Former Ohio State coach John Cooper, the Bengals' new consultant/special assistant, called a timeout this week from his draft preparation and sat down with Geoff Hobson of bengals.com to talk about his first month on the job.
HOBSON: It looks like you're all settled in here in this new office. It's small, but it may be the best one in the place because it's right behind the draft board.
COOPER: That's where I'm trying to help them is behind the scenes a little bit. Calling coaches. Trying to find a little more information on the kids.
HOBSON: Now that you're wearing this new hat, do you find that the coaches you've had good relationships with are being as honest with you as when you were a coach?
COOPER That's the one thing I told (the Bengals) when I talked to them about the job. Being a head coach on the college level for 24 years and being president of the coaches' association, I know almost every head coach in the country. I've talked to several head coaches (in the past month) and they've been very open, very honest, very forthright.
One thing you have to be careful with, and it's the same thing when you're on the college level. You have certain high school coaches who will level with you and other coaches who oversell their kids. It takes you awhile to find that out.
HOBSON: You must have been around long enough to know the guys who are B.S.ing from the straight shooters.
COOPER: I think I have good enough relationships with the head coaches that I can say, 'Hey, don't B.S. me.' I do a lot of work on the phone. They gave me a list of about 20 to 25 kids to check out.
HOBSON: The one college team everyone is talking about is Miami. You've had to be checking out guys there.
COOPER: I gave (Hurricanes coach) Larry Coker his first head coaching job, so that's a real good contact. **
HOBSON:** They're saying their entire secondary will get drafted.
COOPER: People tell me all four will get drafted. (Cornerback Phillip) Buchanon and (safety Ed) Reed are first-rounders. So is the big tackle (Bryant McKinnie) and the tight end (Jeremy Shockey). They could have six to eight guys drafted the first day.
HOBSON: At Ohio State, you were known for having super draft classes. **
COOPER:** One year (1997) we had the first pick with Orlando Pace and the third pick with Shawn Springs.
HOBSON: You had a tight end drafted in the top 10 the year before when the Raiders traded up for Rickey Dudley. **
COOPER:** Dudley could run. He could really get down the field.
HOBSON: Kind of like Shockey?
COOPER: I don't think he's got Dudley's speed. Dudley only played one year for us. He was a basketball player. What a great athlete. He's in the 4.5 (seconds in the 40-yard dash). I don't know if Shockey is that fast or not. He might be.
HOBSON: A couple of years before that (1994), the Bengals took another one of your guys, Dan Wilkinson, with the first pick.
COOPER: Wilkinson hasn't played nearly as well as I thought he would. I thought Danny Wilkinson had the talent to be a dominant NFL defensive lineman for eight to 10 years. **
HOBSON:** What happened?
COOPER: I don't know. It's hard to project. This is why I'm so excited about coming down here. What I'm trying to do is try to project how money is going to affect the performance of the kids. How do they handle all of a sudden coming from poverty and not having any thing to being instant millionaires? How does that affect somebody?
HOBSON: I guess that's the question you're asking their coaches.
COOPER: The red flag, in my opinion, goes up a little bit when they start talking about this kid is a little immature, maybe they question his work ethic a little bit. It's not any secret the harder you work, the better you get. We sort of had a tag on us at being great recruiters and I think we did a good job recruiting.
But a lot of our better players weren't heavily recruited. For example, (Heisman Trophy winner) Eddie George comes out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and not a lot of colleges recruited Eddie George. Very few recruited him as a running back. I think we beat Marshall on him as a running back, and he didn't start for us until his junior year. A lot of people recruited him as a linebacker and he can play linebacker, but he wanted to play running back.
We signed Danny Wilkinson in May. Nobody recruited him. Terry Glenn walked on at Ohio State. These guys were talented. Not that all these guys played in the NFL at what their talent level indicated, but they were great players for us. **
HOBSON:** I guess that's what you're trying to do here. Find the truth and potential about guys that other scouts might not see.
COOPER: I'm trying to find out, with my contacts, a little more about the kid. What kind of family he comes from, his work ethic, how will he handle the transition from college to pro football? The financial situation? **
HOBSON:Ohio State has some pretty good players coming out this year in cornerback Derek Ross and center LeCharles Bentley.
COOPER:** I think it's a little bit of a down year for Ohio State. They've got about eight or 10 guys people are looking at, but I don't know if they have anybody who will go in the first round. Maybe Ross. Maybe Bentley.
HOBSON: They say Ross is sliding because he plays with "a lack of discipline."
COOPER: He takes some chances. He takes some chances. But he also came up with big plays and he had more interceptions than most of these other guys. He led the Big 10 in interceptions. Which I like. When I coached the defensive backs, I never kept passes broken up. What the heck is that? The way I look at it is, if you can break it up, you ought to make the interception. And how many times have you seen a big play happen right after a defensive back misses an interception? **
HOBSON:Ross has had some traffic problems with the police, but I understand you like him as a kid.
COOPER:Ross is OK. A little immature. He made some mistakes off the field, but he's not a bad kid. He's not a criminal. He wasn't for us.
HOBSON:One mock draft has Ross and Bentley going back to back late in the second round. What do you think of Bentley?
COOPER:He's a good player and a good kid. He comes from a good family with a great mom. Good work ethic and he can play guard, too. Those guys will go in the first day.
HOBSON:** Has anything surprised you about the NFL in your first month?
COOPER: Just at how much goes into behind the scenes to get ready for the draft. I didn't realize how much work is involved. I got here and said, 'Holy cow.' Every name of every college player that has any chance at all , they know about him. They do their homework. Medical checks. Background checks. Speed. Height. Weight. You have to have them for everybody so you can compare.
And I don't think people understand the amount of time these coaches put in. I've been to three or four workouts and at least two Bengals' coaches have been there and usually more than that. (Defensive line coach) Tim Krumrie has been at all the top linemen's workouts. Tennessee. North Carolina.
HOBSON: A major criticism of this team is that the coaches are on the road too much because of a lack of scouts. The argument for them going on the road is that if the guys are going to coach them, they should have a say in picking them.
COOPER: No question about it. The fact that Tim Krumrie has been there working him out gives him a feel for how that kid can play. **
HOBSON:What's the deepest position out there?
COOPER:Probably the defensive line. Four could go in the top eight with the two from Tennessee (John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth), the (North Carolina's Ryan) Sims kid, and (Wendell) Bryant at Wisconsin.
HOBSON:** We're all hearing the same names for the Bengals at No. 10. Buchanon. Joey Harrington. Roy Williams. Shockey. Any of these guys have red flags?
COOPER: Some are better kids than others, but overall I don't think you can have too many character flaws and be rated that highly. They look to be good kids.
HOBSON: Harrington, the Oregon quarterback, has been a mystery. Some have him going third. Some have him going to the Bengals at 10. Some have him sliding to lower in the first round. **
COOPER:** I know his coach, Mike Bellotti, real well. He doesn't like him. He loves him. The intangibles are good. The work ethic and character and family, leadership, all of that is excellent.
HOBSON: Are you watching a lot of tape?
COOPER: I'm not one of these guys that sits in the office and watches tape all day long. I don't enjoy that. I watch some tape, but I'd rather talk to the coaches and find out what makes these guys go. **
HOBSON:** You've got to be around Dick LeBeau's age (64) and you look to be in excellent shape. You've said you'd keep your ears open if the right coaching job came along. And you mean a college job, because you've said you're not here to become the coach.
COOPER: I'll be 65 in July and I feel pretty good. I work out about four times a week. I don't want to move across country again. I'm not going to be doing that. I've coached all over the country. If there was something around here, within reasonable distance of Columbus that opened up and I had a shot at it, I'll look into it.
HOBSON: The Big 10?
COOPER: It doesn't have to be the Big 10, but I'm not going to California or Texas. I've done that already.
HOBSON: What about a MAC school?
COOPER: I might be interested. It would have to be an unusual situation for me to go to the MAC.
HOBSON: The Big East keeps coming out this way.
COOPER: I'm not going to take a job just to get back into coaching.
HOBSON: You'd have to decide if you wanted to get into a rebuilding situation.
COOPER: I don't know if at my age I want to go rebuild a program. I don't know if I want to do that. I had a goal one time to win 200 games. I won 193. That's the reason I felt so bad about not coaching that last year at Ohio State. I wanted to coach at least one more year. Only a handful of guys (have won 200). I think 15 or 17. But I can live without it. If I get it, fine, and even if I don't, fine.
HOBSON: This seems pretty ideal for you because you can live in Columbus and drive down at key times of the year.
COOPER: This gives me new life. I'm looking forward to draft day. Not that I'm going to be contributing that much, but I'm interested to see what happens here behind the scenes. And then of course the next thing is to bring those kids in for minicamp and I'm looking forward to that.