Oct. 11, 2013
Penn State's Rob Cooper
By Sean Ryan
It was a big summer for Rob Cooper.
On one hand, Cooper was Penn State’s choice to
replace Robbie Wine, who resigned in June, as head coach of the Nittany Lions. On the other, Cooper guided USA Baseball’s U18
team to a gold medal at the IBAF U18 Baseball World Cup in
Taiwan. Calling it the “highlight of his coaching career,”
Cooper’s squad rallied from behind in three games before beating
Japan in the title game.
That resiliency mirrored what Cooper did while at
Wright State. Inheriting a program that had six losing seasons
in seven years,
Cooper led the Raiders to seven 30-win seasons and three
Horizon League Tournament titles in nine years. Consistently
playing a demanding schedule, Wright State twice knocked off No.
1 teams – Georgia in 2009 and Virginia in 2010.
First Inning - What was intriguing about the Penn
There was just so much that was intriguing about
Penn State. The world-class education, the top-of-the-line
facilities, the Big 10 Conference and the commitment from the
administration were all major factors that drew me to Penn
State. I believe with time we can win at a very high level,
while not sacrificing the well-being of the student athletes.
Also the people of the Penn State community and their love for
this university is something very humbling to be a part of.
Second Inning - Why now, and how difficult was it
leaving Wright State?
It was very difficult to leave Wright State. I
will always love that place and what those players were able to
accomplish. Bob Grant, the AD, was the one who believed in me
and gave me an opportunity to be a head coach. However, Penn
State was the right opportunity at the right time for my family
and my career. I was only going to leave Wright State for a
place that was special and that I could see myself finishing out
my career. Penn State is all that and more.
Third Inning - Big Ten schools have been making
investments in baseball. What are some of the Penn State
baseball program’s strengths, and what’s on the horizon?
The commitment by the administration was very
evident, and I believe we can win at a very high level.
Obviously Medlar Field is one of the finest college baseball
facilities in the country; it gives us a huge advantage in
recruiting. Also, 15 years ago, if you wanted to really develop
as a player, you had to go to warm-weather climates in order to
play and develop. However with the commitment to facilities by
“Northern” schools, that is able to happen at a place like Penn
State as well. Holuba Hall is an indoor field house that allows
us to legitimately play full intrasquads any time of the year.
If we need to play a nine-inning game in January or February, we
can. Recently, the strength and conditioning facility has gotten
a complete facelift and upgrades to facilities are always being
Fourth Inning - At Wright State, you regularly
played a demanding schedule. How did that influence your program
there, and will that continue at Penn State?
I think it helped make our players better. I
firmly believe that in order to get better, you need to
challenge yourself by playing the best competition you can.
Especially at Wright State, because if we made it to a Regional,
that was the type of environment we would be sent to. I think
our players really embraced the challenge and liked playing
against the best. I fully intend to challenge our program by
scheduling top programs from around the country.
Fifth Inning - What are a few of your favorite
memories at Wright State?
I am fortunate to say there were many, but
watching our players dog pile and win a championship and them
being rewarded for their hard work was really great. Seeing how
former players would come back frequently and the source of
pride they had in Wright State was really special. Our 2011
Championship was won at home and having my two boys, Tyson and
Jake, in the dugout when we got the final out was a really cool
“Dad” experience. Also, seeing Greg Lovelady being named head
coach and being rewarded for all his hard work is a great thing
to look back on.
Sixth Inning - You spent a few years as a
professional scout with the Dodgers. How does that compare with
recruiting college players?
I think it helped me refine and learn how to
evaluate players. I was in junior college and a local scout
allowed me to be an associate scout. It was a great way for me
to watch games, evaluate players and form an opinion on them. I
think evaluating college players is similar, because you are
trying to determine if they can help you during their 3-4 years
Seventh Inning - Describe your experience this
summer with Team USA.
That will go down as the highlight of my coaching
career. I was so fortunate to represent USA Baseball and be
surrounded by great coaches and players. Watching that group of
20 young men come together as a team, in a foreign country, in
order to be a part of something bigger than themselves is
something I will take to my grave. They were a special group of
young men that can call themselves world champions.
Eighth Inning - Name three coaches who have
influenced you the most, and how?
Jerry Weinstein, Rick Jones and Andy McKay. Jerry
was my mentor and truly taught me this game. I wouldn't have the
things I have in my life if not for him. Rick Jones taught me
how to truly run a program and how to constantly look for ways
to make it better. Andy McKay is one of the smartest, most
complete baseball people I have ever known. Also, I never played
or coached with Wally Kincaid of Cerritos College, but he
influenced so many coaches I respect and admire... Dave Snow,
Mike Gillespie, Dave Serrano, George Horton, Don Sneddon.
Ninth Inning - What are some of your initial
goals as coach of the Nittany Lions?
To teach our players that it is a process and
there is no quick fix. I also feel it is very important to show
our players our staff is as committed to them as we want them to
be to each other.
(photos courtesy of PSU Media