Four years as a player, five years as an assistant coach, six years as a head coach. It might seem fitting, then, that Rick Cooper – in his latest role as director of athletics at Wayland Baptist University – was on the job seven years.
As he marks his final days as Wayland’s AD, Cooper said in most ways it doesn’t feel like he’s been at the helm of the WBU athletics department for that long.
“They say when you’re doing something you enjoy, it’s not really work,” Cooper said. “It’s been an honor.”
Cooper, who first arrived at Wayland from West Virginia as a basketball player in 1977, said being part of the WBU “team” has been the most amazing part of his tenure.
“It’s an incredible benefit to be part of a team. That’s the great value of athletics, and I have enjoyed that my whole life, with a large part of that being at Wayland. It’s been really fun to be a small piece of that puzzle that we call athletics.”
Dr. Claude Lusk, Wayland’s senior vice president of operations and student life, called Cooper “a passionate and sacrificial leader. His time as a student-athlete and basketball coach at Wayland prepared him well for his service as the AD. He approached the position, in many ways, like the coach and leader he was and will always be. He planned, prepared, communicated and then supported the good people around him as they carried out the mission of the department and university.
“Rick cares deeply about this institution and its mission. He understands the highs and lows of athletics and never allowed himself to be caught up in the total emotion of the peaks and valleys. He knew he needed to be able to help our coaches through the best of times and the worst of times. His ability to see the big picture of the role of collegiate athletics allowed him to mentor student-athletes and coaches alike.
“He has once again left a positive mark on his alma mater. He will certainly be missed.”
Cooper deflected the incredible success – both in the athletic arena and in the classroom – that the WBU athletics department has enjoyed under his leadership, instead crediting the student-athletes, coaches and staff.
“It’s been an incredible honor working with the coaching staff and all the people at Wayland. It’s a great school and a great community.”
Cooper – who prior to becoming Wayland’s AD served as men’s basketball head coach at West Texas A&M for 20 years – called his last seven years at the university, in addition to the previous 15, a “real blessing.”
“Janie (his wife whom he met at WBU as a student) and I, and our family (they have two children and four grandchildren) know we have benefited a great deal with our association with the university, and that we’ve received more from them than the university got from us. There are a bunch of great people here and it’s a great organization.”
Cooper officially announced his resignation several weeks ago, and the search for Wayland’s next athletics director is well under way.
“Our committee is in place and we have a great pool of applicants,” Lusk said. “It is our intent to move quickly over the next few weeks to have a new athletics director in place.
“There is much work to do this summer in preparation for what is still an upcoming year with many unknowns. That work of preparing for next year will continue with the great staff that we already have in place.”