By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Until this week, there had only been three football coaches in the history of Independence High School.
Now a fourth is about to join the fraternity of Patriots.
Chuck Cooper will take his place on the sidelines of George Covey Field this fall in hopes of turning around a program that hasn’t won a playoff game in more than 25 years.
“All my life, I wanted to be a school teacher and a high school football coach,” Cooper said. “There have been other times where people asked me to apply for some jobs, but I wasn’t ready.”
Cooper said it was the urging of his wife Melinda to follow his dreams that helped land him his new job.
“Independence has a good situation,” he said. “It’s a hard-working community. When the job popped up, I asked my wife about it, and she was very supportive. I needed to pursue my dream. This is one of those places I always wanted to coach at.”
While not a known name in area football circles, Cooper is no stranger to the game. He played under longtime Woodrow Wilson coach Pete Culicerto in the late ’80s and later coached alongside John H. Lilly at Beckley and Jeff Alexander of Liberty.
“Coach Lilly let me coach quite a bit with a bunch of different responsibilities. I was appreciative to him,” Cooper said. “When I was under Coach Alexander, I was able to coach both sides of the ball. I’m very appreciative he did that for me. It’s made me better suited for coaching. A lot of coaches focus on one position, but by doing a variety, I feel pretty confident.”
Cooper will meet with returning players and staff today to get a feel for the team and begin his steps to building a top-tier program.
“I want to get them in the weight room on Monday,” Cooper said. “If they’re not playing another sport, if they’re not helping Independence, then I want them in the weight room getting better. Video games don’t make you stronger. A computer doesn’t make you a better football player.
“My No. 1 priority is weight lifting,” he continued. “When we raise money this year, it’s not going to be for new uniforms, it’s going to be that the kids are properly equipped and that I’m feeding them and treating them well. We want to build as best of a weight room as possible.”
Cooper, an assistant wrestling coach at Woodrow, hopes to work with Independence wrestling coach Cliff Warden in changing the culture of Independence athletics.
“If Independence can be second in the state in wrestling, they can be second in just about anything,” Cooper said. “I mean that as a positive to coach Warden. These kids develop as wrestlers in the peewees. Let’s do that with football. Let me get the weight room built and we’ll build it up. I’m more than willing to work with the wrestling team, and they can work with the football team. It can only help us get stronger.”
The new coach is aware he has some large shoes to fill by replacing Scotty Cuthbert, but he feels that success can start right away.
“People expect us to take a couple of years to win. This team went 5-5 last year and has over 40 kids coming back. I want to win this year,” Cooper said. “I want the community to believe in me and what this team can do.”
The new coach has visions of a day when Covey Field becomes a destination for high school football.
“I think Liberty and Independence communities attach themselves to the school more than they do at Woodrow. I can remember at Liberty when the Fire Marshall would shut it down because so many people were there. The same thing can happen there at Indy.
“If you win some games and you’re willing to work, that’ll bring some people out,” he continued. “Winning brings people out.”
Independence will kick off its 2013 season on Aug. 30.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.