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Football: Former Wisconsin coach Cooks takes over linebackers

Chris Masoud | Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Making the transition from one position to another can be a challenging process for any college coach. But for outside linebackers coach Kerry Cooks, making the switch from defensive backs to linebackers will be a test that he is eagerly looking forward to.

“It’s not that you don’t know a position,” Cooks said. “Having been the secondary coach, linebackers are critical to tie into run stopping and pass coverage, so it’s a matter of getting the fundamentals down — the stance, the footwork, the eyes. I think if you are a good coach you go out and research all that stuff.”

Recognizing the possible hazards of moving a coach from one position to another, Irish head coach Brian Kelly believes Cooks is more than capable of making the necessary adjustments to develop the outside linebackers.

“I think the risks are when you take a coach that’s only coached that position, he becomes almost a specialist in one area,” Kelly said. “I don’t want specialists. I want great teachers and great educators that can communicate across the board. So first and foremost, what I try to do is put together a staff that have that ability to coach different positions.”

Cooks spent the last four seasons at Wisconsin, helping the Badgers attain a 38-14 record and developing ten all-Big Ten honorees. Last season, Cooks coached a defensive backs unit that limited an explosive Miami offense to less than 200 yards passing in the Badgers’ 20-14 victory in the Champs Sports Bowl.

“In a very short period of time he took over defense and the defensive backs, in particular, and turned them into a strength in their [Badgers’] unit,” Kelly said. “I think their last bowl game was evident how well they played in the back end of their defense against a very, very skilled football team.”

2010 marks the second time Kelly has attempted to add Cooks to his coaching staff. Kelly previously offered Cooks a position on his staff while at Central Michigan, but he declined in favor of an opportunity to coach at Minnesota. Four years later, Kelly now adds a proven leader with a similar approach to winning.

“I think coach Kelly’s philosophy of having everyone send out the same message as one voice and letting that trickle down through the program means that everyone is hearing the same things,” Cooks said. “Everyone is believing the same thing and everyone is moving in one direction. That only leads to success.”A former high school standout from Texas, Cooks will fulfill the role of lead recruiter in the Lone Star State.

“I think it helps that I grew up there from the standpoint that I have a lot of relationships built in through high school coaches that know me as a player and as a coach,” Cooks said. “There will be hurdles, but nothing I have not faced before. The good thing about Texas is that there is a large group of great athletes. Some will be the right fit for this program.”

Kelly is fully confident in Cooks’ capacity to find talent in one of the most highly recruited states in the country. However, he is more impressed by his ability to relate to players and develop relationships that will pay dividends in the future.

“He’s an outstanding football coach and person, and gives us a great tie into the state of Texas in recruiting,” Kelly said. “[Cooks] will do a terrific job in on the recruiting end, but more importantly, building strong relationships with our players.”

Cooks will have his work cut out for him. 2009 featured a multitude of missed tackles and poor coverages by the linebacker core, a contributing factor in a number of Irish losses. Yet Cooks is excited to be a part of the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame.

“This is a place to me that growing up as a kid in Texas, you watched Notre Dame or Michigan,” Cooks said. “When I think about the opportunity to come to Notre Dame, this is the pinnacle of college football. Obviously, we’ve got to put our stamp on it and get it going in the right direction, but Notre Dame is Notre Dame.”