College Hall of Fame Calls Another Buckeye

John Cooper has called central Ohio home for the better part of two decades, but on the day the National Football Foundation announced he was a member of the next class of College Football Hall of Fame inductees, he showed he has not lost any of his southern gentlemanliness.

Before taking his seat in front of reporters and television cameras at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Cooper grabbed a chair for his wife of 51 years, Helen, so she could sit beside him.

The 70-year-old Cooper went on to describe the powerful influence his wife has had on his wife, from the time they first met as schoolmates up through his 24 years as a head coach, but he first credited his Powell, Tenn., high school football coach for encouraging him to get into coaching.

"He said, ‘John, I think you would be a great football coach some day.' He planted the seed in my head. Until that time, I didn't have a clue what I was going to do."

But Helen gave him reason to believe he could handle the job. She also had an ultimatum.

"I found the prettiest girl in high school, the prettiest cheerleader, and proved I could do a good job recruiting, and she told me that if we got married I had to go to college," Cooper said with a grin.

The only way to pay for that was to earn a scholarship, so he did just that at Iowa State.

He graduated from there in 1962 and later that year served as quarterbacks coach at his alma mater.

Cooper's first head coaching job came 15 years later at Tulsa. He led the Golden Hurricanes to a 57-31 record in eight seasons that included five Missouri Valley Conference championships.

From Tulsa, he headed to Arizona State, where he went 25-9-2 from 1985-87, including a Rose Bowl victory over Michigan that capped a 10-1-1 1986 campaign that included a Pac-10 title.

In 1988, he was tapped as Ohio State's 21st head football coach, and the scene that day was not much different than the one in 2008.

At his introductory press conference back then, he dubbed recruiting among his best attributes, adding as he gestured to his wife, "And the best example I can give you is right here. If I can convince this beautiful lady to spend 31 years of her life with me, I'll be able to recruit these great high school players to come to an outstanding institution like The Ohio State University."

And recruit he did.

In his time at Ohio State, Cooper signed up 20 First Team All-Americans and more than 70 players who would be drafted by NFL teams.

He won 111 games and lost 43 with four ties in his 13 years in Columbus. He also won three Big Ten co-championships and led the Buckeyes to their most recent Rose Bowl victory in 1997. Of course, he will also always be known for the fact two of those victories, 10 of the losses and one tie came against Michigan.

He was fired by director of athletics Andy Geiger in January 2001, but Cooper's influence in the program did not end at that time.

"Coach Cooper has been a tremendous part of our program," said Jim Tressel, Cooper's successor. "He was one of the first ones when our staff got here to reach a hand out and say, ‘What is it we can do to help? We're making Columbus our home. We're Buckeyes forever.' What a warm feeling that was for us."

Of his impending induction to the hall of fame, Cooper was quite proud.

"I want to let the world know how proud I am, how humble I am, to finally go into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame and join such a great group of coaches through the years," he said.

He was also not shy in letting reporters know that he felt the nod was a bit late in coming.

"When you come here, you know you're at the pinnacle of your coaching career, and if you last long enough you're going to win enough games," he said. "People asked me if I thought I was going to go into the hall of fame and as a member of the American Football Coaches Association I was on the board that used to nominate coaches to go into the hall of fame, so I knew my record was good enough. Honestly, I thought I should have been in a couple years earlier. I knew there was going to be a day when I was going to be called because of my record. You don't buy your way into the hall of fame. You earn it by the number of games you win."

Cooper is the 27th member of the college football hall of fame to have played for or coach at Ohio State.

He is the sixth coach, joining Howard Jones (inducted in 1951), John Wilce (1954), Francis Schmidt (1971), Woody Hayes (1983) and Earle Bruce (2002).

To be inducted along with coaches Cooper and Lou Holtz, whose many coaching stops include Arkansas, Notre Dame and South Carolina, are 13 players: Troy Aikman (quarterback, UCLA), Billy Cannon (halfback, LSU), Jim Dombrowski (offensive tackle, Virginia), Pat Fitzgerald (linebacker, Northwestern), Wilber Marshall (linebacker, Florida), Rueben Mayes (running back, Washington State), Randall McDaniel (an offensive guard who played for Cooper at Arizona State), Don McPherson (quarterback, Syracuse), Jay Novacek (tight end, Wyoming), Dave Parks (split end, Texas Tech), Ron Simmons (nose guard, Florida State), Thurman Thomas (running back, Oklahoma State) and Arnold Tucker (quarterback, Army).

The new class will be inducted at the NFF Annual Awards Dinner on Dec. 9, 2008, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. It will be enshrined officially at the Hall in South Bend, Ind., during ceremonies in the summer of 2009.

Ohio State names on the ballot who did not gain admittance this year were, linebacker Chris Spielman and fullback Jim Otis.

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