LIMA — Jerry Cooper can’t predict the future but he does like the view he can see from his new football home.
Cooper, the very successful football coach at Lima Central Catholic High School the last nine seasons, is leaving LCC to become head coach at Seymour (Tenn.) High School. Seymour is located around 15 miles southeast of Knoxville.
“You can stand on the practice field and see the Smokey Mountains from there,” Cooper said.
Seymour is a traditional football power that suffered from a power outage the last few seasons and expects to scale the heights again.
Former coach Gary Householder, now the athletic director and the head of the search committee for the new coach, was the school’s football coach for 34 seasons before retiring in 2008 and averaged eight wins a year.
But in the five years since then, Seymour has won only 15 games. It was 2-8 this season and lost its last seven games for former coach Jim Moore, who resigned after the season.
The situation has some similarities to when Cooper came to LCC from Columbus Grove in 2005. The Thunderbirds were 2-8 the year before he took over and had won 15 games in the previous five seasons.
LCC won 11 games in 2005, followed that with seasons of 11 wins and 10 wins and had an 87-21 overall record in Cooper’s nine seasons. The Thunderbirds were in the playoffs eight of the last nine years and were a state semifinalist in 2010.
Seymour has around 1,200 students in high school and projects an enrollment of 1,400 in the next few years.
Cooper said the highlights of his time at LCC are “way too many to name.”
“The highlights are the people who have been there. You can go back and think about the Desi Kirkmans, the Taylor Roysters, the Tyler O’Connors, the Bubba Kriegs and the great kids we had a chance to work with. You miss the people. The game is the same wherever you are,” he said.
Cooper had talked before the 2013 season about making a move out of state sometime in the future because of retirement considerations for himself and his wife Amy.
This move offers that, plus a solid football tradition at a school where the freshman team was 9-0 this fall. It also means his son, Tyler, now an eighth-grader, can start and finish high school at the same school, Cooper said.
“They were looking for someone with coaching experience and someone with a little bit of passion and enthusiasm,” he said. “I told them I thought that was my greatest asset.
“I consider myself to be nothing more than a football coach and I’m passionate and enthusiastic about that and hopefully that is infectious,” he said.
Before he was at LCC, Cooper coached at Columbus Grove (five years), Bath (seven years), Hicksville (three years) and Waynesfield-Goshen (two years). Columbus Grove won a state championship in 2003.
LCC defensive coordinator Scott Palte was designated as “coach in waiting” when he was hired before last season. The school said that meant he would be offered the job before anyone else.
Whether Palte will become Lima Central Catholic’s next coach depends if a position he and LCC agree upon can be found, athletic director Ron Williams said.
“He would like to take the job and we would like to have him take the job,” Williams said. “He would want to be able to be in the building and we want a coach to be able to be in the building.”
Palte currently teaches at Columbus Grove. If a job that he and LCC agree upon can’t be found in “a week or two,” a coaching search would begin, Williams said.
Palte had a 46-27 record as Columbus Grove’s head football coach before resigning in 2011.
“I just hope the next person in has as good a nine-year experience as I’ve had over the last nine years,” Cooper said.
“Nine of the best years of my coaching career have been spent at LCC. It has been a great place for me and is a real great community that supports the kids,” he said.