Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jon Cooper a coach of the year candidate

Jon Cooper brought the same laid-back, optimistic, confident style he showed as a lawyer to the NHL and has made it look so easy despite all the roadblocks that should have made it so hard, Tom Jones writes.


Jon Cooper brought the same laid-back, optimistic, confident style he showed as a lawyer to the NHL and has made it look so easy despite all the roadblocks that should have made it so hard, Tom Jones writes.


The Lightning appears well on its way to the playoffs, which is quite stunning when you consider all that it has been through this season.

Its best player, the best goal-scorer in the league, Steven Stamkos, was lost for 45 games with a broken leg.

The anticipated collapse never came.

Its next-best player, its heart and soul, Marty St. Louis, forced his way out of town with a trade that left the Lightning without its captain and leading scorer.

The expected downward spiral hasn't happened.

At one point, nine rookies were jumping over the boards regularly while first-time No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop was standing between the pipes.

The natural growing pains haven't been painful.

Injuries, controversy, kids. How in the world isn't this team bringing up the rear and skating toward a lottery pick?

The explanation: Jon Cooper.

He just might be the NHL's coach of the year.

"There have been so many adverse moments this year that he has really had to keep this group together, especially with how young we've been, too," Stamkos said. "He has been unbelievable."

Cooper, 46, has been on the job one year and three days. He took over a mess of a team that seemed light years away from being competitive.

With the background of a lawyer and the confidence of one, too, Cooper had won everywhere he had coached. So he brought the same laid-back, optimistic, confident style to the NHL and has made it look so easy despite all the roadblocks that should have made it so hard.

"I'm the same person," Cooper said. "I've got the same beliefs. I'm just more experienced now. I guess that's probably the difference. I think I'm still the same coach. I think I have the same feel. I don't know that I would change one thing I've done in the past."

Why would he?

"He has been winning everywhere he has coached, so I wouldn't see the need for him to change at all," said Lightning forward J.T. Brown, who played for Cooper in the minors.

Alex Killorn, another player who made the jump with Cooper from the minors, said, "He has a swagger, but I wouldn't say he is arrogant. Confident, maybe?"

That's the thing about Cooper. He's confident without being cocky. He's self-assured without putting off anybody. As a result, he has managed to gain the full respect of the players, especially his new captain.

"This is the best relationship I've had personally with a coach," Stamkos said. "Just to be able to walk into the room and talk hockey or talk life or talk about the things we need to do as a team, he's open to all of that. You can go talk to him about anything.

"I think that's where he gets a lot of the respect."

Here's a quick little story that says a lot about Cooper: When the alumni of the Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup-winning team celebrated its 10th anniversary last week, Cooper was with them every step of the way.

He listened to their stories, soaked in their experiences, embraced their accomplishment.

Honestly, a lot of other coaches would not have done that, preferring to leave the past in the past while selfishly worrying about the present. And don't think the reverence Cooper showed went unnoticed by the former Lightning players.

Now here's the thing: Not only does he respect the former players, but more important, he respects his current players.

Cooper has never taken a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. He is not a know-it-all even though, frankly, he seems to know it all. His best trait might be listening as much talking.

"As a coach, you adapt or die," said Lightning assistant coach Rick Bowness, a former head coach of five NHL teams. "And at this level, you have got to constantly adapt, and Jon has been good at that."

The players love playing for him. He doesn't yell. He doesn't give icy stares. He would never embarrass them. It's common to see him put a player back on the ice immediately after the player has made a critical mistake.

"You see how calm and composed he is on the bench," Stamkos said. "That rubs off on guys during games, especially when you're in tight situations. You stay calm and realize the preparation we have done is eventually going to take over."

Certainly the players have done plenty of the heavy lifting. Before being traded, St. Louis was terrific. You can't tell by watching Stamkos that he broke his right leg in November. And Bishop's play in goal would make any coach look smart.

Cooper might not end up being the coach of the year. Colorado's Patrick Roy is the glamorous name. Ken Hitchcock has been superb in St. Louis. A handful of others might even get more votes.

You need to have followed the Lightning day in and day out to appreciate the job Cooper has done. The season has just been so strange, from the Stamkos injury, to the St. Louis trade, to more injuries, to a bad slump coming out of the Olympic break, to a recent hot streak that has the Lightning in a good spot to clinch just its second playoff berth in six years.

"It's unbelievable that it has been one season," Cooper said, "and the season is still going."

The way Cooper is coaching and his team is playing, that season might be going for quite some time.

Jon Cooper a coach of the year candidate 03/27/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 8:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Alex Faedo, Florida advance to face LSU in College World Series finals


    OMAHA, Neb. — Alex Faedo pitched three-hit ball for 71/3 innings in a second straight strong performance against TCU, and Florida moved to the College World Series finals with a 3-0 win Saturday night.

    Florida’s Austin Langworthy scores on a single by Mike Rivera in the second inning during a 3-0 victory over TCU.
  2. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect


    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  3. Rays journal: Jumbo Diaz falters after getting within a strike of ending rally

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday's game got away starting with a leadoff walk in the seventh inning by Rays LHP Jose Alvarado, who was brought in exclusively to face Baltimore's lefty-swinging Seth Smith.

    Rays reliever Jumbo Diaz wipes his face as he walks off the mound after the Orioles score four during the seventh inning to give them a 7-3 lead. Diaz was one strike away from working out of the jam before he allowed a two-run double and a two-run homer on back-to-back pitches.
  4. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  5. Roger Mooney's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    It was refreshing to see RHP Jacob Faria take the blame after the loss even though he gave the Rays a chance to win. Too often young pitchers are encouraged by what they did and not necessarily the outcome, but Faria, making just his fourth big-league start, came to the Trop to win, didn't, and pointed the finger …