ATHENS — Kirby Smart is not one for complacency, having once said, “if it ain’t broke, find a way to make it better.”
Smart applies that across the board in his Georgia football program, on and off the field, acquiring and developing players and staffers alike.
That’s why Georgia’s recent hire of David Cooper from Louisville to head up the Director of Recruiting Relations position, per Jake Rowe’s 247Sports report, makes sense.
For all the attention the Bulldogs’ new $80 million football facility has drawn, recruiting and retention are still about relationships, and that comes down to having good people.
Cooper has built a strong reputation after spending two years at Florida (2019 and 2020), where he was the assistant director of player personnel as the Gators recruited two Top 10-ranked classes.
Louisville took note and had hired the 29-year-old Cooper in February.
“He’s a great personality, he’s a hard worker, comes highly recommended by a lot of different folks,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield told the Cardinal Authority website last month.
“He’s been in the SEC at Florida and Texas A&M, and some other places as well.”
Cooper, who is from Lilburn, Ga., played football at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College before transferring to play at Indiana where he started 36 games at linebacker. Cooper finished his career in Bloomington with 213 tackles (18 for loss).
Cooper’s was just as impressive in the classroom and the locker room, graduating with a bachelor’s of liberal studies degree in 2014, and being named the Hoosiers’ “Defensive Teammate of the Year.”
Transition to recruiting
Cooper explained to the Cardinal Authority website in a Q & A that his first love was coaching.
“My first passion was coaching, even while I was playing I always wanted to get into coaching and be a coach before I actually really got into playing the sport,” Cooper said.
“I had a chance to go to a camp and go play in the Canadian league, but I wanted to get into coaching and I was actually satisfied and wanted to be done playing ball. And that’s the way I started out at South Gwinnett High School back in Georgia in the Gwinnett area where my brother was playing at the time.
“I started in 2015 and my first three spots: South Gwinnett (linebackers coach), The Citadel (quality control/linebackers), and Texas A&M (defensive line graduate assistant) were all coaching,” Cooper said.
“Then when I got to Florida it was all recruiting. That’s where it took off for me because it kind of matched me and it matched my personality more and I could be myself and be a people’s person like I was.”
Cooper, who had a brief stint selling cars between his stops at Texas A&M and Florida, said he had immediate success with the Gators and found he loved being involved in recruiting.
“My first year in recruiting it was like everybody from (Dan) Mullen to everybody else was like, ‘Man you are really good this.’ I was like you know this is my passion right here and I actually love it,” Cooper said to Cardinal Authority.
“It was kind of odd because a lot of guys just get to use that to get back into coaching or really want to be a coach when they’re recruiting. But I actually enjoyed it and loved it. And that’s where it happened. And just building relationships with players and parents most of all.
“I think just being able to relate to a lot of them in knowing because I’m young and I know a lot of the things that make the kids interested and I feel like I’ve got an old soul, so I can relate to the parents.”
Smart saw to it that his program made a marked effort during the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain team relationships and chemistry. COVID protocol led to spring drills being canceled, and once the team reconvened, the protocol called for social distancing and smaller workout groups.
Georgia continued with its “skull sessions” this past offseason, bringing the team closer together and leading to a strong and productive spring session.
The Bulldogs’ recruiting has also been strong, the team landing key transfers in the form of former All-Big 12 defensive back Tykee Smith (West Virginia), All-ACC cornerback Derion Kendrick (Clemson) and former 5-star recruit Arik Gilbert (LSU).
The players were brought in to replace three departed NFL defensive backs and injured star receiver George Pickens, who is out indefinitely after suffering a torn ACL in March.
Georgia is also faring well in recruiting high school talent, its 2022 class of commits currently ranked fourth in the nation per the 247Sports composite. This, even though the Bulldogs have just 10 commits compared with No. 1-ranked Ohio State (13), No. 2 LSU (12) and No. 3 Notre Dame (14).
The loss of former graduate assistant Nick Williams last month to Texas A&M has no doubt been a hit, particularly after two 5-star players decommitted from Georgia after visiting College Station.
Williams is the third key UGA staffer involved in recruiting that Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher has hired away from Smart, having also taken former offensive coordinator James Coley and director of player personnel Marshall Malchow.
Cooper would appear to be a perfect and much-needed fit, a case of Smart being on the lookout for up-and-coming talent that can help the program win championships.