in the final AP poll in the 1996 and 1998 seasons.
But he never lived up to OSU's Woody Hayes' high standards.
Cooper's victory total and tenure at Ohio State were exceeded
only by Hayes, who went 205-61-10 in 28 seasons and led the
Buckeyes to the 1968 national title.
Cooper once said he would always pale in comparison to the
revered Hayes, who died in 1987.
"A lot of people are never going to like me," Cooper said.
Cooper became Ohio State's 21st head coach on Dec. 31, 1987,
succeeding Earle Bruce, who was 81-26-1 in nine seasons.
Cooper had gone 82-40-2 in 11 years as a head coach at Arizona
State and Tulsa, and was an assistant at Iowa State, Oregon State,
UCLA, Kansas and Kentucky.
Ohio State officials said Arizona State's 22-15 victory over
Michigan in the 1986 Rose Bowl was a key factor in their decision
to hire Cooper.
Ohio State was a contender for national titles under Cooper, but
could never follow through.
"His record is good. Beating Notre Dame twice is good," Bruce
said in a telephone call from his home in Florida. "But I guess if
you're talking about being remembered at Ohio State, you've got to
talk about the Michigan games and the bowl games."
In 1995, the Buckeyes won their first 11 games before losing at
Michigan. Five weeks later, Ohio State lost to Tennessee in the
Florida Citrus Bowl.
The 1996 team won its first 10 games and was ranked No. 2 when
it lost to Michigan. That team rebounded to edge Arizona State
20-17 in the Rose Bowl.
Ranked No. 1 in the preseason, the 1998 team stayed atop the
polls until Nov. 7, when it lost to 17-point underdog Michigan
State. The Buckeyes won their last three games, including victories
over Michigan and against Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl, to again
finish No. 2 in the final rankings.
In 1999, though, the Buckeyes went 6-6 after closing with three
consecutive losses. They didn't play in a bowl for the first time
since Cooper's first season.
This year, the Buckeyes won their first five games to climb into
the top 10 but faltered down the stretch and wound up 8-4.
|John Cooper left Ohio State with a 111-43-4 mark in 13 seasons at the Buckeyes' helm, ranking second among the school's all-time winningest coaches.|