100 Teams in 100 Days: The John Cooper Era at Ohio State Ends After the 2000 Season

By Matt Gutridge on August 18, 2016 at 11:40 am
The 2000 Ohio State University football team.

Ohio State University Archives

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At the start of the 111th season of Ohio State football, John Cooper stood second on the school's all-time wins list.

16 days and counting.

The coach entered his 13th year at the helm in Columbus feeling heat following a disappointing 6–6 campaign in 1999. His poor record against Michigan and in bowl games continued to work against him much to the chagrin of fans. Ohio State's administration started to listen. The eight victories he guided his 2000 team to would be the last in his tenure.  

The 2000 Buckeyes
Record 8–4
B1G Record 5–3, 4th
Coach John Cooper (13th year, 111–43–4)
CaptainS Rodney Bailey, Steve Bellisari,
Joe Cooper, Ken-Yon Rambo

Games of Note

August 29th • Arizona • Arizona Stadium
No. 16 Ohio State traveled to Tuscon for the first time ever to take on the Wildcats. The Buckeyes' defense held Dick Tomey's Wildcats to 194 yards and recorded 16 tackles for loss.

Although the defense dominated, Arizona led 17-10 at halftime. Midway through the third quarter, Chad Cacchio sparked the offense with a 60-yard touchdown catch. Late in the third, Jonathon Wells capped a 12-play, 72-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Dan Stultz's 20-yard field goal finished the scoring and Ohio State won 27-17.

Steve Bellisari threw for 240 yards and two touchdowns, and Joe Cooper had a team-high seven tackles. 

Ohio State has not played Arizona since and the Buckeyes lead the all-time series 3–1. 

2000 Schedule
DATE OPPONENT LOCATION RESULT
SEP. 2 FRESNO STATE OHIO STADIUM W, 43–10
SEP. 9 ARIZONA ARIZONA STADIUM W, 27–17
SEP. 16 MIAMI (OH) OHIO STADIUM W, 27–16
SEP. 23 PENN STATE OHIO STADIUM W, 45–6
OCT. 7 NO. 22 WISCONSIN CAMP RANDALL W, 23–7
OCT. 14 MINNESOTA OHIO STADIUM L, 17–29
OCT. 21 IOWA KINNICK STADIUM W, 38–10
OCT. 28 NO. 16 PURDUE ROSS-ADE L, 27–31
NOV. 4 MICHIGAN STATE OHIO STADIUM W, 27–13
NOV. 11 ILLINOIS MEMORIAL W, 24–21
NOV. 18 MICHIGAN OHIO STADIUM L, 26-38
JAN. 1 SOUTH CAROLINA OUTBACK BOWL L, 7–24
      8–4, 331–222

September 23rd • Penn State • Ohio Stadium
After a 30-minute weather delay, No. 12 Ohio State (3–0) put a beating on Penn State (1–3). The 45-6 victory represented the most points and largest margin of victory the Buckeyes put on the Nittany Lions up to that point.

Five different Ohio State players rushed for a touchdown in the rout. Derek Combs led all players with 86 rushing yards and a touchdown, and defensive end Mike Collins scored an 11-yard fumble return. Mike Doss tallied eight tackles and forced a fumble as John Cooper improved to 5–3 against Penn State.

At halftime Vic Janowicz had his No. 31 retired. The 1950 Heisman Trophy winner joined Archie Griffin as the only other player to receive the honor. 

October 28th • #16 Purdue • Ross-Ade Stadium 
With Rose Bowl implications on the line, No. 12 Ohio State faced off against No. 16 Purdue. Two weeks earlier, the Buckeyes lost to Minnesota, but a victory over the Boilermakers would keep Rose Bowl ambitions alive.

Nate Clements returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown to give Ohio State a 20-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter. However, Drew Brees had other plans. The All-American threw two touchdown passes to John Standeford and Vinny Sutherland to regain the lead with 5:59 left on the clock. 

Ohio State went three-and-out on its next drive and punted at the 4:37 mark. Joe Tiller elected to run the ball on first and second down to run the clock down. On 3rd-and-12 he turned to Brees, but Mike Doss picked off the talented quarterback at the 35. Doss ran out of bounds at the Boilermaker 2-yard line.

Jerry Westbrooks ran over left end to give the Buckeyes a 27-24 lead with 2:16 left.

It only took Brees two plays and 21 seconds to break the Scarlet and Gray's heart. On 2nd-and-10 from his own 36, Brees found Seth Morales wide open behind the Buckeyes' secondary. The receiver caught the ball and breezed in for the 64-yard touchdown.

Ohio State had 1:55 to answer, but comeback hopes were dashed when Purdue's Landon Johnson recovered a fumble to end the drive and clinch the victory. This was the Boilermakers' first win over the Buckeyes in 12 years.

"It was a great play on Drew Brees' part," Cooper said when asked about the game-winning pass. "We were playing a zone and they broke the coverage. I'm disappointed we allowed him to come back and win the ballgame. We can't let them get the big plays."

November 18th • #19 Michigan • Ohio Stadium 
Ohio State trailed Michigan 14-12 at halftime but had momentum when Stultz made a field goal as time expired in the second quarter. The momentum shift didn't last long as the wheels fell off in the third quarter. 

David Terrell caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from Drew Henson, Julius Curry scored on a 50-yard interception return and Hayden Epstein made a 25-yard field goal to extend the Wolverines' lead to 31-12.

The Buckeyes did fight back in the fourth, as Wells scored from two yards out with 10:20 remaining. The defense held the Wolverines to a three-and-out and five plays later, Bellisari threw a strike to Ken-Yon Rambo on a post for an 18-yard touchdown. 

Drew Henson secured a first down on the ensuing drive, but his team had to punt from the 50. With 4:14 left, Ohio State had the ball and a chance to pull off an improbable win. 

On first down Bellisari missed a wide open Rambo at midfield. After his second incomplete pass, Bellisari hit Wells over the middle for nine yards to the Buckeyes' 18. Cooper had a decision to make on 4th-and-1 from his own 18.

Ten years earlier, the head coach chose to go for it on 4th-and-1 from his own 29 but it did not work. The failed attempt led to Michigan's game-winning field goal. In 2000, Cooper showed he did not learn from that decision and again elected to go for it. Wells ran to the right but was met by a wall of Wolverines for no gain. Shortly after the stop, Henson scored on a quarterback keeper on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

"If we (punt) the football there, we're probably not going to get it back," Cooper said. "My feeling was, Let's make the first down. I thought we'd knock them off the ball and at least make a half-yard. If you can't make a half-yard, you're probably not going to win the game."

This was the last time Cooper coached the Buckeyes against Michigan. He finished his career with a 2–10–1 record in The Game. 

"My record against Michigan speaks for itself," Cooper said. "Obviously, it's awful."

Wells spoke for many when he professed: "We come out every year and we think we're the better team than them on film and they come out there and find some kind of way to get it done," he said. "I don't know what it is. I can't even put it into words. It's that frustrating."

CUMULATIVE RECORD VS. OPPONENTS
OPPONENT STREAK RECORD
FRESNO STATE W2 2–0
ARIZONA W3 3–1
MIAMI, (OH) W3 3–0
PENN STATE W1 7–9
WISCONSIN W1 49–14–5
MINNESOTA L1 35–6
IOWA W7 41–13–3
PURDUE L1 32–11–2
MICHIGAN STATE W1 21–12
ILLINOIS W1 57–28–4
MICHIGAN L2 35–56–6
SOUTH CAROLINA L1 0–1

January 1st • South Carolina • The Outback Bowl 
Two Ohioans played large roles in South Carolina's 24-7 victory over the 18th-ranked Buckeyes.

Lou Holtz had his team ready to play in its first bowl appearance since 1995, and former Mr. Ohio Ryan Brewer played with a chip on his shoulder. 

Brewer started the game because Derek Watson – the Gamecocks' 1,000-yard rusher – was suspended for the contest.

From the 2015 Ohio State Team Guide:

In the first meeting between South Carolina and Ohio State, the Gamecocks upset the favored Buckeyes 24-7. The win gave South Carolina Coach Lou Holtz his first victory over the Buckeyes in five tries (0-2 at Minnesota and 0-2 at Notre Dame).

Ryan Brewer, a native of Troy, Ohio, accounted for 214 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns.

Both offenses struggled early and South Carolina led 3-0 at the half. The
Buckeyes had a chance to tie it as time expired, but Dan Stultz’ 47-yard field
goal attempt was wide to the right.

The two teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter. Brewer scored from 7 yards out for the Gamecocks and offensive guard Mike Gurr recovered a Jonathan Wells fumble in the end zone for the Buckeyes.

But it was all South Carolina in the fourth quarter as Brewer (the game’s MVP) scored first on a nifty 28-yard screen pass and later on a 2-yard run.

Ohio State played uninspired and committed nine penalties. The loss pushed Cooper's bowl game record to 3–8. University administration fired him a day later. Athletic Director Andy Geiger said that Cooper's future at Ohio State "did not hinge on winning or losing the Outback Bowl."

The search began for the program's 22nd head coach. 

2000 Recap

  • No. 16 Ohio State defeated Pat Hill and Fresno State 43-10 to start the 2000 season. Mike Doss, David Mitchell and Matt Wilhelm scored as the Buckeyes set a school-record four defensive touchdowns in the victory.
  • The Buckeyes scored 17 unanswered points in the second half to defeat Arizona 27-17. It was the first time OSU played in Tuscon.
  • For the first time in 89 years, No. 15 Ohio State played Miami (OH). Jonathan Wells and Derek Combs each rushed for over 100 yards in the 27-16 victory.
  • Penn State was no match for the 12th-ranked Buckeyes. The 45-6 win was Ohio State's largest margin of victory over the Nittany Lions to that point.
  • No. 7 Ohio State held Wisconsin's Michael Bennett to 109 yards less than his season average in the 23-7 win in Madison. 
  • Minnesota defeated the Buckeyes 29-17 on Homecoming in Ohio Stadium. The 1950 and 1975 teams were honored at halftime.
  • Kinnick Stadium was the site where No. 13 Ohio State unveiled the spread offense and gained 446 yards in a 38-10 victory over the Hawkeyes.
  • Drew Brees threw four interceptions, but his three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter gave Purdue a 31-27 win in West Lafayette. 
  • Mike Doss returned a fumble 73 yards for a touchdown and Ohio State defeated Michigan State 27-13.
  • Dan Stultz kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired in Memorial Stadium to give the Buckeyes a 24-21 victory.
  • Mike Doss had 16 tackles, but Cooper's decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 from his own 18 led to Michigan's game-clinching touchdown.  
  • The Buckeyes' defense recorded its 47th sack to set a school record, but South Carolina won the first meeting of the schools 24-7.
  • Ohio State fired Cooper a day after the Outback Bowl loss.
  • Mike Doss earned All-American honors.
  • Nate Clements, Ryan Pickett, Rodney Bailey, Reggie Germany, Derek Combs and Ken-Yon Rambo were each selected in the NFL Draft.
  • Ohio State started the season ranked No. 16, rose to fifth but finished unranked.

John Cooper's 13-year Ohio State tenure came to a close after the 24-7 loss to South Carolina in The Outback Bowl. He finished with the second-most wins in Ohio State history and had the third longest tenure.

Although Cooper struggled mightily against Michigan, he brought the program back into the national spotlight. His recruiting, high-powered offenses and attacking defenses enticed many talented players to don the Scarlet and Gray. 

But a 2–10–1 record against Michigan coupled with a program high eight bowl losses finally caught up with Cooper. Ohio State's search for its 22nd head coach began in earnest.

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