"He just tells you how it is, straight out and honest," says junior quarterback Joe Germaine. "He lets his assistant coaches coach and lets his players play. I think he trusts people to do their job. When he's recruiting, he just lets the university speak for itself. I remember what he said to me. He just said, 'We'd like you to be a Buckeye.' "
Cooper works hard at staying in touch with the younger generation, tolerating earrings and loud music except on the field and in the weight room. Last summer he went so far as to attend a Hootie and the Blowfish concert with Cindy. After the show he went backstage and met lead singer Darius Rucker. Cooper told Rucker how much he had enjoyed the music. Rucker, according to Cindy, had no idea who the lean, gray-haired guy was, but that didn't bother Cooper at all.
"I don't think anybody's ever met coach Cooper and thought, I don't like this guy," says former Buckeyes running back Robert Smith, now with the Minnesota Vikings. "Anybody who talks to him finds him to be entertaining and genuine. That's part of the problem he had at Ohio State when he first got there. They were so into the Woody Hayes mentality—just don't talk to the press, and all that. He didn't fit into that."
In nearly a decade at Ohio State, Cooper has been touched by scandal only once, and it involved Smith. A star running back who had hoped to attend medical school, Smith draped the entire football program in suspicion five years ago when he publicly accused an assistant coach of scolding him for taking his studies too seriously. Smith insisted that the coach, former offensive coordinator Elliott Uzelac (who now holds the same job at Minnesota), wanted him to spend more time at practice and less in the library. Smith wound up leaving Ohio State after two seasons and getting picked by the Vikings in the first round of the '93 draft. Many Ohio State fans are surprised when they see Smith back in Columbus in the off-season, working out with past and present Buckeyes and spending time with Cooper. "My relationship with [Cooper] has always been great." says Smith. "My problem was with Uzelac. It was never with Cooper."
Says Cooper, "All Robert had to do was walk into my office, and that whole thing never would have happened. I want the same thing as Robert. I want kids to go to class, to go to study hall, to graduate. There has never been a problem between Robert and me."
The bitterness and anxiety that are so prevalent in others in his profession apparently haven't infected Cooper. He no longer worries about losing his job. He's got a new five-year contract. He's got a couple of Rose Bowl rings. He's got another Buckeyes squad that, despite heavy losses to the NFL, is loaded and could challenge Penn State for the Big Ten title. The only question now is, Will he get out on his terms? "I hope he doesn't coach much longer, because those people will turn on him in a second in Ohio," says Smith. "If he loses to Michigan again this year, they'll be calling for his job."
So, Coach, are we going to beat Michigan this year?
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