Transplanted Brit Cooper says he's had best of both worlds

John Steadman

March 05, 1993|By John Steadman

There's much more to Kenny Cooper than rolling out a soccer ball and deciding on the players he wants to kick it. Cooper, since age 17, has made his life playing and coaching the game. It has enabled him to travel the world but, more importantly, to have an appreciation for all the things with meaning -- spiritual, personal and esoteric.

His love of America is so profound he's on his way to becoming a citizen. At the same time, there's no betrayal of his native England, which gave him a start in the right direction. And what does Cooper have to say in the way of defining the past and present?

"I was born in the greatest country of the world for learning a value system and respecting tradition," he answers. "And now I am in the greatest country of the world for granting opportunity. Think of the vision of America and what it has achieved in not much more than 200 years, which is a blink of the eye when you're measuring time."

Let it be said that Cooper, coach of the Baltimore Spirit, member of the National Professional Soccer League, is strong on the realization of the American dream's still being viable.

"Sometime it takes an Englishman to tell America how great it is," he adds. "The recession was a problem but it, too, brings an opportunity if you don't quit on yourself."

Cooper is a man of deep sensitivity who has the rare ability to motivate players and those around him to believe in a cause and see it through.

In his own life, he admits to suffering "a bit of damage control, but I've managed to stay afloat," referring to physical problems with his heart, throat and colon.

Soccer is his game, which he has pursued since childhood, but his optimistic outlook and communication skills would make him a winner in any endeavor.

"I'm solution conscious, not problem conscious," he comments. "People ask me how I'm doing and I tell them, 'Great and it's going to get even better.' The weather forecaster tells us it's a 70 percent chance of rain. What he ought to mention is it's a 30 percent chance of sunshine."

Right there is the fundamental understanding for Cooper's success. He refuses to be a complainer, trying to find out what helps rather than what hinders.

"Life is not a rehearsal," he says. "It's the real thing. We have piano movers and piano players. Maybe you can't change a person. I think the only thing that will do it is a personal crisis or a religious experience.

"I started as a coach hoping to treat everyone the same way. It didn't work because everyone doesn't look at the world the same way. But when aggravation outweighs production, a player, or an employee, proves he doesn't fit the team or the company.

"In discussions with players about their careers or futures, I tell them if they aren't willing to die for something they love, then they never really lived."

Some of what Cooper offers might be taken as an Englishman spreading perfume. Not so. He believes it to the point of conviction, or else he couldn't sell it.

His affection for Baltimore, which has been home for the last 13 years, came on his first visit. He was coaching a team called the Houston Summit and the owner, Bernie Rodin, sent him on a scouting trip. He wanted Cooper to tell him if Baltimore or Boston would be the ideal place to transfer the franchise. Cooper checked into the then-Hilton Hotel, went to a hockey game, talked with soccer fans and called Rodin.

"There's no point in going to Boston, I told him," recalled Cooper. "Let them have their tea party. Baltimore is where soccer ought to be. Charley Eckman, who became my great friend; Bob Hillman and Vince Bagli made me feel welcome. I worked for Rodin, Nathan Scheer, Ed Hale and now Bill Staley, who truly loves the game. Each owner fought to keep soccer alive. I'm indebted because it has been an ongoing learning experience for me."

Cooper said: "If I die tomorrow I'd have no regrets because think how beautiful life is and the pleasure it affords. Bottom line, it's a paid vacation."

Cooper is married, has four children and also is a positive influence on his team at home -- the family.

Ken Cooper may not be able to move mountains but he can lift spirits, turn losers into winners and lead men to play above their skills. He has tremendous coaching ability, exceeded only by his extraordinary human characteristics.

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