Assistant Cooper moves on
COLUMBIA — One way or another, the Outback Bowl was likely the final game at South Carolina for its most tenured assistant coach.
In the end, Ron Cooper, who coached USC's safeties in 2008 and had been with the Gamecocks since 2004, will move on to become Louisiana State's new secondary coach.
Cooper received a three-year deal worth $300,000 a season to join coach Les Miles, new coordinator John Chavis and the Tigers. He made $175,000 this past year at USC.
Cooper has known Miles since Miles was an assistant at Michigan and Cooper was the head coach at Eastern Michigan. They lived in the same Ann Arbor-area neighborhood.
Miles had reached out to vet Cooper's interest in the days before USC's bowl game. Cooper preferred the defensive coordinator job, which went to Chavis, but told LSU officials he was also interested in the defensive backs role.
Cooper was also in the mix for a job as Maryland's defensive coordinator.
Interestingly, because of increasing in-house friction, sources have told The Post and Courier that Steve Spurrier very nearly dismissed Cooper in mid-December. But Cooper was allowed to stay on through the bowl game, with the idea that he could find another job.
Any slight chance that Cooper could stay with the Gamecocks was erased this past weekend when, according to sources, Spurrier told Cooper it was in his best interest to find work elsewhere.
When asked about the situation Dec. 27 in Tampa, Cooper contended more than once that he didn't plan to leave USC unless he received a defensive coordinator job at another school. He chose his words very carefully when describing that meeting with Spurrier, but maintained he had not been fired.
Things evidently hadn't been the same for Cooper since Tyrone Nix wasn't retained a year ago. Nix left for Ole Miss, in a move that Spurrier said "worked out for everyone."
Nix and Cooper were close and, with Nix in control as the defensive coordinator, Cooper was allowed to have a lot of input.
On Nix's defensive staff on 2006 and 2007, Cooper was considered an assistant head coach. That title was removed this past season.
Cooper had previously been a head coach at Louisville (1995-97) and Eastern Michigan (1993-94). He'd also served as a defensive coordinator at Mississippi State (2003).
Cooper's role had been reduced with Ellis Johnson's arrival, and that had led to some natural tension.
That said, Cooper, the 46-year-old native of Huntsville, Ala., has long been respected for his ability to recruit and his knowledge as an X's and O's coach.
The Gamecocks were in the top five in pass defense most of the past two seasons.
They gave up 159.2 yards a game this season, second in the country only to Southern Cal.
Cooper coached USC's defensive backs under Lou Holtz in 2004. Holtz hired Cooper at Notre Dame in 1991.
Spurrier retained Cooper upon arrival, assigning him to outside linebackers and special teams. Cooper coached the secondary, along with that assistant head coach title, in 2006 and 2007.
He split the secondary this season with cornerbacks coach Shane Beamer.
In addition to the defensive position, Spurrier is working to replace offensive line coach John Hunt, quarterbacks coach David Reaves and strength coach Mark Smith.
Hunt was fired just after the Nov. 29 Clemson loss. Reaves and Smith left USC for Tennessee.
After some conversations in the past few weeks, Vanderbilt offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell has decided to stay on Bobby Johnson's staff. Spurrier is thought to be working to net either TCU's Eddie Williamson (a South Carolina native) or Louisville's Brent Myers.
As far as the other offensive opening, former UNLV, Washington Redskins and Florida assistant Noah Brindise's name has again surfaced. But that's only if Spurrier wants to use the position to bring in a quarterbacks coach. There's been some discussion that he'd move Steve Spurrier Jr. to coach quarterbacks and then hire a receivers coach.