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Ohio State Fires Coach Cooper

Ohio State fired head coach John Cooper Tuesday, the day after another bowl loss by the Buckeyes, and will pay $1.8 million to buy out the remaining three years of his contract.

"It's really in the best interest of the university to move on," athletics director Andy Geiger said at a news conference.

Geiger said the university will begin looking for a new coach immediately.

"It did not hinge on winning or losing the Outback Bowl, although I would say that yesterday was sort of a capstone on what we have seen as a deteriorating climate within football program," Geiger said. "Concern about discipline, competitiveness, academic pursuits, a whole series of things.

"I thought yesterday, unfortunately, was an exhibit of all those things rolled into one."

Although favored in Monday's game, Ohio State lost 24-7 to South Carolina. The team of Lou Holtz had gone 0-11 a year ago and was the only unranked team playing in a New Year's Day game this year.

In the weeks leading up to the Outback Bowl, an Ohio State player questioned a captain's leadership abilities, the leading rusher was held out of the starting lineup for missing the first practice in Tampa and one offensive lineman sued another for $50,000 in the wake of an on-the-field fight in the spring.

Cooper, 63, had a five-year contract worth $1.1 million a year.

His Ohio State teams went 111-43-4 and finished second in the final AP poll in 1997 and again in 1999.

His tenure was the second longest for an Ohio State football coach, exceeded only by Woody Hayes, who went 205-61-10 in 28 seasons with the Buckeyes. Only Hayes won more games at Ohio State than Cooper did.

But Cooper's Buckeyes also struggled in big games. Cooper was just 2-10-1 against archrival Michigan and 3-8 in bowl games. Six times in his 13 years, the Buckeyes closed out their season with consecutive losses to Michigan and in a bowl game.

Cooper became Ohio State's 21st head coach on Dec. 31, 1987.

Earle Bruce, the coach for nine seasons, had compiled a record of 81-26-1, a winning percentage of .755. But Bruce, a former player and assistant at Ohio State under Hayes, was fired by OSU president Edward H. Jennings two days after a last-second 29-27 loss to Iowa. When told by Jennings to fire Bruce, athletics director Rick Bay resigned. He had opposed the firing.

Cooper had won the Rose Bowl just two years before while at Arizona State. He had a career record of 82-40-2 in 11 years as a head coach at ASU and also Tulsa, and had also been an assistant at Iowa State, Oregon State, UCLA, Kansas and Kentucky.

Ohio State officials said Arizona State's 22-15 victory over Michigan in the 1986 Rose Bowl was a key factor in their decision to hire Cooper.

At the news conference introducing him at Ohio State, Coope said, "I want to try and win a national championship, and, quite frankly, I feel I've got a better chance to do it at Ohio State than Arizona State."

Cooper never won Ohio State's first national title since 1968 even though the Buckeyes came close.

In 1995, the Buckeyes won their first 11 games before losing at No. 12 Michigan, 31-23. Five weeks later, Ohio State lost to Tennessee 20-14 in the Florida Citrus Bowl.

The 1996 team won its first 10 games and was ranked No. 2 when it fell to No. 21 Michigan, 13-9. That team rebounded to edge Arizona State 20-17 in the Rose Bowl in the final seconds.

Ranked No. 1 in the preseason, the 1998 team stayed atop the polls until Nov. 7, when it lost to 17-point underdog Michigan State. The Buckeyes won their last three games, including victories over Michigan and against Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl, to again finish No. 2 in the final rankings.

Cooper once said he would never be a beloved figure in Ohio and would always pale in comparison to the revered Hayes, who died in 1987.

"A lot of people are never going to like me," Cooper once said.

The heat was turned up after a 6-6 season in 1999 in which the Buckeyes closed with three consecutive losses and then failed to make a bowl trip for the first time since Cooper's first season.

This year, the Buckeyes won their first five games to climb into the top 10 but faltered down the stretch.

Minnesota, coached by a former Ohio State player and Hayes assistant Glen Mason, upset the Buckeyes 29-17. Mason, who may be a top candidate to replace Cooper, said he cried on the way to the game when he thought how much Ohio State had meant to his career.

Purdue's Drew Brees tossed a 64-yard touchdown pass to Seth Morales with 1:55 left to give the Boilermakers a 31-27 win over Ohio State and take the inside track to the Rose Bowl.

Subsequent upsets still gave the Buckeyes a shot at winning a share of the conference title, but Michigan overcame a 9-0 deficit and stopped the Buckeyes late for a 38-26 victory.

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