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Cooper is gone
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Losing to the biggest rival and losing in the biggest games finally caught up with Ohio State football coach John Cooper.

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.

John Cooper
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.
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 program."

"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 his career.

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.

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AUDIO/VIDEO
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 John Cooper disagrees with the dismissal, but will respect Andy Geiger's decision. (Courtesy: WSYX)
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 Ohio State AD Andy Geiger says John Cooper's departure is a culmination of many things. (Courtesy: WSYX)
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 Bobby Bowden is discouraged by the dismissal of John Cooper.
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