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Cooper Thriving in New Role
April 17, 2018


By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation

From his days playing defensive back at Temple University and later as a graduate assistant coach for the Owls, Evan Cooper understands defensive principles. “Cover 2 is Cover 2,” he said.

But, after three years as director of player personnel for Matt Rhule at first Temple and then Baylor, Cooper had to take a crash course from defensive “guru” Phil Snow when he was promoted this spring to an on-field assistant coaching position with the safeties.

“It’s been an adjustment, to learn everything instead of just knowing it,” Cooper said. “Now, I have to kind of be the master, because I have to teach it to someone. It’s a bunch of late nights, just trying to prepare and make sure I’m giving the right information.”

It helps that Cooper has Snow and cornerbacks coach Fran Brown, “who I think is the best young coach in the country,” as his mentors.

“Coop brings a tremendous amount of energy on the field, and he can push those guys because he has such a strong relationship with them,” said Rhule, who added Cooper to the coaching staff when the NCAA approved the 10th full-time assistant. “You take Phil’s expertise and Coop’s youth and energy. He’s like Fran was a couple years ago. Fran is now an experienced coach, and Coop will be a really good football coach for many years here.”

Brown said he trusts Cooper “with all my heart.”

“We’re a family. Me and Coop have been brothers for the last six years,” Brown said. “He’s smart and has good character and competitiveness. He’s added some swag, and that means a lot.”

Without specifically politicking or pushing to get an on-field coaching position, expanding on a role that has helped Baylor bring in surprisingly strong classes the last two years, Cooper said “it’s always been my goal.”

“I try not to look too far ahead of things. I was just focused on recruiting the best class we could,” he said. “But, I feel like any guy who has ever started as a graduate assistant, his ultimate goal is to be a head coach. You have steps along the way, which is being an assistant coach. So yeah, it’s always been a goal of mine.”

A year ago, the safety positions were a glaring weakness. But, with the emergence and development of former cornerbacks Verkedric Vaughns and Blake Lynch, it’s fast becoming a strength.

The 5-9, 193-pound Vaughns doesn’t have typical safety size, but “he is exactly what we would like intangibly as a safety,” Cooper said.

“I think his confidence has grown. I feel like this spring, he’s taken his game to another level. He’s attacking it. He’s running to the football like a maniac. Sometimes, we have to tell him to slow down because we don’t want to get anybody hurt. But, he’s embracing, and he’s embracing his leadership role, and I’m very proud of him.”

Although he tied for the team lead among all defensive backs with 42 tackles, Vaughns said the transition from corner to safety that first year was difficult.

“Now that I have a year under my belt, I feel real comfortable,” he said. “Everybody’s flying around, I’m flying around. . . . We learned what not to do last year. And this year, we know we have a chance, so everybody’s getting better and taking it one day at a time.”

Cooper said it doesn’t matter where you put the 6-3, 217-pound Lynch, he would find a way to do it and do it well. He’s already played receiver, wildcat quarterback, running back and cornerback and even practiced some at defensive end in the fall.

“Blake is just an absolute football player. He’s always in his comfort zone,” Cooper said. “If we told him to play guard, he would figure out a way to be a really good guard, because that’s what he does. He can figure out things. No. 1, because of his talent; and No. 2, because of his intelligence. I think he is a good fit at safety, but he was also a good fit at corner and a good fit at wildcat and two years ago he was a good fit at running back. He’s just a jack-of-all-trades.”

As a bigger safety, Lynch “brings some physicality,” Cooper said. “We feel like we can get him to be a great player, and he wants to be. So, that’s always a plus.”

Also at safety are junior Chris Miller and sophomore Jairon McVea, who each made one start last season, and early-enrollee freshmen Christian Morgan and JT Woods.

“JT looks like a gazelle out here, just running around, making plays, giving it everything he’s got,” Cooper said. “Christian, like it’s been said before, he’s just a freak, a freak athlete. The thirst for knowledge is beyond something that I’ve seen from freshmen. Those guys want to be great, and I think they have a chance to be.”

Baylor will resume workouts Tuesday morning and go through another practice Thursday afternoon before wrapping up spring drills with the Green & Gold Spring Game at noon Saturday at McLane Stadium.

 

 

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