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New Cardinal virtues Ron Cooper: Louisville hopes Division I-A's youngest football coach can turn vitality and vigor into victories.

October 28, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

"At a young age, we were taught to do something special with our lives," Cooper said. "There was an emphasis on scholarship, and that meant discipline. It also meant determination and self-control."

Cooper used those attributes to turn himself into a two-way football player in high school. He could have gone to historically

black colleges, such as Tuskegee, Grambling or Alabama A&M, on scholarship, but Cooper chose to walk on at Jacksonville State.

He earned a scholarship in his sophomore year as a 5-foot-8, 200-pound nose guard/linebacker.

"Walk-ons live a tough enough life as it is," Jim Fuller, the former coach at Jacksonville State and currently an assistant at Alabama, told the Louisville Courier Journal. "Size is always a problem. But that's why this game is so beautiful.

"Ron was a good student. He was always on time. He was always willing to do what he had to do."

The coaching ranks

Cooper eventually worked his way into coaching, first as a graduate assistant at Appalachian State in 1983 and later as assistant head coach at Notre Dame under Lou Holtz in 1992. Eastern Michigan was 1-10 the year before Cooper arrived, but 4-7 in 1993 and 5-6 in 1994, his two years as head coach.

Cooper won five of his last six games before leaving for Louisville.

"We had a list that contained dozens and dozens of coaches," said Bill Olsen, Louisville's athletic director. "But none could answer all the questions as smoothly as Ron. He was totally organized. He sketched out all his goals, knew who he wanted to bring in, even had a little easel. I was amazed. He had the energy, enthusiasm, yet the calmness of a veteran coach."

The patience will come in handy.

The Cardinals had eight starters back on defense but only five on offense. Louisville starting linebackers Alan Campos, Tyrus McCloud and Johnny Frost -- nicknamed the "Bermuda Triangle" -- are as good as any in college football, but Louisville has dominated few teams, and its lack of a pass rush could hurt the Cardinals against Maryland's run-and-shoot offense.

Offensively, the Cardinals are averaging 301.1 yards, and the passing game has yet to click with Lowe having completed only 125 of 288 passes for 1,405 yards.

"It's a transitional year, but I think we're very, very close to being a Top 25 team," Cooper said. "We're a young football team with only eight seniors, and we have a schedule that will help us in recruiting. We're just a few steps aways from elevating this program to the next level."

Olsen said: "It's impossible in some ways to replace Howard, especially in the marketing area. He could bring light and focus immediately on your program. But Ron has stayed with his plan, and not deviated from it one bit. We have very strong feelings about what he is doing."

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