Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Since Roswell head basketball coach Britt Cooper announced his retirement Wednesday, warm wishes and expressions of gratitude have poured in for the four-time state champion.
The Roswell High Basketball Booster Club has planned a retirement reception in honor of Cooper at 6 p.m. Tuesday inside the Coyote Den, where the 23-year head coach amassed a large portion of his school-record 416 wins.
Booster club president Annette Eaker wants to see the entire community — fans, parents and especially former Coyote players — turn out to show appreciation for Cooper’s dedication to RHS students over the past 27 years.
The Daily Record first reported Cooper’s decision at 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon on rdrnews.com and social media. The reaction was immediate, as fellow coaches, both colleagues and competitors, reached out to share their thoughts on Roswell High’s all-time wins leader.
Goddard head basketball coach Anthony Mestas has battled against Cooper both as a player and coach, and almost worked alongside Cooper before getting the opportunity to lead the Rockets.
“When I played at Clovis we would always beat RHS and GHS. Roswell started getting really good under Cooper after I graduated,” he said. “There was a time or two coach Cooper called me asking if I wanted to leave Hagerman to come work with him at RHS and I thought about it, but couldn’t leave Hagerman because we were a powerhouse like Roswell, just at a smaller school. In 2014, Roswell, Dexter and Hagerman won state, and me and coach Cooper talked about our ring selection and we ended up getting the same style rings. We talked again about me going to RHS then, but I applied for the Goddard job on the last day it was open.”
Mestas, a two-time state champion coach at Hagerman before taking over the Rockets three years ago, said game planning against Cooper was the kind of challenge all serious coaches should be excited about.
“Trying to beat Cooper was always a challenge,” he said. “I have had the opportunity to coach against Pete Shock, Marv Sanders, Dwayne Kibbe and Frank Castillo (all members of the New Mexico High School Coaches Association’s Hall of Honor). It’s an honor to coach against HOF coaches like that. They’ve had our number lately and I couldn’t get mad when they beat us by 30 or 40 points because I used to do that to opponents in Hagerman. You have to nowadays in district because you are trying to get that higher seed.”
Mestas said Cooper has always been a good friend and offered words of encouragement when they were needed most.
“When I had to let one of our best players go this season, coach Cooper was one of the few to get in touch with me and said some positive words,” he said. “Me and coach got along good for over a decade. He’s a Hall of Fame coach and it was an honor to coach against and work with him these last few years. He always treated me with respect. He’s a legend.”
Roswell head football coach Jeff Lynn shared his appreciation by recalling some superficial descriptions about Cooper that he heard upon arriving at RHS.
“I was warned that he did not share athletes, he was hard to work with and all he cared about was his program,” Lynn said in a letter shared with the Daily Record. “I didn’t have trouble believing these warnings because of coach Cooper’s on-court demeanor. I had watched coach Cooper’s teams play many times prior to my arrival at RHS and one could say he was hard on officials. He would chew a kid out and his face can get really, really red!”
In the letter, Lynn talks about what many called an “old school” coaching method and how the bristly-on-the-outside Cooper was an educator who wanted the best for his student-athletes.
“What I found in working with coach Cooper is a man who cared deeply for his players,” Lynn said. “In fact, he cared so much that he wasn’t afraid to tell them NO. … Saying ‘Yes’ is easy, but real coaches who run disciplined programs like coach Cooper, where kids get more of it than just playing a game, know how to say NO. … I for one think our society needs more ‘old fashioned/old school’ people like coach Cooper who care enough to tell our kids NO.”
Lynn ended the letter with his own prediction about Cooper’s basketball future.
“Congrats, coach Cooper, on a Hall of Fame career. I have a feeling it’s not over,” he said. “I have a feeling we will see that face turning ‘Coyote Red’ real soon for some other lucky school.”
Britt Cooper had already been the head coach at Roswell High for four years before I started attending in 1998. I wasn’t a basketball player, nor much of an athlete with my two flat left feet and the coordination of a newborn, but I did enjoy lifting weights and would run across Cooper from time to time. He wasn’t the legend he is now and hadn’t even taken a team to the state tournament, but he was the kind of man that commanded respect.
When I covered my first Coyote basketball game in 2015, I’ll admit I was curious what interviewing Cooper would be like. Luckily, the Coyotes seldom lose in the Den, so after a big win, I felt a little better about the interview. All coaches are in a good mood after a win, right?
I learned quickly that great coaches are never satisfied.
I wouldn’t say interviewing Cooper is like what we’ve all seen at Spurs press conferences where head coach Gregg Popovich toys with the media, dancing around questions and giving reporters the stink eye. But I think any time you are one-on-one with a person who knows their profession the way Cooper does, there is a certain level of intimidation.
Luckily, as Lynn said, once you get to know Cooper a bit on a personal level, you find that he’s one of the best guys around. He always made time for me after games, no matter the result, and always thanked me for the coverage.
I only got to cover the final two seasons of Cooper’s 23 as Coyotes’ head coach, but they were two of the best. Of course it was a heck of a ride following the Roswell High boys on their exciting and dominating run to the 2017 state title and a real treat to see a fully-relaxed, content Cooper soaking up the moment with his players.
But I think what I’ll remember most was the end of the 2016 season, when the No. 1 Coyotes were upset by Centennial in the quarterfinals at the Pit. At the post-game interview, a dejected Cooper and four seniors, including Class 5A Player of the Year Daniel Amador, tried to cope with a second-straight early playoff exit.
As Amador answered questions for reporters, Cooper put his hand on the senior’s shoulder and let everyone in the room know that he had not failed — he played his heart out and, while the result on that day wasn’t what the Coyotes wanted, an earlier title would not have been possible without Amador’s clutch play as a sophomore in 2014.
“We couldn’t have done it without him,” Cooper said in 2016. “I can’t say enough about Daniel. He’s meant a lot to the program. He means a lot to me.”
If there’s one thing anyone should know about Cooper, it’s that he tells the truth — good, bad or indifferent. When he says the kids mean a lot to him, it’s because they do. Let’s hope Roswell High will hire or promote another coach that cares about his squad as much or more than he cares about wins.