Legendary Coach Cared More About Wrestlers than Trophies

By DIANNA TROYER

When Brad “Coop” Cooper retired last spring from his alma mater as Minico High School’s legendary wrestling coach, he left behind display cases filled with trophies.

During 30 years of coaching, his wrestlers won the Idaho 4A Wrestling Championship in 2017 and 2006, nearly 20 district titles, and more than two dozen individual state titles. He also was lauded with prestigious national coaching awards.

The trophies and accolades never motivated him, though. “It was about the kids,” he said, “watching them grow up and seeing them light up from their accomplishments, whether on the mat or in the classroom.”

He also taught a variety of subjects, most recently U.S. History and physical education, at the high school near Rupert, Idaho. He said he hoped his lessons about self-discipline, motivation, and persistence would carry over to his students’ and wrestlers’ lives long after graduation.

Due to his coaching success, Cooper, 57, was inducted into the Idaho chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2016, and he received the Lifetime Service to Wrestling Award. He is also permanently enshrined at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Museum in Oklahoma.

“It was a pleasant surprise for me,” said Cooper, who has a reputation for shunning the spotlight and instead allowing his record to speak for itself.

Cooper spent the past two seasons training his assistant coach, Boe Rushton,
to replace him.

“One of the biggest lessons I learned from Coop was to teach everyone to compete as a team,” said Rushton. “We won state this past year because every one of our wrestlers got at least one point. Even though it’s an individual sport, they did their best for the team as a whole.”

Cooper scheduled workouts to help wrestlers peak at state. “There’s a fine line between pushing them enough and not pushing them too hard,” he said. “We never encouraged them to lose weight, just to not drink unhealthy carbonated beverages.”

One of his favorite sayings is, “A hungry tiger is a lot tougher than one that just ate.” Another is “never give up.”

“I always told them if there’s time on the clock, there’s time to win.”

Cooper coached from personal experience. A 1978 Minico alum, he was known for his aggressive wrestling style in the 167-pound class and earned a wrestling scholarship to Idaho State University.

Returning to Minico as a coach, he often got on the mat to demonstrate techniques. “I felt I needed to show the moves, but it took a toll on my knees and neck.”

Season after season, he relied on his wife, Janet, who helped him after her workday ended as a teacher at East Minico Middle School. “I don’t know what I would have done without her,” he said. “She paired up the bouts and matches, ran the concessions, and did whatever needed to be done.”

When Cooper ponders the future, he said he is unconcerned about whether his celebrated coaching record will be broken, but hopes Rushton’s teams will give it a shot.

As the wrestling season unfolds this winter, he plans to come to the meets as a fan instead of a coach. “I’ll come back to cheer.”

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