Last evening, it was made public that West Liberty University Associate Head Coach, Kyle Cooper, was elevated to the position of Head Coach.
I have known Coach Cooper for several years now since he has been an assistant coach in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference turned Mountain East Conference when I was a head coach at Penn State – Beaver and an assistant at Clarion University.
From my interaction with Kyle, he has always been the consummate professional as women’s college basketball coach. Whether it was staying for the late AAU game at tournaments when he was trying to land the big recruit, breaking down just a little more film, or working with female student-athletes on the court, Kyle was always willing to do whatever it took to be a great assistant.
Put simply, he always tried to do what great assistants do: make the head coach’s life easier and always put the team before his ego.
Kyle made a somewhat controverisal move in 2013 when he left Wheeling Jesuit University for cross-town rival West Liberty University. By making the jump across town, he not only got to work with legendary coach Lynn Ullom, but he had the opportunity to observe and be mentored how to run an elite NCAA Division II program, make quality contacts with some of the best in the business and take the lead role in recruiting, game planning and many other facets of program planning. It was only an 11 mile move, but it made all the difference.
For an assistant (and head coach for that matter), to work in an environment that allows room to grow while continuing to be able pursuit ones professional goals and dreams IS EVERYTHING.
Unfortunately, not every coach has great mentors, support from their administration or even the personal resolve to allow them to persevere until a situation arises which allows for a vertical move. Sometimes assistants get antsy and jump at any chance to become a head coach, even if it is a subpar situation. This is all in an effort not to get labeled as an “assistant” forever. Other coaches may get out of the game completely because the assistant coaching salary, especially at the DII or DIII levels, may not be enough to support themselves or their families. When you weigh the time requirements along with the modest financial compensation at most institutions, these factors can really be the deciding reasons for assistant coaches looking for an opportunity to be a head coach to make a tough decision about their vocation and leave the professional altogether.
Since head coaching jobs are so far and few between, coaches should celebrate West Liberty’s decision to promote Coach Cooper for the following reasons.
First, the administration didn’t open the position to a lengthy national search. Instead, they looked at Coach Cooper’s entire body of work since he has been at West Liberty and made a value judgment on his ability to lead the women’s basketball program. Kyle’s approach to his position over the past four seasons proved he was worthy of the title “head coach”. By not opening a search, yes it may not have given others the ability to interview and show their competence, but it also didn’t waste potential applicants time or money by putting on a “dog and pony show” when they knew who their hire was going to be. We all know that the hiring process is brutal, filled with emotional rollercoaster moments throughout, so to spare this anxiety for everyone involved, especially the Cooper family, is tremendous.
In addition, the decision to promote Coach Cooper keeps the program running seamlessly and will most likely not make for a wave of transfers, something plaguing college basketball at all levels, because Coach Cooper not only recruited all of them but he has a personal relationship with them as well. I am sure that most if not all of the student-athletes are excited about continuing to have Coach Cooper as their coach and leader.
Moreover, the process was not some “political move” or “inside job” made by administration to satisfy an alum base or booster. It was not some new administration or current administrator putting “their guy/girl” in the job who was not qualified but rather a figurehead or personal friend. It was not the administration opening the job up to find a an ex-professional player or alum to make a “splash” hire. It was not the administration hiring a “big name” who has coached basketball but never (maybe) women’s basketball before, or worse yet, never been a coach at all. The hire was also not an administrator hiring someone to fill a quota.
No the hire of Coach Cooper was none of that. Rather, West Liberty had no agenda. Instead they evaluated Coach Cooper’s four years on the Hill and took that four year job interview at face value. West Liberty rewarded Coach Cooper with a promotion because he EARNED THE POSITION. Period.
This hire has helped restore some of my faith in the hiring process in women’s basketball. Kudos to West Liberty University President Dr. Stephen Greiner and the athletic administration for how they handled this entire process. Coaches everywhere would be lucky to be treated with this type of loyalty and respect that Coach Cooper experienced.
Hopefully other administrations will look carefully at their upcoming open positions, and whether it is opening the position up for a national search or promoting from within, they must do the what is right from both the program and its current and future student-athletes. It must be noted that depending upon the situation, either option can be the right decision. It just has to be made with the student-athletes and the program in mind and nothing else. No agendas please.
With all of that in mind, most importantly, a coach who has paid his dues now gets an opportunity to play out his adulthood dream while his wife and son get to cheer him on from the stands.
Congrats West Liberty University and Coach Cooper. All the best in the future.
You deserve each other.