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Cooper, John

Published onJul 30, 2021
Cooper, John

(July 2, 1937 - )

Quick Facts

John Cooper, a hard-nosed back during some of Iowa State’s most successful football seasons, went on to stellar college coaching career that included becoming the first head coach to lead both a Big Ten and Pac-10 team to victories in the Rose Bowl.

Source: Athletics Communications,

Legendary football coach John Cooper has been inducted into so many hall of fames throughout his incredible coaching career, you could pardon him if he loses track. Cooper, who won 192 games and nine conference titles in 24 years as a head coach, can boast of being a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame, the Tulsa Athletics Hall of Fame and the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame just to name a few.

Cooper was inducted into the ISU Letterwinners Club Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004. The former Cyclone, who lettered three years in football, was a sophomore member of the famed 1959 “Dirty Thirty” squad and was team captain in 1961. Cooper recorded seven career interceptions, leading the Cyclones with four in 1961.

A native of Heiskell, Tenn., Cooper spent a brief period in the military before arriving at Iowa State in 1958. In his first season of eligibility in the fall of 1959, he was a part of one of ISU’s most iconic teams in the “Dirty Thirty.”

The team was led by its head coach Clay Stapleton, who took a depleted, rag-tag team and directed them to a win away from an Orange Bowl berth.

Behind All-Americans Dwight Nichols and Tom Watkins, the 1959 Cyclones finished at 7-3 and ranked among the top offensive teams nationally.

Cooper is extremely proud of being a member of one of the school’s most famous teams.

Cooper continued to have a successful career with the Cyclones. In his junior season in 1960, the team again finished 7-3 and he received the game ball when Iowa State defeated Oklahoma (10-6) for the first time since 1931 where he received the game ball.

Cooper credits Stapleton, who was inducted into the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006, for much of his football passion and for giving him his first crack at coaching.

Without a doubt, Cooper ranks as one of the most influential football coaches in the last 40 years. He was a winner everywhere he was at, including stops at Tulsa, Arizona State and Ohio State.

When his 13-year tenure as head coach at Ohio State ended, only the legendary Woody Hayes had won more games. His Ohio State teams finished the regular season ranked in the top 25 in 12 of his 13 seasons with the Buckeyes. He won at least a share of nine conference championships, including five at Tulsa, one at Arizona State and three at Ohio State. His Buckeye teams were national championship runners-up in 1996 and 1998.

A four-time American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Regional Coach of the Year, Cooper led his teams to 14 Bowls games in 24 seasons. The Tennessee native and former Cyclone MVP, Cooper coached Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George and two-time Lombardi winner Orlando Pace. Cooper tutored 20 first-team All-Americans, seven National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athletes and one NFF Draddy Trophy recipient during his career. He formerly served as the president of the American Football Coach Association and as a professional scout in the NFL.

The 1986 Sporting News National Coach of the Year compiled a 192-84-6 record in 24 years of coaching.

Cooper mentored countless assistants who later became outstanding college coaches. Names like Larry Coker, Lovie Smith and Rob Ryan were all on Cooper’s staff at one time during his career. Former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads was a Cooper protégé.

Cooper currently works for the Cincinnati Bengals of the NFL as a scouting consultant and also works as a college football analyst for ESPN.

Cooper married his high school sweetheart Helen, who moved to Ames with him in 1958. The couple lived in married student housing (Pammel Court) during their time in Ames. Helen worked in the ISU purchasing department while John was busy with football and his schooling.

Selected Sources

Cyclone Sidebar, “Cooper Excited For ISU Hall of Fame Induction”. Posted on August 13, 2014 by Mike Green.

American Football Database:


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