Ron Cooper wowed Louisville search committee

Who?

The reaction of University of Louisville football fans was almost unanimous when Ron Cooper was announced in 1994 as the successor to Howard Schnellenberger who had left a few weeks earlier for the Oklahoma head job.

Ron who?

Cooper was coming from Eastern Michigan where he had managed only a 7-13 won-lost record in two seasons at Eastern Michigan and two seventh-place finishes in the Midwest Athletic Conference (MAC). His only claim to any success was that he had previously been a defensive assistant at Notre Dame.

Did you say Notre Dame?

The Irish connection impressed the search committee. But what impressed members the most was Cooper’s optimism. “He was one of the last candidates to be interviewed,” recalls Bill Olsen, former athletic director. “He came and in swept them off their feet with his outgoing personality and confidence.”

He coached at Notre Dame and he’s promising a winner. Wow. Wasn’t able to produce at Eastern Michigan but Louisville was a different animal, building a new football stadium. Not much to go on but Cooper would get the job.

Anyone with much experience with committees knows the smaller they are the better. With too many members, everybody’s in charge and nobody’s in charge. The search committee was unusually large, consisting of 23 people — gigantic by today’s standard at U of L where Tom Jurich makes the decisions.

“Coaching searches are difficult at best,” says Olsen. “The committee was so large it was a challenge to protect the identities of the candidates. Coaching searches are sensitive because people already have jobs. But every time  a name or two was mentioned, Russ Brown would have a story about it in the Courier-Journal the next day.”

Cooper could manage only a disappointing 13-20 won-lost record, culminating in a 1-10 season his last year. All the while promising future greatness before accepting an offer of $1 million to pursue other interests after three seasons.

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Among the other candidates pursued were Jim Tressel, recently ousted at Ohio State University, who was paying his dues at Youngstown State at the time. “Tressel never actually interviewed but we were interested in him,” said Olsen.

Another coach was Jim Caldwell, then at Wake Forest and now the head coach of the NFL Indianapolis Colts. “He told he wished he had know about the Louisville job before taking the Wake Forest position,” said Olsen. Another person of interest was Jim Donnan, then at Marshall, who later coached at Georgia and a recent ESPN analyst.

Greg Nord May Be Leaving Louisville

The coaching carousel goes round and round.

Greg Nord is reportedly leaving the University of Louisville as an assistant football coach to join Paul Petrino who is said to be joining coach Ron Zook’s staff at Illinois as the new offensive coordinator.

Greg Nord
Greg Nord

Paul has worked on the staff of his brother Bobby Petrino for the past seven years, with stints at Louisville, the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL and at the University of Arkansas. He was among the interviewees for the head coaching position at Western Kentucky in November.

Nord has been the one constant among assistant coaches at U of L for 15 years, having served along side coaches Ron Cooper, John L. Smith, Bobby Petrino and Steve Kragthorpe. He had strong ties to the Louisville area and is widely respected by high school football coaches throughout the state.

Illinois was in the market for an offensive coordinator after Zook fired four coaches — including offensive coordinator Mike Schultz — last week following the Illini’s 3-9 season. Illinois ranked 50th in the nation.

Louisville football will have an entirely new look next season, at least on the sidelines.