Tennessee State's Cooper sees rumors of his possible departure as a 'compliment'

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 7:35pm

John Cooper’s name may be popping up on message boards but his phone is staying silent.

That’s good news for Tennessee State.

On the heels of his third season as head coach of the Tigers, Cooper  has been mentioned as a candidate for several open jobs. This includes the still vacant Miami-Ohio post and at South Carolina, where he was an assistant from 1995-2001. The Gamecocks hired former Kansas State coach Frank Martin last week.

Cooper told The City Paper he has not received any phone calls from aforementioned institutions or other schools about vacant head coaching positions.

“It is what I always say, ‘You’ll know when you’re the guy when they call you,’ ” Cooper said. “The only reason my name has been mentioned is direct correlation to the kind of kids we have and the staff that I have. If we’re not winning games and we’re not doing things right, my name is never mentioned.

"I take it as a compliment to our team and to our staff.”

TSU jumped into the national spotlight in February with its first win over a Top 10 team when the Tigers knocked off Murray State, which at the time was the last undefeated team in Division I. It was the second notable victory of the season. The Tigers’ win at South Carolina in November was the program’s first over an SEC team.

They almost beat Murray State a second time, falling 54-52 in the Ohio Valley Conference championship game, just missing out on an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

With a nine-game winning streak, TSU (20-13) finished second in the OVC and notched the school’s first winning season in 16 years. The Tigers also won 20 games for the first time since 1979 and snapped an 18-year postseason drought. They received an invite to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, falling to eventual champion Mercer in the first round.

Cooper was named a finalist for three national coach of the year awards. Since arriving on campus after five years at Auburn as the associate head coach, the Tigers steadily have increased their win total. They went 14-16 in 2010-11 after a 9-23 record his first year.

Cooper expects to meet with athletics director Teresa Phillips in the next couple weeks to discuss any potential issues related to his contract. Phillips did not respond to multiple interview requests.

“I’m concentrating on that squad for next year,” Cooper said. “That is my main focus right now to recruit, recruit, recruit and make my coaching look a little bit better. It always looks better with good players.”