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Beating Cooper would make Rose smell sweeter

December 30, 1996

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) _ When John Cooper left Arizona State nine years ago to become coach at Ohio State, he said one reason was that the Buckeyes gave him a better opportunity to win a national championship.

Those words are haunting Cooper these days.

Until this season the Buckeyes hadn’t even earned a Rose Bowl appearance under Cooper, much less a national title. And now that they’ve finally reached Pasadena, it’s their responsibility to keep the Arizona State from staking a claim to the championship.

And don’t think that bit of turnabout has been lost on Arizona State fans. Or some of his former players.

``It would be perfect. Poetic justice,″ said Bruce Hill, who caught two touchdown passes when the Sun Devils won the 1987 Rose Bowl under Cooper. ``He’s probably working overtime to beat us.″

Hill, who now serves as program coordinator for the ASU Alumni Association, is one of many Sun Devil fans who relish the chance to get revenge on the man who took ASU to its first Rose Bowl, only to jilt them within a year.

Bob Schneider, a 1958 ASU alumnus who now lives in Snowflake, Ariz., is another.

``We’d love it,″ Schneider said Sunday at the mere mention of Cooper’s name. ``I was at that (Rose Bowl) game 10 years ago, and we rooted for him then. But he left us feeling betrayed.″

Cooper was arguably the most popular man in Arizona following the Sun Devils’ 22-15 triumph over Michigan in the 1987 game. Virtually unknown when he was hired, he took an ASU program that had buckled under the weight of NCAA sanctions and restored it to its former glory in two years.

But ASU fans soon learned that Cooper had a wandering eye. Unlike Frank Kush, who spurned offers from the NFL and other colleges to stay 22 years in Tempe, Cooper couldn’t resist looking into other opportunities.

After earning ASU’s first Rose Bowl berth, he was considered for the Texas job that eventually went to David McWilliams. And when Ohio State fired Earle Bruce the following season, Cooper accepted the Buckeyes’ offer within hours of coaching ASU to a win in the Freedom Bowl.

Instead of being hailed as a savior, Cooper was branded a carpetbagger and a traitor.

``I don’t think there are too many Sun Devil fans that don’t feel betrayed,″ said Steve Schneider, Bob’s son and a 1978 ASU alum. ``He did that thing where he said he wasn’t going to leave Arizona State, then the next day he was gone.″

Cooper’s wife, Helen, recently told The Arizona Republic that there was more to the decision than just money and prestige.

``The people who really know us in Arizona know that I’m the biggest reason John left,″ she said. ``My mother had contracted Alzheimer’s disease. She lived in Knoxville (Tenn.), which is only about a six-hour drive from Columbus, and I wanted to be as close to her as possible.″

For his part, Cooper remembers his Arizona State days as some of his most enjoyable in coaching.

``I left Arizona State with great feelings,″ he said last week. ``I have no animosity for anybody out there. They were great to me during the three years my family and I were in Tempe.″

But that doesn’t lessen the sense of justice that will prevail if Cooper becomes the final victim in a perfect ASU season.

``If he played somebody else in the Rose Bowl, maybe I’d root for him,″ Steve Schneider said. ``But now I want to beat him bad.″

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