Florida International U

New FIU coach Cooper being coy on starting QB for FAU

FIU interim coach Ron Cooper, 54, will be serving his fourth term as a head coach.
FIU interim coach Ron Cooper, 54, will be serving his fourth term as a head coach. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

A Young Jeezy’s rap song blasted extra loud on the FIU Stadium speakers Wednesday morning, signaling the end of an intense two-hour practice.

The FIU Panthers, who made a coaching change Sunday, firing Ron Turner in the middle of his fourth season and promoting defensive coordinator Ron Cooper as the interim boss, seem to have renewed vigor.

On Saturday night at 7, FIU (0-4) plays host to Florida Atlantic (1-3) in the Conference USA opener for both teams.

“It’s very sad when your coach gets fired,” FIU quarterback Alex McGough said. “It’s disappointing to know that we could’ve done something different and maybe he’d still be here.

“I love Coach Turner, but you can’t dwell on it. … Coach ‘Coop’ is a great guy. Practices have been full of energy this week.”

Turner, 62, was 10-30 during his time at FIU.

Cooper, 54, will be serving his fourth term as a head coach. He was Eastern Michigan’s coach in 1993-94, going 9-13. He was 13-20 in three years at Louisville (1995-97). And he was 23-22 in four years at Alabama A&M (1999-2001).

He never won more than seven games in a season and had only three winning years.

The low point, perhaps, came in 1997, when Cooper was fired after a 1-10 season at Louisville.

“In this profession, we’ve been taught, we’ve been trained, and we’ve been through it before,” Cooper said of the turnover inherent in coaching.

Now Cooper gets a fresh start at FIU, where the Panthers are looking to get their league schedule going with a win over rival FAU.

“The key thing is the players,” Cooper said. “We told the kids, ‘Let’s move forward,’ and 18- to 22-year-olds tend to move on to the next day. They’re excited.”

Cooper’s first major decision as FIU’s coach will come at quarterback. McGough, a junior, had started 26 consecutive games until Turner benched him last Saturday before FIU’s 53-14 loss to Central Florida.

Maurice Alexander, a redshirt freshman, made his first career start but did not fare well against UCF.

Cooper declined to name Saturday’s starter, saying he didn’t want to give FAU any scouting advantages.

However, indications are that McGough will return to his top spot.

Indication 1: Alexander said he was running with the second-stringers this week.

Indication 2: Cooper said McGough “started 26 games for a reason.”

Cooper, who had been calling defensive signals from the press box this season, will now shift to his new role on the sidelines.

Secondary coach Bobby Babich will call defensive signals, and special teams coach Kirk Doll has moved over to defense to help out. Special teams will now be a group-coaching situation.

“Ron did a great job with the things he inherited in this program,” Cooper said of Turner. “I don’t know if I could have even begun to clean up some of the things he had to clean up.”

Turner took over in 2013 when Mario Cristobal, who is now an assistant at the University of Alabama, was fired.

Cooper was asked what he Turner had to clean up and if he were referring to academics.

“Everything,” Cooper said. “There are a lot of things he cleaned up, and he did an unbelievable job. We are going to try to finish the process that he started.

“I love Ron to death — he’s a great man.”