TAMPA – The University of South Florida has hired Ron Cooper to serve as assistant head coach, head coach Willie Taggart announced on Thursday. Cooper, who will also coach the secondary, brings 30 years of coaching experience to the Bulls’ staff, including two different stints as a defensive coordinator and three as a head coach on the collegiate level. He spent last season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he served as defensive backs coach.
“Ron Cooper is a valuable addition to our staff,” said Taggart. “His experience will be a huge asset in his role as assistant head coach. In addition, he has recently worked with some of the top secondaries and defensive backs in college football, which will serve us greatly both on the field and in recruiting.”
Cooper transitioned to the NFL after spending three seasons (2009-11) as LSU’s secondary coach. He mentored one of the top secondaries in the country that included national award winners in CB Morris Claiborne, CB Patrick Peterson and CB Tyrann Mathieu. Cooper coached two Thorpe Award winners, Peterson in 2010 and Claiborne in 2011, which is given to the top defensive back in college football, and two Bednarik Award winners, Peterson in 2010 and Mathieu in 2011, given to the nation’s Defensive Player of the Year. As a sophomore in 2011, Mathieu was also named as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
All three players earned consensus All-American honors under Cooper, with Claiborne and Mathieu becoming the first cornerback teammates to earn first-team AP honors in NCAA history. In 2011, Claiborne (Coaches) and Mathieu (AP) each earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, while Peterson (Coaches) earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 before being selected fifth overall in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Cooper spent five years at South Carolina prior to being hired by LSU, serving as the defensive backs coach (2004), outside linebackers/special teams coordinator (2005), secondary/assistant head coach (2006-07) and safeties coach (2008). In 2008, Cooper assisted with a defense that ranked No. 1 in the SEC and No. 2 in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 160 yards per game. With the Gamecocks, Cooper helped the team to appearances in the 2005 Independence Bowl, 2006 Liberty Bowl and 2009 Outback Bowl.
Prior to his stint at South Carolina, Cooper spent 2003 as the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and 2002 as the secondary coach at Wisconsin. He broke into the head coaching ranks with Eastern Michigan (1993-94) and went on to become head coach at Louisville (1995-97) and Alabama A&M (1998-01). Cooper’s 1995 Louisville team led the nation in takeaways and finished No. 9 in the nation in scoring defense. The following season, the Cardinals ranked No. 4 in the country in both total defense and rushing defense. At Alabama A&M, Cooper guided the Bulldogs to the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game in 2000. His squad led the nation in rushing defense and they ranked No. 8 nationally in scoring defense. He also discovered DE Robert Mathis and coached him in his first three collegiate seasons with Mathis still holding the school record for career sacks and tackles for loss.
Before becoming head coach at Eastern Michigan, Cooper served as an assistant coach at Notre Dame (1991-92), helping the Irish to victories over No. 3-ranked Florida in the Sugar Bowl and No. 4 Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl following the 1991 and 1992 seasons.
Cooper also served as the defensive coordinator at UNLV (1990), assistant coach at East Carolina (1989), defensive coordinator at Murray State (1987-88), assistant coach at Austin Peay (1985-86), graduate assistant at Minnesota (1984) and graduate assistant at Appalachian State (1983).
On the field, Cooper was a four-year letter winner at Jacksonville State, where he was a part of two Gulf South Conference championships in 1981 and 1982. Cooper also played in the NCAA Division II playoffs three times during his career, reaching the semifinal round in 1982.
Cooper earned his bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville State in 1983 and later received his master’s degree from Appalachian State in 1986. He and his wife, Djuna, have a daughter, Tyler, and two sons, Tristan and Ronald, Jr.
1983: Appalachian State (Graduate Assistant)
1984: Minnesota (Graduate Assistant)
1985-86: Austin Peay (Assistant Coach)
1987-88: Murray State (Defensive Coordinator)
1989: East Carolina (Assistant Coach)
1990: UNLV (Defensive Coordinator)
1991-92: Notre Dame (Assistant Head Coach)
1993-94: Eastern Michigan (Head Coach)
1995-97: Louisville (Head Coach)
1998-2001: Alabama A&M (Head Coach)
2002: Wisconsin (Assistant Coach)
2003: Mississippi State (Defensive Coordinator)
2004: South Carolina (Defensive Backs)
2005: South Carolina (Outside Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator)
2006-07: South Carolina (Assistant Head Coach/Secondary)
2008: South Carolina (Safeties)
2009-11: LSU (Secondary)
2012: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Defensive Backs)