Sun Devil Summer School: The Coaches - John Cooper

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By Brad Denny By Brad Denny

Much like our earlier lesson on Arizona State coaching legend Dan Devine, today's Sun Devil Summer School subject wasn't in Tempe for very long. Yet in that short timeframe, John Cooper lead the program to its greatest achievement.

Born in 1937 in Tennessee, Cooper grew up and served in the United States Army for two years before enrolling at Iowa State. While a Cyclone, Cooper was a standout running back and defensive back, eventually becoming a team captain. Following his playing days, he stayed at ISU for a year as an assistant coach.

For the next 13 years, Cooper would bounce around the country as an assistant, spending time at Oregon State, UCLA, Kansas and Kentucky. Finally, he was given a head coach job in 1977, taking over at Tulsa.

After a modest 18-15 record in his first three seasons, he then guided the Golden Hurricane to five straight Missouri Valley Conference titles. This success earned him the job at Arizona State in 1985.

In his first year, he led ASU to eight wins and a berth in the Holiday Bowl, where the Sun Devils fell just short against Arkansas. But that was merely prelude to what was to come. 

The Sun Devils burst onto the national scene with a 6-0-1 start, their only blemish being a tie against Washington State in Week 3. Heading into their home date with Cal, ASU had a chance to clinch the Pac-12 title and earn the program's first ever Rose Bowl berth. 

Cooper's boys came to play that day, and a 49-0 victory had Sparky smelling roses. ASU was poised to make a run at the national title, but a disappointing loss to Arizona in the regular season finale dashed those hopes.

Now ranked No. 8, ASU faced the fourth-ranked Michigan Wolverines in Pasadena. After trailing 15-13 at halftime, Cooper's squad shutout the Wolverines in the second half en route to a 22-15 win and a final AP ranking at No. 4.

Despite losing many key players, Cooper led ASU to a 7-4-1 record and a Freedom Bowl  win over Air Force. The Sun Devils ended that year ranked 20th in the final AP poll.

His success in the desert garnered Cooper interest from Ohio State, and he took that job in 1988, eventually coaching the Buckeyes through the 2000 season. While in Columbus, Cooper's teams won three Big Ten titles.

He retired from coaching with a career 192-84-6 record, including a 25-9-2 mark at ASU. Cooper's lone failure was his record versus Arizona, against whom he posted a 0-2-1 record.