Ohio State confirmed today it is replacing John Cooper after 13 years as head coach, the day after another bowl loss by the Buckeyes.
Athletics director Andy Geiger said at an afternoon news conference today that the university will begin looking for a new coach immediately.
Geiger said the decision did not hinge on whether Ohio State won the Outback Bowl but out of concern over discipline, competitiveness and player academics.
However, he said, “I was dismayed by things that happened in and around the Outback Bowl. The game itself and some of the incidents, or non-incidents, that happened during the week.
“It’s really in the best interest of this program to move on,” Geiger said.
The decision came a day after Ohio State’s 24-7 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. The Buckeyes were favored against a team that had gone 0-11 a year ago and was the only unranked team playing in a New Year’s Day game this year.
In the weeks before the Outback Bowl, an Ohio State player questioned a captain’s leadership abilities, the leading rusher was held out of the starting lineup for missing the first practice in Tampa, and one offensive lineman sued another for $50,000 in the wake of an on-field fight in the spring.
Cooper’s Ohio State teams went 111-43-4 and finished second in the final AP poll in 1997 and 1999.
His tenure was the second longest for an Ohio State football coach, exceeded only by Woody Hayes, who went 205-61-10 in 28 seasons with the Buckeyes. Only Hayes won more games at Ohio State than Cooper.
But Cooper’s Buckeyes also struggled in big games. Cooper was just 2-10-1 against archrival Michigan and 3-8 in bowl games. Six times in his 13 years, the Buckeyes closed out their season with consecutive losses to Michigan and in a bowl game.
Buckeyes Were Successful — Except in Bowls
Cooper became Ohio State’s 21st head coach on Dec. 31, 1987.
His predecessor, Earle Bruce, compiled a nine-season record of 81-26-1, a winning percentage of .755. But Bruce, a former player and assistant at Ohio State under Hayes, was fired by OSU president Edward H. Jennings two days after a last-second 29-27 loss to Iowa. When told by Jennings to fire Bruce, athletics director Rick Bay resigned. He opposed the firing.
Cooper had won the Rose Bowl just two years before while at Arizona State. He was 82-40-2 in 11 years as head coach at ASU and Tulsa, and was an assistant at Iowa State, Oregon State, UCLA, Kansas and Kentucky.
Ohio State officials said Arizona State’s 22-15 victory over Ohio State’s archrival, Michigan, in the 1986 Rose Bowl was a key factor in their decision to hire Cooper.
Cooper failed to win Ohio State’s first national title since 1968 — though the Buckeyes came close.
In 1995, the Buckeyes won their first 11 games before losing at Michigan 31-23. Five weeks later, Ohio State lost to Tennessee 20-14 in the Florida Citrus Bowl.
The 1996 team won its first 10 games and was ranked No. 2 when it fell to Michigan 13-9. That team rebounded to edge Arizona State 20-17 in the Rose Bowl.
Buckeyes Won Five Straight, Then Skidded
Ranked No. 1 in the preseason, the 1998 team stayed atop the polls until Nov. 7, when it lost to 17-point underdog Michigan State. The Buckeyes won their last three games, including victories over Michigan and against Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl, to again finish No. 2 in the final rankings.
Cooper once said he would never be a beloved figure in Ohio and would always pale in comparison to the revered Hayes, who died in 1987.
“A lot of people are never going to like me,” Cooper once said.
The heat was turned up after a 6-6 season in 1999 in which the Buckeyes closed with three consecutive losses and then failed to make a bowl trip for the first time since Cooper’s first season.
This year, the Buckeyes won their first five games to climb into the top 10 but faltered down the stretch.
Minnesota, coached by a former Ohio State player and Hayes assistant Glen Mason, upset the Buckeyes 29-17. Mason, who might be a top candidate to replace Cooper, said he cried on the way to the game when he thought how much Ohio State had meant to his career.
Purdue’s Drew Brees tossed a 64-yard touchdown pass to Seth Morales with 1:55 left to give the Boilermakers a 31-27 win over Ohio State and take the inside track to the Rose Bowl.
Subsequent upsets still gave the Buckeyes a shot at winning a share of the conference title, but they lost to Michigan 38-26.