1 October 2016:  FIU Interim Head Coach Ron Cooper paces the sidelines in the first quarter as the FIU Golden Panthers defeated the Florida Atlantic University Owls, 33-31, to win the 15th Annual Shula Bowl Game at FIU Stadium in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

FIU’s Ron Cooper and the rise of the interim head coach in 2016

Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire

It always produces a controversial response when head coaches are fired mid-season. There are always those who believe the coach should have been given the opportunity to turn things around. Just as many, or more, find themselves on the other end of the spectrum, thinking the firing was long overdue and certainly justified.

With the early returns coming in, the latter group appears to be in the right this season.

At LSU, former head coach Les Miles held steadfast to his way of doing things. Who really could blame him; one national championship and two national championship game appearances hardly begs for change. However, a 2-2 start did not bode well for a team that entered the season ranked No. 5 in the nation and carried national championship expectations this year. The 2015 was accompanied by large aspirations as well, when the Tigers limped to a 9-3 finish after a 7-0 start.

Interim head coach Ed Orgeron had his Tigers ready to play in his first game. LSU mauled Missouri 42-7, and was in line to do the same to an injury-riddled Florida team before the Gators postponed the game due to concerns about safety in the face of Hurricane Matthew.

At FIU, former head coach Ron Turner was also let go after opening the season with four consecutive losses in a year that the Panthers were expected to challenge for a bowl game and be competitive in Conference USA. But a 5-7 record and no bowl game was followed by an 0-4 start to the 2017 season, suggesting a change might be necessary.

That has proven to be true as well. Interim head coach Ron Cooper has taken the reins and guided the Panthers to consecutive C-USA victories over FAU (33-31) and UTEP (35-21) on the road.

Interim coaches so far this season are 3-0. Sometimes you need a breath of fresh air.

“It feels great, just the atmosphere of everybody and coming after a coach change,” said FIU quarterback Alex McGough after the Panthers ran past UTEP. “Coach Coop came in and built confidence in us on the field. Offense had 450 yards and the defense played really well the whole game. It just feels great to everybody.”

Cooper is a veteran in the ranks with head coaching experience at Louisville (1995-97) and smaller schools Eastern Michigan and Alabama State. He’s a defensive backs expert with stints at Wisconsin, Mississippi State, South Carolina, LSU, South Florida, and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Cooper came to FIU in 2015 as the Panthers’ defensive backs coach and was the team’s defensive coordinator this season before taking the position as interim head coach.

He’s done an excellent job of steering the team in the right direction amidst the level of adversity a program faces when making a change during the season.

“We worked hard,” Cooper said in a recent postgame interview. “And we’re just going to keep moving forward, eliminate the first few weeks. We are starting over. We’ve got to keep going.”

Cooper said he hasn’t done much differently since taking over.

“Well, Ron Turner did a great job,” Cooper said.”The only thing different that I did was put a little more contact in practice.”

An attitude shift has made the difference both at FIU and at LSU. While midseason changes aren’t ideal situations, at least in these two instances it appears to have been the right move.

FIU’s Ron Cooper and the rise of the interim head coach in 2016
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