COLUMBUS, Ohio — Shortly after he was introduced Thursday as Ohio State's 21st head football coach, John Cooper began trying to make up for six missed weeks of recruiting high school players--a job he called his top priority.
"The important thing now is to get our staff here and get on with recruiting," Cooper said. "We recognize that we probably are behind in recruiting, but we're going to catch up in a hurry.
"Recruiting is the name of the game. You win with talent. We will start right here with primarily Ohio players and then go wherever else we need to go. We'll get the 25 best student-athletes we can to compete in the Big Ten Conference."
Cooper was introduced as the next Buckeye coach one day after he coached Arizona State to a 33-28 victory over Air Force in the Freedom Bowl and a 7-4-1 season record. His record in three years at Arizona State was 25-9-2.
Cooper, 50, replaces Earle Bruce, who was fired on Nov. 16, five days before the Buckeyes ended their season with a 6-4-1 record by beating Michigan.
Although Cooper left a news conference with a list of 25 players he said he planned to contact immediately, his five-year contract does not take effect until Monday, when the Ohio State Board of Trustees formally votes to approve it.
Under terms of the contract, Cooper will receive a $98,000 salary in his first year. His agreement also guarantees $240,000 annually from radio and television contracts for a total package of $338,000.
However, that does not include possible revenue from a shoe contract, coaches camps or speeches.
Ohio State Athletic Director James L. Jones said that he and associate athletic director Bill Myles narrowed the list of candidates who expressed an interest in the job from about 48 to seven finalists.
Jones refused to reveal the names of the other finalists but acknowledged that Ohio State officials had asked UCLA Coach Terry Donahue and Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne if they were interested in the job. Both said no.
Cooper said he began serious negotiations with Ohio State about two weeks ago when he met with Jones and Myles in Dallas.
Cooper, a native of Powell, Tenn., said he told his players Wednesday night after their Freedom Bowl victory that he was leaving Arizona State and that he boarded a plane shortly afterward for Columbus, where he appeared with his wife, Helen.
Cooper, a 1962 graduate of Iowa State, began his coaching career in 1962 as a freshman coach for the Cyclones. He was an assistant coach for Tommy Prothro at Oregon State from 1963-65 and followed Prothro to UCLA. He coached at Kansas for Coach Pepper Rodgers in 1967 and left in 1972 to join Coach Fran Curci at Kentucky. His got his first head coaching job in 1977 in Tulsa, where he compiled a 51-37 record in eight years.
On his coaching philosophy, Cooper said: "I don't spend a lot of time coaching players, I spend more time coaching coaches. Also, coaches have to get involved in community affairs, public relations and charity events, and I do a lot of that."