New Wayland athletics director Rick Cooper is 'coming home' - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

New Wayland athletics director Rick Cooper is 'coming home'

Rick Cooper Rick Cooper

Provided by Wayland Baptist University

Some of the best years of Rick Cooper’s life were spent at Wayland Baptist University and in Plainview. Now, he’s back for more.

Cooper, who played and coached basketball at Wayland for 15 years before spending the last 20 years as head men’s basketball coach at West Texas A&M University, is the new director of athletics at his alma mater. Cooper’s hiring was announced on Tuesday before he was introduced at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“Having graduated from there and having worked there before, Wayland and Plainview represent home to Janie and me and our family,” the 56-year-old Cooper said in speaking for his wife, the former Janie Denton who played basketball for the Flying Queens, and their two grown children. “We are really, really excited about it.”

Dr. Claude Lusk, Wayland’s vice president of enrollment management who introduced Cooper, said he believes serving as athletics director at WBU is about more than a job.

“This is a place that has given to him, and he wants to give back to it,” Lusk said. “Coach Cooper brings a passion for what Wayland is and what we stand for, along with a passion for Wayland athletics.”

Lusk noted Cooper’s intensity, experience and respect for Wayland as some of his greatest assets.

“He appreciates Wayland’s successes and where we are, and he’s interested in building on what foundation we already have here,” Lusk said. “He’s interested in helping Wayland move forward, not just because that’s what he’s supposed to do but because this is home. This is an opportunity for him to be connected to a place that was pivotal in his own life, and I know he’s excited about that.”

Cooper, who earned both Bachelor of Science and Master of Education degrees from WBU, is just the second director of athletics at Wayland in 24 year as he takes over for Dr. Greg Feris following his recent retirement.

“Dr. Feris left this an attractive position, and we had a lot of interest in it,” Lusk said. “Rick Cooper emerged from a strong field of qualified candidates.”

A native of Bridgeport, W.Va., Cooper played basketball at Wayland from 1977-81. The media guide prior to his senior season stated, “Rick has become a real crowd pleaser because of his personality and hard-nosed style of play.“

A 6-foot-5, 195-pound forward, Cooper earned all-district honors while averaging 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds his senior season when his 65.1 field goal percentage ranked seventh in the NAIA. He went into the Pioneer record book as the 14th-leading scorer in team history with 1,209 points. Today, he ranks 21st.

After serving a year as an assistant basketball coach at Idalou High School, Cooper returned to Wayland as men’s assistant basketball coach. Following five years in that position, during a period that included a national runner-up finish, Cooper was named head coach in 1987.

Over the next six seasons, Cooper guided the Pioneers to a combined 152-48 record and was named NAIA District 8 Coach of the Year three times. His first team advanced to the second round of the NAIA National Tournament.

Cooper left Wayland in 1993 for the head men’s basketball coaching position at NCAA Division II West Texas A&M in nearby Canyon. In 20 seasons, Cooper compiled a record of 394-195 and led the Buffaloes to four Lone Star Conference Tournament championships and 10 NCAA National Tournaments, including an Elite Eight appearance.

He was named LSC Coach of the Year six times, South Central Region Coach of the Year twice, and in 2011 was a finalist for the Clarence Gaines National Division II Coach of the Year. A year later, he was inducted into the Wayland Baptist Athletics Hall of Honor, 10 years after receiving the Harley Redin Award for excellence in coaching.

In 26 years as a head coach, Cooper’s teams never had a sub.-500 season. He’s the winningest men’s basketball coach at both WBU (152-47, .763) and WT (394-195, .669) with an overall record of 546-242 (.693).

Cooper said his excitement about taking the reins as Wayland’s director of athletics revolves around relationships first formed during his previous stint at WBU.

“We’ve stayed in contact with a lot of those folks,” he said. “We have really strong feelings for Wayland and the people who make it what it is. The administration and the coaching staff make that a really attractive position for us, and I’m anxious and excited to be able to help.”

Lusk pointed out that Wayland’s athletic program, in terms of national finishes for its 21 sports, enjoyed its most successful year in school history during the 2013-14 academic year.

“We have a nationally-recognized collection of coaches and teams coming off a very successful year, so Coach Cooper will be walking into a situation that allows him the ability to move forward instead of being in a position of having to fix things,” Lusk said. “Dr. Feris left us in a position that allows us to ask, ‘How can we get to the next level?’”

Cooper is looking forward to helping Wayland get there.

“There’s an awful lot I have to learn, but it looks to me like there is a really good group to learn from and to work with,” he said. “My plan is to do an awful lot of listening and not much talking, first and foremost.”

Cooper and his wife Janie, a retired school administrator, have two children. When the Coopers moved from Plainview in 1993, Tyler was entering the second grade. Today, he is a third-year orthopedic surgery resident at Scott & White Memorial Hospital in Temple. Kori, who had yet to start school when the family moved in the early 1990s, just accepted a job as head volleyball coach at Grapevine High School.

Between Kori and her dad both taking new jobs, it’s been an eventful past few days for the Coopers.

“We feel very fortunate,” Coach Cooper said, “that it has worked out like it has.”

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