Okay, I’ll cut right to the chase. So my post Super Bowl newsletter that featured Tampa’s coach Jon Cooper hit home for many of you! I am pleased that so many enjoyed the article. Learning about how coaches think and work can be very helpful for a player. Maybe it helps you in relating to your own coach or maybe the help will be more relevant when one-day you are coaching a team or child yourself. It is always good to learn how leaders think so in-turn you can think and lead well yourself.
I looked to see if Coach Littler had any more articles about Coach Cooper. OH YEAH! So here’s another about the man himself.
THE LEGEND OF LIGHTNING’S JON COOPER IS JUST BEGINNING IN TAMPA BAY
By John Romano, Published Jan. 13
Now starting his eighth full season in Tampa Bay, Cooper has a resume that might one day compare favorably to the game’s best.
TAMPA — Let’s play a little word association. I give you the name of a Tampa Bay coach or manager, and you tell me the first description that pops into your mind.
John Tortorella: Angry.
Joe Maddon: Erudite.
Jon Gruden: Maniacal.
Tony Dungy: Saintly.
Jon Cooper: …
Got you, didn’t I? It’s hard to reduce Cooper to a single portrait or adjective. He seems stoic on the bench but is actually quite funny. He’s sharp as hell but can be a bit smug. So how are we to pigeonhole the Lightning’s 53-year-old coach? How about this:
Jon Cooper: Winner.
It might be less about his personality and more about his resume, but it does have the advantage of being entirely accurate. Cooper has won championship cups at so many levels of hockey, he could create his own tea service.
And with the delivery of last season’s Stanley Cup title, the journey is now complete. Fair or not, the Stanley Cup offers validation that cannot be acquired any other way.
Cooper didn’t play in the NHL — he famously didn’t play professionally at all — but few men have ever directed hockey teams so successfully.
You think that’s an overstatement? Fifty-four head coaches have won a Stanley Cup, based on data from hockey-reference.com. Of those 54, only 26 won 300 or more games in their NHL career. Of those, only nine had a career points percentage above .600. Of those, only the legendary Scotty Bowman has a higher points percentage than Cooper.
If you’re looking to brag about someone, that’s a pretty good place to start.
“I don’t know that people ever looked at ‘Coop’ differently because he never played. He’s done so much winning, he’s so smart, he’s so likable, I think people understood exactly how special he is as a coach,” Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said. “What winning a Stanley Cup does do is it becomes a permanent part of your legacy.
“You can be the best coach, the best GM, the best player, you can do a lot of really good things in your career, but until you win a Stanley Cup, you can never really say: mission accomplished.”
By now, Cooper’s backstory is pretty well known. A Wall Street guy who got his law degree and became a public defender while playing club hockey on the side. A judge asked him to coach his son’s high school team in Michigan, and the rest is history.
What’s remarkable is the timing of it all. It was less than eight years ago that Cooper earned his first paycheck in the NHL. Now, he is the league’s longest-tenured coach with the same team. Along the way, the Lightning have reached the Eastern Conference final four times and the Stanley Cup final twice.
Maddon might have been renowned for defensive shifts when he was with the Rays, and Dungy is known as the architect of the Cover 2 defense in Tampa Bay, but
Cooper’s genius is less tactical.
It’s not the X’s and O’s that have elevated him to the coaching elite, but rather his ability to get the most out of an entire roster. That means recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of every player, and understanding what it takes to motivate and unify a locker room of disparate personalities. More than anything, it means getting players to worry more about a team’s success rather than their own stat sheets, contracts or egos.
He’s not a screamer, but he’s also not afraid to tell players what they need to hear. It’s a more nuanced approach than perhaps some old-school coaches, and it fits perfectly with an organization that values the process more than instant gratification.
“First and foremost, I’ve always thought the most important quality in a head coach is leadership,” said BriseBois, who first hired Cooper as a head coach when he was the general manager of the Lightning’s AHL affiliate at Norfolk.
“And when we hired Jon Cooper way back in 2010, that was the No. 1 quality I saw in him. To this day, that’s probably his biggest secret to his success, is how strong a leader he is, how good he is at managing people and situations. … His people skills are really good.
He’s very, very smart and very diligent, so he gives us confidence that we’re well prepared at all times. I don’t have to worry that’s he’s on top of things.”
Asked last week about his trail of championships through the North American Hockey League, the United States Hockey League and the American Hockey League, Cooper brushed off the question with a joke and a string of cliches about having great players and leaders on the roster.
He might have been blessed with strong teams through the years — including a ridiculously talented core in Tampa Bay — but Cooper’s legacy of championships is neither fluke nor luck.
He’s already been at the job longer than Tortorella or any other Lightning coach. In fact, he’s been in Tampa Bay longer than Dungy or Gruden were, and the two of them have their names on the Bucs Ring of Honor.
Is Cooper the best coach this community has ever known? Possibly. Is he among the best coaches in the NHL today? Absolutely. Does he have a chance to be one of the league’s all-time greats? Stay tuned, because the numbers suggest he does.
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