The opinion of John Cooper, who was 111-43-4 in 13 seasons at OSU, ending in 2000, is still valued inside the athletic offices.
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COLUMBUS — After teaching his 7:30 a.m. class Monday, the instructor met with one of his aides.
It was time for Urban F. Meyer — as he is listed in the course catalog for EDUPAES 2620.04: Coaching Football — to begin his day job: preparing Ohio State for California. With the students gone, Meyer asked his guest lecturer for a list of the next opponent's top prospects.
"Every week, I ask him, ‘Who are their NFL players?'?" Meyer said.
This week, John Cooper slipped the coach a piece of paper with about a half-dozen names, including Golden Bears wide receiver Keenan Allen — a projected top-10 pick in next year's draft — cornerback Marc Anthony, and defensive tackle Aaron Tipoti.
Meet the Buckeyes' unofficial advance scout.
Remember Coop? He hasn't left the building.
The former OSU coach has an office in the Buckeyes' football facility, where he enjoys an unusual symbiotic relationship with Meyer and his staff.
Meyer allows the 75-year-old Cooper, a scouting consultant for the Cincinnati Bengals, to come and go as he pleases.
Cooper gathers information for his job, and in turn, he helps Meyer teach his Monday and Wednesday class and offers insight from his NFL connections on the Buckeyes' upcoming challengers.
"What the heck, if I can help him out in any way I can, whether I've seen a team play or heard about a player, obviously I'm a loyal Buckeye," Cooper said Tuesday in a phone interview. "I'm going to do all I can."
Cooper, who was 111–43–4 in 13 seasons at OSU, is more a dyed-in-the-wool football man than a scout. The coach said he "forms opinions on players in my mind," which precludes written reports and fuse-burning study. When organizers of the Legends Poll for which Cooper is a voter send him a copy of every televised game from the past week, he does not bid farewell to his wife.
"I'm not going to lie to you, I don't spend a lot of time doing that," he said. "I don't watch a lot of these games on TV."
No, Cooper prefers on-the-ground observation and mining the knowledge of those he trusts most. To forge the views he will share with Bengals officials before the draft, he watches OSU home games from the press box and travels to postseason college all-star games and the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. All the while, he consults with coaches.
"I talk to Urban, I talk to [Michigan's] Brady Hoke, I'll talk to anybody," he said. "I‘ll say, ‘Hey, tell me about that running back you got up there. Tell me how good is this tight end.'
"I try to find out a little more information about a kid from the coach than maybe that scout could find out. The head coach or the trainer might tell me something because of my relationship with him."
Cooper also relies on his national network as a member of the Legends Poll, a collection of 17 prominent former coaches that vote weekly on the 25 best teams in the country. Each Monday, the legends hold a spirited hour-long conference call.
"I'll talk about the Big Ten, talk about Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, the top teams in this league, and where I think they should be," Cooper said. "And [former UCLA coach] Terry Donahue will talk about the West Coast, [Texas A&M's] R.C. Slocum will talk about Texas A&M and Texas. You have Vince Dooley, Pat Dye, Don Nehlen, Don James, it's a who's who in coaching. There's about 5,000 victories between all the coaches."
Just don't ask Cooper whether the Legends Poll should be included in the Bowl Championship Series formula.
"It makes too much sense for the BCS to use our vote," he said. "Goodness gracious, what better vote can you get than from guys who have dedicated their lives to college football, that see them play, that see the film, that talk on the phone. It blows my mind."
One place where Cooper knows his opinion is valued, however, is inside the Buckeyes' football offices. At least it is now. After having an office at the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex under former coach Jim Tressel, Cooper said the space was taken away during the turmoil of last season. (He did not specify a reason.) But Meyer made sure he moved back in over the summer.
Cooper now shares an office with Earle Bruce, his predecessor on the OSU sidelines. He watches practice, sits in on some staff meetings, studies tape of past OSU games in the film room, and presses Meyer and Co. for inside information on prospects.
"It's nice to be welcome over there," he said.
The feeling is mutual. After speaking with Cooper, Meyer knew by Monday morning's press conference that Cal had slightly less high-end talent than last week's opponent — Central Florida — but more NFL prospects overall.
"With seven as a high rating, high first round," Meyer said, "[Cal] has got some six's and fives, which means they are very draftable players."
Cooper said his relationship with Meyer "helps me more than anybody."
"Hopefully," the coach emeritus said, "I can help him a little bit too."
Contact David Briggs: at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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