Jim Bob Cooter receives rave reviews from Stafford

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Allen Park — He cannot bring to the picture new personnel, which Lions followers might argue would have been more helpful than the coaching moves announced Monday at Lions headquarters.

But what Jim Bob Cooter offers in his job promotion as the Lions’ new offensive coordinator is a reputation for smarts. Super smarts.

Or, perhaps that already had been made clear when a coach who turned 31 in July had been blocked last February by the Lions from accepting a job overture by the Bears as John Fox’s offensive coordinator. The Lions weren’t interested in watching a staffer join a division rival when they considered Cooter important and ascendant.

Maybe, too, the cerebral tag was evident years ago when he got a 34 (of a possible 36) on his college-preparatory ACT exam. This was when Cooter doubled as a powerhouse student and football player at Lincoln County High in Fayetteville, Tenn., which preceded him playing as a back-up quarterback at the University of Tennessee.

Later, he was judged bright enough to work on a Broncos staff, then headed by Fox, helping direct another ex-Volunteer quarterback, Peyton Manning, after Manning had moved to Denver.

So, it’s all there. The pedigree. The tributes. The track record. And the hosannas a wounded Lions team (1-6) steadily paid Cooter following Monday’s word Joe Lombardi was being fired as offensive coordinator, as were line coaches Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan.

“He comes from a certain mold,” a seemingly exhausted Matthew Stafford said Monday, a few hours before the Lions and their starting quarterback headed for London ahead of Sunday’s intercontinental game against the Chiefs.

“He believes in a certain kind of offense and, as far as coaching me, he’s very detail-oriented,” Stafford said. “Nothing gets by him. He’s a guy who wants to know what I’m thinking all the time.

“He’s got a task now. And I know he’ll put forth a bunch of effort to try and get it right.”

Stafford was right about that — beginning with the task.

The Lions have regularly been battered along an offensive line that Sunday helped deliver seven sacks on Stafford. Trauma from that obliteration helped cost two coaches their jobs Monday.

Just what Cooter can do about the devastation there isn’t clear, even, perhaps to Stafford, or to one of the line’s residents, Manny Ramirez, a Lions guard who Monday joined Stafford as a designated spokesman following the staff shake-up.

“It definitely has to change, just for the simple fact they got rid of the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach,” Ramirez said. “Who’s next?”

Stafford was just as pragmatic in talking about what Cooter might, or might not, be able to achieve at a season’s mid-point.

“I don’t expect anything, honestly, because he’s never called plays for this offense,” Stafford said. “So, we’ll have to see how much we can change, if we change anything.

“It could be new stuff — I’m not sure. Jim Bob and I will get together and try and figure out what we can do, and we’ll go from there.”

Cooter wasn’t a prime-time player during his years as a Volunteers reserve quarterback. He played in only six games. But he was a regular on the Academic All-Southeastern Conference rolls and soon was destined to get undergraduate (sports management) and master’s degrees (sports psychology) from Tennessee.

He had the kind of coaching aptitude Vols coach Phillip Fullmer appreciated. Fullmer added Cooter as a graduate assistant who in 2007 understudied alongside Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who is now head coach at Duke.

Quickly, Cooter was NFL-bound: for three seasons at Indianapolis when Jim Caldwell was in charge of the Colts. Then, at Kansas City in 2012 under Romeo Crennel. Fox imported him to Denver in 2013, and then it was onto Detroit for a reunion with Caldwell.

It should be noted that a couple of law-enforcement scrapes seemed not to have seriously marred Cooter’s fast-track career. In 2006, while a student, he was arrested for driving under the influence. Three years later, he was charged with aggravated burglary after allegedly climbing through the window of a woman’s apartment, stripping to his underwear, and getting into the woman’s bed.

The Lions didn’t offer any clue last February Cooter would be any immediate replacement for Lombardi, not after a playoff season in Detroit.

But there were reasons Lions general manager Martin Mayhew wanted Cooter harnessed to his Detroit contract when the Bears offered to give Cooter the very job he got Monday from the Lions.

“He knows what he’s talking about,” Mayhew said last winter at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. “He has a really good reference point, being around Peyton Manning and guys like that.

“He knows what he’s looking for and what fits. I think he has a very bright future.”

His name may sound like a character from an old Burt Reynolds movie. But don’t be fooled. Cooter’s football IQ is heavy and imposing, which of course, are words that could be used to describe a certain challenge a coordinator faces in his newest NFL assignment.