In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports reporter Mark Monroe talked with former Northview High School hockey coach Jim Cooper, who retired following the 2007-08 season after a 32-year career. Cooper posted a 585-354-34 record. His teams finished as state runners-up three times.
Jim Cooper always taught his young hockey players to play for the name on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back.
Cooper's own allegiance to the Northview hockey sweater spanned three memorable decades.
Under Cooper, Northview reached the state final four seven times. The Wildcats also captured six Northwest Hockey Conference titles, including one last season.
Cooper led the Wildcats to the state title game in 1982 [a 4-3 loss to Kent Roosevelt in overtime] and 1990 [a 4-1 loss to Lakewood St. Edward]. Three years ago Northview dropped a heartbreaker, 6-5 in overtime, to Parma Padua Franciscan in the state championship.
In Cooper's final season, Northview put together a 30-4-2 record and reached the district final. He was named the conference coach of the year.
Cooper, 56, worked with more than 300 players and had 25 assistant coaches. He turned the program over to former player and longtime assistant Mike Jones.
Cooper grew up in Ida, Mich., but moved to Toledo when he was in the seventh grade. He graduated from Whitmer High School in 1970.
As the middle of three brothers, Cooper played some Little League baseball and pickup hockey on area ponds as a youngster.
In 1970, Cooper enrolled at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, Calif. While there, Cooper landed a part-time job at an ice arena at a local mall. He also joined a junior hockey team and played for two years.
When Cooper returned to Toledo to reunite with his future wife, Kim, his first job was an assistant manager position at Tam O'Shanter in 1974.
Cooper is the president and chief executive officer of a Toledo-based ad agency called Cooper-Smith Advertising. The full service agency specializes in broadband marketing.
The Coopers live in Sylvania Township and have three grown children: Josh (28), Bethany (26), and Sarah (23).
"I'VE ALWAYS SAID I was a much better coach than I was a player. We had a little French Canadian coach who could barely speak English. The only thing I knew was that he didn't like me. I was the second worst player on the team. I think it helped me later to have great empathy for the kids who weren't the stars on the team.
"I moved back to Ohio because I thought I was in love with a young girl named Kimberly Tailford. And obviously it worked out. We have had 31 years of marriage.
"I MET ROY VIVIAN, who was the head coach at Sylvania High School, in 1974. He asked me if I'd help coach. I hadn't coached 10 minutes in my life and didn't know the first thing about it. But Roy knew I had the keys to Tam O'Shanter. He put me on his staff because he knew I could turn the lights on and off.
"Roy had all these diagrams and plays from the Philadelphia Flyers. I learned from him. I taught what he taught. Then the next year I had to face my mentor. Southview beat us around 4-0 and then humiliated us 8-1. But in the state tournament we knocked them out 3-2. I considered that a seminal moment in my career. It convinced me that I could get kids to play up to their potential and I could motivate kids.
"I always tried to raise the kids up so that they could meet their academic and athletic potential. I tried to get them to care about each other, their school, their parents and not for themselves.
"THERE ARE A handful of special players. Bob Napierala (1982) was one. He played for four years at Ohio State. Mike Jones (1995) is one of the all-time greats. He played four years at BGSU. Ronnie Johnson still holds all the scoring records. Aldy Hirschfeld and Bobby McElheney (2006) were spectacular. They were all a bit different because they were from different eras.
"THERE WERE two teams that stood out, the 2006 and 1982 teams. The similarities were remarkable. Both lost state title games in overtime. Those teams will always have something to talk about. We had terrific teams in '86, '87, '90, '94, and '05. The 2008 team holds the record for longest win streak at 20-0.
"We worked hard at embracing alumni. Every kid that ever played for Northview has his name hanging on the wall in the tunnel in the locker room. It was nice that my assistant Mike Jones took over. I'm like a proud poppa.
"I DIDN'T HAVE superstitions, but the kids did. They wanted to change the color of the helmets a lot. My thought was that if the kids thought something would work I would try it. We always would wear gold jerseys. At first we had gold pants as well. We looked like a bunch of bananas coming out on the ice.
"I JUST FELT like now was the time [to retire]. It was hard telling the returning players. That made me more nervous than going to the state tournament. These are kids that have given you everything you've asked them to give. What a blur it all was. I thought it would be a fun thing to do for a couple of years. I never had any notion it would last this long. There were a lot of great victories and tough defeats.
"[High school hockey] has changed wonderfully, and you have to credit a lot of people. Early guys like former St. John's coach Cos Figliomeni. He's a great man. He was like my father. More kids are playing now. The youth programs expanded. More ice rinks were built. The coaching got more sophisticated. Look at all the excellent coaches now in the conference. You have Dan St. Jean, Mike Jones, Brian Kinsella, and Wayne Collins. They were all Division I players.
"THE MOST IMPORTANT person in all of this is Kim. She was with me every step of the way. She took pictures on the bench at every game. She would sew the names on the back of the jerseys. At the end of each year she put together a slide show.
"PEOPLE MAY NOT know that I take the spiritual side of my life very seriously. I don't always wear it on my sleeve. I have had a license to solemnize marriages for five years. I have conducted marriages for three of my former players. I married [Northview girls basketball coach] Jerry Sigler's daughter. So I've had three hockey and one basketball marriage.
"YOU WANT TO LEAVE something better than when you found it, and I think that happened. This was a labor of love. It's something I've gotten to do with my wife. We've worked hard at making it better every year. I've had the time of my life."