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24 Club: John Cooper’s winning ways and long Novembers

Cooper won more games than any OSU coach not named Woody Hayes, but too often couldn’t get it done at the end of the season.

Ohio State’s John Cooper Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

There have been 24 head coaches in the history of Ohio State football. Each has a story and legacy. This offseason, Land-Grant Holy Land’s new series 24 Club will help you get to know the coaches from past and present who built the program. Today we look at Ohio State’s 21st head coach — John Cooper.


Name: John Cooper

Seasons Coached: 13 (1988-00)

Overall Record: 111-43-4

Where Does He Rank in the 24 Club?

Overall Wins: No. 2 out of 24 OSU Coaches

Winning Percentage: No. 10 out of 24 OSU Coaches


Until Woody Hayes came to Columbus, beating Michigan wasn’t a regular occurrence. Prior to Hayes, the only coach to leave town with a winning overall record against the Wolverines was Francis Schmidt in the mid-to-late 30s. But things changed when Woody arrived.

Hayes left Columbus with a 16-11-1 mark against the Wolverines. His successor Earle Bruce had a 5-4 record against Michigan. But after a string of three-loss seasons, OSU moved on from Bruce. The Buckeyes hired John Cooper with hopes to regularly contend for Big Ten and national titles.

Before arriving in Columbus, Cooper led Tulsa to five consecutive conference championships. In his second season at the helm of Arizona State in 1986, he led the Sun Devils to a 10-1-1 mark and a Rose Bowl win against Michigan. In a sign of things to come, Cooper’s only loss that year was to rival Arizona.

Cooper’s tenure at Ohio State was one of the most successful in school history. His star-studded Buckeyes claimed a share of three Big Ten titles and finished ranked No. 2 in the country twice. But Cooper’s tenure was ultimately defined by his team’s end of season disappearing act. Cooper finished with a 2-10-1 record against Michigan and a 3-8 bowl record. An upset November loss to a Nick Saban coached Michigan State team in 1998 derailed the national title hopes of one of the best teams in program history.

Ohio State moved on from Cooper after a lackluster 8-4 season in 2000, which predictably included a loss to Michigan and another against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

OSU had high expectations. The Buckeyes were in need of a coach that could stop the backsliding against the Wolverines and win that elusive national title. They turned to someone who was already a legend in Ohio coaching circles — Jim Tressel was coming to Columbus.