Allen Park — The legend of Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter seems to touch every corner of the universe.
On Wednesday at the introductory press conference for the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field, where Duke will take on Northern Illinois on Dec. 26, it was revealed that Cooter’s professional coaching career all started with a phone call from Duke coach David Cutcliffe to Peyton Manning.
Cutcliffe spent 15 years at Tennessee from 1983-98 before becoming the head coach at Ole Miss. He returned to Knoxville for two seasons in 2006 and ’07, prior to leaving for Duke. That’s where Cutcliffe met Cooter, a senior backup quarterback in 2006 who transitioned to a graduate assistant the next season.
“One of the brightest players I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach,” Cutcliffe said. “His teammates thought so highly of him. (His success) hasn’t surprised me because he has an incredible understanding of the game. He wasn’t playing a lot of snaps, but when you asked questions during team meetings, he’s answering the questions quicker than the starter.”
The two didn’t spend the 2008 season together after Cutcliffe left for Duke, but Cutcliffe held Cooter in such high regard that he placed a call to Manning and Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis, urging them to give Cooter a shot in the NFL.
“I’m not recommending anybody to (Manning) that he’s not going to like,” Cutcliffe said. “It was a good transition.”
“They told me about (Cooter) and gave me a pretty good descripting of him,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “The description they gave me was a guy that was very smart, and they certainly knew exactly what they were talking about.”
That transition is what Cutcliffe referenced when asked about Cooter’s future as a potential head coach. Cooter’s name was a hot one in recent weeks in connection with the open position at Tennessee, but Cutcliffe’s not so sure Cooter’s first choice would be a return to the college game.
He’s also been linked to the opening with the New York Giants.
“Once you get into the world of pro football, it’s pure football,” Cutcliffe said. “I think that has a little bit of an addictive part to it. I love recruiting, but I’m not sure that’s for everybody. He’s been doing this eight or nine years, it’s kind of hard (to leave). I don’t want somebody in college not to hire him because I’m saying this, but my bet is that he’d prefer to stay in the (NFL).”
Cutcliffe also addressed the elephant in the room that’s always present when someone brings up Cooter: How much fun it is to say him name.
“I got requests every week from CBS people that were covering the SEC, telling me ‘please put Jim Bob Cooter in the game so we can just say his name,’” Cutcliffe said. “That was the most requested item I had as a coach.”
CAREY ON GOLLADAY
On the other side of the ball at the Quick Lane Bowl is the alma mater of Lions rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay.
Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey, whose team returns to the postseason after missing out on a bowl bid last year for the first time since 2007, said he he still keeps in touch with Golladay and stayed in his former player’s ear when he was dealing with a nagging hamstring injury earlier in the season.
“When he had that (injury), we texted back and forth,” Carey said. “I was offering him a lot of encouragement saying ‘Get back on the field, let’s go.’”
“He did reach out a couple of times to make sure my and everything was clear,” Golladay said. “Telling me to continue to work. Just hearing from someone who knows how much work I put in to be in the situation I’m in now, it was nice.”
General Manager Bob Quinn snagged Golladay late in the third round of the NFL Draft, and there was a lot of bellyaching from Lions fans that the receiver would have been available later on in the draft. Carey isn’t so sure that was the case.
“The draft is fluid,” he said. “(Third or fourth round). That’s kind of what I had heard from him. And more than projections, what you pay attention to is what him and his agent are hearing. I thought he certainly deserved it.”
QUICK LANE BOWL
Northern Illinois vs. Duke
Kickoff: 5:15 Dec. 26, Ford Field, Detroit
Records: Northern Illinois 8-4, Duke 6-6
Tickets: Starting at $29, available at Ford Field box office or by calling (877) 212-8898.
Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.