The Complicated Legacy of John Cooper

By Chris Lauderback on June 18, 2013 at 11:30a
"If a dog's gonna bite, he's gonna bite as a pup"

I turn 40 years young later this year which puts my sports-formative years squarely in the crosshairs of the John Harold Cooper era at Ohio State. 

Sure, properly raised, I was a already a Buckeye diehard, having cut my teeth on the Earle Bruce era but it's those mid-teens to mid-20's that truly first bring out all the emotions and experiences come with being an "all-in" fan of any team. 

To have those said sports-formative years bump against JHC's tenure in Columbus can only be summarized as both a gift and a curse. 

The southern gentleman, already enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame, will now also be inducted into Ohio State's Athletics Hall of Fame, and rightfully so. That said, is anyone surprised it took longer to make into the Ohio State version?

Probably not. And you know why. 

There's simply no denying the unmet expectations born out of tremendously talented teams that, almost robotically, saw their national championship aspirations go up in smoke, most often at the hands of the Dream Killers Up North. 

At the same time, in between those painful defeats, hot tub commercials, and wonderfully simple sayings about football, Cooper took the Buckeyes from what had become a just-good-enough-to-not-be-great program since Bruce's second year in Columbus and brought them back to national prominence. 

Coop will never shake what is simply known as 2-10-1, it just doesn't work that way. And it shouldn't. 

But amidst those 11 times he came up short in The Game, he did push Ohio State's recruiting boundaries and on-field expectations to heights not seen since Woody roamed the sidelines. 

The boys carry Coop to his awaiting hot tubCoop won 43 of 50 games from 1995-98

I'd argue, quite frankly, that it is Bruce who should be recognized as the weakest link since Woody set a standard that will likely never be equaled. Not Cooper. 

Cooper's regime reeled in talent like Eddie George, Antoine Winfield, Orlando Pace, Dan Wilkinson, Mike Doss, and David Boston.

I could've turned that sentence into a comma-fest adding guys like Joey Galloway, Korey Stringer, Shawn Springs, Andy Katzenmoyer and Joe Germaine.

Nevertheless, having inherited what he infamously called a bunch of "slow white guys" from Bruce's roster, it took awhile for Cooper to first gain footing then begin hauling in blue chip replacements. 

To be fair, the lack of existing talent wasn't the only reason Cooper dug himself an early hole. He was an outsider. He looked scared to death late in games, biting his nails to the quick. He seemingly did virtually everything you sat on your couch or stood in the stadium and screamed for him not to do. 

The results weren't pretty as Ohio State went a rancid 35-21-3 over the first five seasons of Cooper's tenure (59%), including a staggering 0-8-1 mark against Michigan and and in bowl games. It's okay. I just dry-heaved, too. 

Things started to turn beginning in 1993 as the Buckeyes started the season on a 9-0-1 start including Top 25 wins over Washington, Michigan State, Indiana and Penn State. Like clockwork, Cooper would lose 28-0 at Michigan but did lead OSU to a 28-21 win over BYU in the Holiday Bowl to finish 10-1-1. 

After a 9-4 campaign in '94, Cooper's Buckeyes went on a four year run in which they won 43 of 50 games. Ohio State finished in the top-12 of the AP Poll each of those seasons including a 6th place finish in 1995 to go along with 2nd place finishes in '96 and '98. 

So, while he was rightfully panned for a dismal first five seasons and his striking inability to win the big one, Cooper still racked up five 10+ win seasons over a six year span. His predecessor, by comparison, experienced exactly two 10+ win seasons in nine seasons at the helm and one of those came in 1979 with a roster full of Woody's boys. 

Sombody's trophy-hoistin' game needs workCoop '96 squad won Ohio State's 1st Rose Bowl in 23 years

Speaking of '79, that was the only season in Bruce's tenure that the Buckeyes carried an unblemished record as late in the season as the third week of October. Conversely, Cooper's squads took an undefeated record into November four times in a span of six years. Yes, the championship-derailing losses to Michigan stung like the fury of a 1,000 Biakabatuka's but that's because there was so much on the line. Again. Finally. 

Bruce rarely set us up for such heartbreak as his Buckeyes entered The Game with an undefeated or 1-loss record just twice in nine years and as you'd probably guess, those occurred in his first two years in Columbus. 

To be clear, defining Cooper's legacy is not about comparing him to Bruce but it shouldn't be lost in history that despite Cooper's shortcomings, the man did pull Ohio State's offense and recruiting out the proverbial dark ages, essentially modernizing how the Buckeyes went about the business of winning football games. 

Cooper's shortcomings in big games along with slipping discipline within the program proved his undoing and he was canned after 6-6 and 8-4 seasons in '99 and 2000. 

Though the 2000 season marked the end of the Cooper era on paper, his impact on the program wasn't quite yet finished as just two years later, Jim Tressel would lead Ohio State to the national championship with a stacked roster built largely of Cooper's recruits. 

It's beyond fair to assume Cooper might've squandered elite talent once more but there's no denying the impact guys like Mike Doss, Michael Jenkins, Craig Krenzel, Will Smith, Darrion Scott, Matt Wilhelm, Tim Anderson, Will Allen, Cie Grant and Alex Stepanovich had on the championship season. In all, no less than 17 starters were lured to Columbus by Cooper and his staff.

Of course, that national championship season – the one and only of my lifetime thus far – brightens the lens with which Cooper's OSU coaching career can be viewed. For me, Cooper's tenure is the conduit that took Ohio State from Bruce's "good" to Tressel's "champions" while reestablishing Ohio State as a national powerhouse and creating the near-annual championship expectations that we as fans are so privileged to enjoy.

That may not be all Cooper had hoped to achieve but a man could certainly do worse with his legacy. 



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WC Buckeye's picture

This is all true, and overall I believe that (TTUN record aside), Coop was really good for the program. I remember thinking at the time, though, that he wasn't a very good CEO - he had lots of good middle managers, but couldn't seem to manage them well enough to take the whole thing over the top. The run of talent that he put into the pros during his tenure was extraordinary, and his ability to recruit alone will always make him noteworthy at tOSU.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

osubuck57's picture

I'll always view his tenure as half full,half empty unfortunately. Yes he could recruit and had some very good records as far as seasons went.But the flip side to it, he could never win the "BIG ONE". With some of the teams we had back then, we should have had at least 1, maybe 2 national titles. And of course the absolutely unforgiveable record against that team up north.For one resaon or another he never made "THE GAME", a priority or as big as it should be.Thats just my view or opinion.


niblick's picture

I've had this same conversation with friends of mine for many, many years and many, many times.  I also just turned 40 so I'm right there with ya on age and the time period aspect.  I sum it up like this.
If I give you a ferrari to drive in a race against a bunch of accords, camrys and mustangs, and you win 80% of them, and never win the big race even with that HUGE advantage, what does that say about you as a driver?
I give Cooper all the credit in the world for being a GREAT recruiter.  And i've personally met him on more than one occasion and he absolutely couldn't be a nicer guy.  But he has got to be the worst big game coach of all time.

Doc's picture

Great analogy.  Coop could recruit, that is for sure.  And he could coach up till the end of November, just ask Mark May.  His record against ttun was the worst.  I've heard more than one of his former players say that he would get so tense during The Game week it trickled down to the staff and the players.  As the losses mounted the worse it would get.  We could of had a platoon at HC with Coop coaching until November and Tress coaching until after the new year.  The ass whoopins in the early part of the season would be sweeter with victories over the skunkbears.  I think we have that now with Urbz.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

CC's picture

A better version of Zook.

Buckeye Chuck's picture

I think you're on to something. The charge is usually made that Cooper didn't care enough about Michigan, but I think the opposite is more likely the case, because the team always looked and played tight in The Game. Every loss in the clutch compounded the pressure the following year. It looked like they were going to turn it around after they won in '94, but the next two years the Buckeyes were absolutely massive favorites and completely choked. 
Cooper had a little bad luck in that the Buckeyes really weren't set up to compete against Michigan his first two seasons--and both the '88 and '89 losses were surprisingly competitive, especially that first game. But two losses to the bad guys didn't really give him any margin for error when they lost again at home in '90, especially when you consider that the people who never liked Cooper because he wasn't a Woody protege were out for blood by that time. 

The most "loud mouth, disrespect" poster on 11W.

RunEddieRun1983's picture

As angry as I would get, and as much as I would curse the man, you have to respect what Cooper did for tOSU. 

I don't always downvote, but I do always downvote a Michigan fan trolling the Buckeye boards.

Baroclinicity's picture

I'd argue, quite frankly, that it is Bruce who should be recognized as the weakest link since Woody set a standard that will likely never be equaled. Not Cooper. 

Yeah.  That thought has gone around in my head since '03 when it was known that Tressel had already surpassed Coop's tenure due to the National Championship.  You can make a compelling case both for and against that statement, and I'm not sure what is right.
To me, Coop was a 1st half of the season guy.  We won a lot of huge games against teams like Penn State (that beatdown in the 'Shoe when PSU had Ki-Jana Carter), the non conference foes etc.  He bobbled at the end of the season, whether it was UM or the bowl game.  The Rose Bowl was great, so was the victory over A&M (can't remember the bowl).  But the losses to 'Bama, huge-cleat-Tennessee and Florida State with loaded teams really sucked.  Too many years we cruised through the season only to get beat by UM and then in the bowl game. 
I'm 38, so I don't have a full handle on the Bruce years, but the way I see it, while Coop was probably more successful, he was probably a lot more frustrating from a fan's perspective.

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Normal Buck's picture

That game against A&M was the Sugar Bowl following the '98 season - when they should have been beating Tennessee/Florida State in the first ever BCS championship.  That team was stacked. 

osubuck57's picture

I'm also in my 40's,but I can't say worst big coach of all time.Just don't believe he got "THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY" and THE RIVALRY like some of our other coaches ,Woody,Tres,Earl, and Urban. but comparing him to those guys, not many coaches would stack up.


gwalther's picture

Great piece. Learned some things about the Cooper Era I didn't know.

Class of 2008


I remember early on in his career at OSU Coop was criticized for having the coaching staff wear shirts that weren't scarlet and gray during the games. They were magenta and black. When I saw that I knew he was going to have issues because those weren't traditions. The OSU head coach HAS to respect tradition. It should be in his DNA.
Those losses to TTUN stung but what made them worse was we knew we were more talented yet we did not come out ready to play. That is coaching. When we did beat them when we had superior talent we go and lose to Sparty. That summed up everything right there.
I do agree, his recruiting was excellent. Imagine what Meyer would do with a defense filled with Winfields, Katzenmoyers, Springs' and Wilkinsons? Hope we get to find out.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

buckeyepastor's picture

I agree that Coop should be acknowledged and thanked for recruiting the guys that won it all in 2002.   But it makes it all the more stupefying, knowing the great talent that he had, that 1999 and 2000 were as disappointing as they were.  

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

Gobucks2204's picture

I remember being in my college dorm for the 1994 win which was his first win over Michigan. I cried tears of joy when they hoisted him up on their shoulders. 

"Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends"

buckeyepastor's picture

22-6 !  

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

45buckshot's picture

That's funny; I remember being pissed--because I knew what he had done: saved his job. 
I was a junior (for the record, I'm 41 ; ) and I was with the majority--I think--that wanted him fired. The scuttlebutt was if he lost that game he was going to be. So of course he won it...
Looking back now, it's hard to say. If he had lost and been fired, we never would have had those 95-98 seasons. Good or bad? Probably I would take them--Eddie's game against Illinois, Terry Glenn running free against ND, the win over ASU in the Rose bowl--some of our best moments ever as Buckeyes.
But biakabuttuka, the slip, the 98 Spartied game... I crashed my car into a tree going home after the slip. I couldn't talk about the 98 game for weeks afterwards. He was embarrassing us when he left (the late hits against SC). Was it worth it? 
He basically promised us a MNC, got so close, but never delivered. So I think ultimately you have to say his reign was a failure. That said, it was a hell of a ride. And I have to admit I feel the same as what I think we're saying here--I might not be the fan I am if I had grown up at the tail end of the Bruce years vs. the middle is the Cooper years. To be honest, I think that win over ND in 95 is what started everything for me.
And that was Coop'

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
—G.K. Chesterton

jmoore3309's picture

Was a student during the transition period so I got to experience a down period in OSU history first hand.  Bruce was old school and didn't have the same focus on recruiting as Coop certainly did.  To Earle, Ohio kids should be beating down his door to become Buckeyes which could be why we lost so many to TTUN during his tenure.  If memory serves, he only had one truly memorable class during his tenure (the Speilman class in 83).  Earle would also struggle against teams he had no business losing to which is why he so often entered November already out of the NC race.  I think he beat Michigan 5 times because he got the rivalry and also had players that wanted to beat them as well (not that Cooper's didn't).  That being said, I certainly have some good memories of his years.  Beating Texas A & M in the Cotton Bowl was fun as well as the 87 game at Michigan,  But, the losses often left you scrathing your head. Still not sure how we lost the 85 Rose Bowl or the 86 Michigan Game. 
Coops early years were a roller coaster, one week we were beating LSU, and the next we were getting embarrassed by Pitt.   I went to every game his first year (no, I am not a masochist)  and the memory that is seared in my brain is going to Indiana to play Anthony Thompson (the best running back in the Big Ten that year).  I remember Indiana was at the 9 yard line and ran a very simple off tackle play.  Not one Buckeye got a hand on Thompson as he scored standing up.  Unfortunately for Indiana, they got called for holding on the play.  Unfortunately for us, they ran the same play from 19 and once again, not one Buckeye touched Thompson. 
If football was your main reason for being at school during those years, it was certainly a tough time.  We still had a pretty good time and the basketball back then was a lot of fun with Gary Willliams as the coach.  I do thank Coop for getting us back on the map, and the ND games were great as well as beating the Aggies again in Nawlins. 

Go Bucks!

+1 HS
45has2's picture

And just think, if Coach Spielman hadn't commanded his son attend TOSU Earle would have missed out on 36 as well.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

sathey's picture

I believed in Coop until we lost to Mich St in '98! I'm still a firm believer that only he could lose a game with a team as talented as that '98 team!

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I fall into that category as well!  I suffered mightily through the 2-10-1 games because I attended each one of them in person.  I STILL get pissed off remembering how many times I sat in that shithole stadium in AA watching the Buckeyes lose another game to those ugly helmet bastards!!!
I have the fondest thanks for John Cooper and he absolutely turned the Buckeyes around talent wise but after all those years, it still makes me shiver when I think of his W/L record against scUM and in bowl games.

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

+1 HS
Kalamazoo Steve's picture

This sums it up the best for me.  In Tressel's first year he took Coops players into A2 (with a new starting QB) and won that game (God bless you, J. Wells).
Coop used to say THE GAME was just another game.  Tressel knew better.
It's all attitude.

canukeye's picture

What a bat-turd crazy mixed-up world we live in where Cooper is the hall of fame coach who brought Ohio State back to national prominence, and Jim Tressel was the boring old-fashioned coach who couldn't win big games.

It's not the band that I hate.  It's the fans.

buckeyepastor's picture

One other thing I'd say of Coop was he had a really good staff while here.   Some pretty good assistant coaches were a part of Cooper's years, including Pagac. Bill Conley, Larry Coker, Walt Harris, Lovie Smith, Jon Tenuta, Tim Spencer, and Jim Heacock.  

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

OSUs12-OH's picture

Coop was a great recruiter but not the best tactician X's and O's coach (meaning how Urban and Herman call the offense compared to Coop and his assistants).  Perfect example is Herbie running the ball when we had a stable of RBs that could have got one yard to beat TSUN.  Just run Hyde and win the game...that would be the BIG difference;-)  

"Coop won 43 of 50 games from 1995-98"

Despite this huge little fact being the caption under his picture, it was inevitably what saved his job.  I kept praying for him to be fired while attending college outside of Columbus but it obviously never happened and 2-10-1 did:-(

"I want a hungry team. I want a team that can't wait to get out there. I want an angry team! You're the Ohio State Buckeyes. You're an angry football team. You're a hungry football team and I'm proud to be your coach." UFM

nickma71's picture

Coop is undefeated in the Rose Bowl, and the BCS.

OSUNeedles's picture

OSU was 1-0-1 in Michigan games that I personally attended during the Cooper era... I think they should have given me free tickets.

Hovenaut's picture

I had moved away from Ohio as a kid in '78, disconnecting me from the Buckeyes outside of reunions, letters and long distance phone calls for some time.

My father's youngest brother passed away much too young seven years ago. My favorite uncle, he filled me in on Buckeye details whenever we went home during the eighties.

As I reached adulthood, and benefited from advances in technology and communication in the nineties to present, I'm sad to say I didn't keep up with my uncle as often.

Our last conversation was at a family reunion two summers before he passed, lauding Tressel and how great the Buckeyes looked for the next few years - Troy, Ginn, Gonzo, Laurinaitis et al. The conversation steered into the history of the program since the Snow Bowl, and further into whether or not Bruce or Cooper had a better tenure.

To my uncle it was this simple.....Bruce had one team in a national championship game. Cooper had teams that were counted along the nation's best. All respect to Earle, but he thought Cooper rebuilt the machine whereas Bruce was handed the reins.

And that's how I see it. As tortuous as some of the lower moments of Coop's tenure were, the higher moments were ones the program had not seen in years. For that, John Cooper deserves the honor of being inducted into Ohio State's Hall of Fame.

RIP, Uncle Pete....thanks for helping me understand what it means to be a Buckeye.

TMac's picture

I started at tOSU in '78, Woody's last year. Earle took the '79 team to within a one point Rose Bowl loss of the National Championship, but from then on he coasted to a routine 3 losses annually for the next 7 seasons. Somewhat frustrating but there wasn't the expectation that lead to the excruciating frustration that would be Coach Coop!
After beating tSUN in the Rose Bowl we hired the outsider in John Cooper and it took him a few years to change the team through recruiting, (recruiting in an unfamiliar region) but by '93 he had the players, and the expectations. He couldn't beat tSUN and the '98 loss to Sparty still  smolders - you just can't lose that game. I can't imagine Urban losing that game.  That is why Coop may not have been the weak link between Woody and Urban, but was the most frustrating - - - - -  He did the least with the most. 

ONE Not Done!

cminnich's picture

"I'd argue, quite frankly, that it is Bruce who should be recognized as the weakest link since Woody set a standard that will likely never be equaled. Not Cooper."
I respectfully disagree.  I would argue that Earle Bruce, while not nearly the recruiter John Cooper was as Ohio State's head coach, was the superior coach, able to get the most out of the talent he had.  Coach Cooper was able to stockpile talent, but unable to get the most out of it.
When you look back and remember the talent on the Ohio State teams in the mid to late 1990s, and how those teams would blow games to less-talented teams from TTUN, I am reminded of the phrase that a team takes on the personality of its coach.  Coach Cooper is a great person, worthy of Ohio State Hall Of Fame induction, but 2-10-1 is still, and probably always will be, a painful reminder of Coach Cooper's Ohio State tenure.
And as far as Coach Bruce being the weakest link, I would also argue that two of Coach Bruce's proteges have been named Ohio State's head coach.  Coach Tressel and Coach Meyer are devout Coach Bruce disciples.  Both men have good relationships with Coach Cooper, but both men look (in Coach Tressel's case, "looked") first to Coach Bruce for advice coaching-wise.


One thing that was also stupefying about him. He beat LSU at the Shoe (edit: Bruce tied them at Death Valley the year before which was even more strange). Then loses to TTUN as many times as he did. I know LSU back then wasn't the program they are now, but that's still nothing to sneeze at.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Tanner's picture

He's lucky he got to see year 4 after going 19-14-2 in his first 3 seasons with an 0-2 record in bowls and an 0-3 record against tsun. There's 0% chance a head coach today would get to see year 4 after 3 seasons like that.
To his credit he did turn it around.
I can't grade his tenure any higher than a B and I'd probably give it a B-

Poison nuts's picture

Like many have stated & like the story states, I have so many mixed feelings on Cooper. I dreaded the Tsun game every year...95, 96, & 97 were pure hell for me. Many of those years, I had to sit & watch The Game with many of my wife's relatives, most of whom were fans or Alums of that school. It. Was. Awful. If he was just able to beat them a few more times & won the NC in 98, I would have viewed him so very differently. As would we all.
On the other hand, he still hangs around the program & helps to this day & did plenty to put OSU back in the national spotlight as a perennial powerhouse, so I do have a lot of respect for him. He's a Buckeye & certainly deserves plenty of credit for all the good he did.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

PG_BUCK's picture

I will never forget the day that I met Coach Cooper, that may be easy for many to say when thinking about meeting a Legendary College Football Coach let alone a Coach of The Ohio State University. However the day that I met Coach Cooper was one of the most painful of my life, it was the day that I learned of the death of my Fraternity's advisor whom I had just seen the night before. As a 19 year old student I was pretty shocked by his sudden passing. I did not know it but Sully as we called our advisor had been a tutor for Coach Cooper's teams. So to my surprise, as well as most of the Fraternity, when I walked through the door of Sully's families house where we all we gathering to begin to grieve... their was Coach Cooper and his wife. They stayed with us that evening and reminisced on the passing of our mutual friend, and helped the lot of us college kids come to terms with the passing of our friend and advisor. Later at the funeral Coach Cooper took the pulpit and spoke at length about Sully and what he meant to him. This experience made a truly lasting impression on me and serves in mind to show that regardless of record Coach Cooper is one of the coaching greats and makes me proud to be a Buckeye.


causeicouldntgo43's picture

Other than the Rose bowl win and the efforts of some great players, I'd just as soon forget those years - they were damn painful.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Coach Cooper was a good coach and very good recruiter.  He helped to bring the program back in an upward direction.  I went to OSU in the 90s and suffered through the losses to the State up North.  Cooper didn't take the program to a level of greatness, but he did start us back towards that path.  It just stung each time we would get into a huge game and come up with a loss so many times.  The Rose Bowl stands out as the highest point in Coops tenure and that year we could have won it all with that team!  Sure makes you appreciate the next decade of the 2000s with all of the wins over TSUN!! 
Go Bucks!

BuckeyeSaab's picture

At 42 Coop was also my coming of age coach and nostalgia has yet to give the darkness of his years in Cbus one ounce of rosy tint.
With the exception of '82 he averaged 6.5 wins a season at Tulsa, in an age when that wasn't enough to get a bowl game.  At ASU he achieved a mark of 0-2-1 against arch rival Arizona.  He was hired because of the '86 season in which he defeated Mich in the Rose Bowl.  The OSU brain trust thought they were getting a wolverine killer.  Fools.
He was a pretty good recruiter, but all that does is put on full display how awful of an actual coach he was.  The only Hall of Fame he should be in is the one for choke artists.

I'm sorry for not being sorry.

unholy bucknut's picture

Coop was a great recruiter no doubt about it ultimately though he never won a championship with the championship caliber kids he brought in. We are Ohio State and celebrating mediocrity is just not engrained in my DNA. 2-10-1 is just too big of a hurdle for me to see the silver lining in coops career. Sorry to be a rain cloud but the prime of my life is littered with coop losing the most important game of the year to ttun. I still wake up from a dead sleep with night sweats and curse coops name from time to time.

AndyVance's picture

Chris, this is a great piece, and it does one thing extremely well: it reminds those of us who were students and young alumni during the Tressel era (I was born in 1981 and enrolled in 2000) just how good we've had it. Compared with the stretch of misery that was those early Cooper years, and the unmitigated disaster that was the M*ch*g*n series, the years since Cooper's departure as head coach have been nothing short of amazing.
And I would agree with your assessment, that Coach Cooper deserves more than minor accolades for reaffirming the greatness of Ohio State, and setting the stage for even greater things over the past 13 years, and for many years yet to come.

Knarcisi's picture

I've said this on here before.  Coop took the program up a level from Earle.  Tress took it up from Coop.  UFM I believe will have us at an all-time high.  I don't forgive you for all those losses to Michigan, Coop, but thank you for what you did for the program.

05Buckeye's picture

When people mention they are glad that the school up north is back and it is good for the rivalry, I always say that the folks saying that did not live in Columbus during the 1990's. I do think highly of John Cooper, but man there were games that are tough to look back at.
I do think it is amazing that Cooper survived as long as he did. When you look back after "the greatest win ever," and look at John Cooper's results as coach at that time, it is amazing that he survived. Makes you wonder how he did survive.
As Cooper's legacy has been talked about more over the past few years, more folks have brought up the comparison to Earle Bruce. Cooper brought things to the program that were needed. He had an outsiders perspective not being from Ohio. Sometimes that can be beneficial. I think you saw that with the assistant coaches, the new schemes (especially on offense), the improvement in the strength and conditioning, and recruiting new areas of the country. You can debate who had better results, but there is no doubt that John Cooper left the program in a better place than when he started.