Clay Cooper, 1917-2007
Sept. 19, 2007
Clay Calhoun Cooper, a University of Missouri athlete, coach and administrator whose Tiger career spanned six decades, passed away May 31, 2007, at the age of 89. Survived by his wife of 65 years, Frances Cooper, his eight children, Georgiann, Sally, Julie, Christy, Shepard, Melissa, Greg and Kelly, an older brother John M. Cooper and younger sister Mae Jayne as well as 13 grandchildren, Cooper's death was felt by the entire Tiger community.
"Clay Cooper was an outstanding person, a great family man, and an avid fisherman," former Tiger Coach John Kadlec said. "Most of all, he was an excellent football coach."
Born Aug. 23, 1917 in Corydon, Ky., to parents Clay C. Cooper, Sr., a Kentucky meat packer and Martha "Mattie" Randolph Cooper, Clay and his family moved to Columbia, Mo., in 1932. One of six children, Cooper attended Hickman High School helping guide the Kewpie football team to an undefeated season his junior year (1935) and the basketball team to the Missouri state championships as a senior (1936). Cooper spent his next four years at the University of Missouri, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in 1940. During his time at the University, Cooper collected nine athletic letters in three sports, (football, basketball and track). In addition, Cooper was a member of the 1940 Big Six Champion football, basketball and indoor track teams.
After college, Cooper took on coaching and teaching duties at Joplin High School and later Joplin Junior College (now Missouri Southern University). A combat veteran of World War II, Cooper attained the rank of lieutenant before being released from active duty at the Alameda Naval Air Station in 1946.
Known to some as Coop, a few as Calhoun and many as Coach, Cooper began his coaching career at the University of Missouri in 1947, the same year he received his Master's of Education. Hired as both an assistant football and basketball coach, Cooper carried double duty until 1957 when then-Head Football Coach Frank Broyles assigned Cooper to the additional duty of recruiting coordinator.
Cooper relinquished his basketball coaching duties in 1959 to concentrate on football. Cooper was an assistant with the football team until 1975.
"Coach Cooper was very talented with the student-athletes," Kadlec said. "He never raised his voice when plays were run wrong; he corrected what was done and then illustrated how to complete the task at hand correctly."
Working under some of the biggest names in Missouri football, such as Don Faurot, Frank Broyles, Dan Devine, Al Onofrio and Warren Powers, Cooper in turn helped coach some of the biggest names in the program.
"I always look forward to working with a (Ken) Downing, a (Roger) Wehrli, a (Johnny) Roland an (Andy) Russell and a (John) Moseley and others who didn't make All-America, such as Butch Davis and Kevin Boston, to name a couple," Cooper said in an interview with St. Louis-Dispatch Sports Editor Bob Broeg in 1976.
Cooper reminisced with Broeg about his recruiting call to then unknown Wehrli.
"And how about Wehrli, a pale-faced kid he'd rescued from taking a small-college (Northwest Missouri State) basketball scholarship, to become a major-college All-America and an All-Pro?
Cooper, smiling recalled how he had squinted at 8-millimeter film, then watched Wehrli at a whistle-stop track meet when Missouri had only one football scholarship left. He was impressed, too, that Roger the Dodger had been All-State in Basketball. "But his father didn't think he could play big-time football. I wasn't sure, either, but I liked the kid's moves and I sold Rog's father when I said: "`Mr. Wehrli, just remember this, if Rog doesn't try, he'll always wonder whether he could have played for Missouri against the very best.'"
Wehrli went on to become a five-time All-Pro cornerback who played 14 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
In a 1985 interview with Columbia Daily Tribune reporter Don Kausler, Jr., Cooper felt that, "he scored perhaps his biggest recruiting coup in 1961 when he signed Johnny Roland out of Corpus Christi, Texas."
"`Oklahoma wanted him bad," Cooper says. "I remember every summer I'd have him stash all his winter clothes at my house so he'd have to come back.'"
In 1975 Cooper moved into the role of administrator, primarily in the recruiting area, and in 1985 at the age of 67, Cooper retired after serving the Athletics Department for a total of 38 years.
"Clay treated and coached his athletes with the utmost respect," Kadlec said. "He had a huge amount of confidence in his players, and in turn his players had a ton of confidence in him. They respected him very highly."
-- Emily Gatewood Murray, with assistance from Marlene Kelly
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