Q&A: LSU safeties coach Kerry Cooks

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Q&A: LSU safeties coach Kerry Cooks

Emily Dixon: Coach Cooks, welcome to LSU. You came to Baton Rouge from Notre Dame with Coach Kelly. Why was it the right time to make the move to LSU?

Kerry Cooks: I’m always looking for a challenge. Having been at Notre Dame for a total of eight years, and being around Coach Kelly for a total of eight years, I felt like it was an opportunity for me to come and help him implement his system, his structure, and his traits. And, obviously, it gives me an opportunity to be in the best conference in football, which is the SEC.

ED: As one of the coaches who has been on staff and has experience with Coach Kelly already, how would you describe the culture and team he wants to build here at LSU?

KC: The biggest thing that he’s looking for is accountability. He’s not going to handhold or baby these young men, but he’s going to be demanding on them. He just wants those guys to take ownership of the program, and take ownership in how they handle themselves in the classroom and on the practice field. So, in total, his program is about accountability.

ED: You’ve had a lot of success as a player, coach, and coordinator. What’s it been like getting to know all of the other coaches in the defensive staff room as you all come together to build that championship program?

KC: It’s been awesome. The biggest thing for me is, even going into my 21st year, you never stop learning. I’m just like those players right now. Being around Coach House, Coach Cain, Coach Steeples, I’m like a sponge. I’ve seen a lot of football. I’ve coached a lot of football. But I’m learning as much from those guys, from the players here that I interact with on a day-to-day basis, from the offensive staff. Coach Sloan, being reconnected with Coach Denbrock. It’s been awesome to see how everybody is gelling and working together. At the end of the day, we’ve got one goal, which is to obviously graduate these players but we want to win a championship.

ED: Coach Kelly has been very vocal about bringing championships back to LSU. You’ve been a part of multiple college football playoff appearances, as well as a BCS National Championship appearance. So what do you take away from those experiences that you can bring here?

KC: It’s easy to say, “hey, let’s go get a championship.” And Coach (Kelly) has been part of taking teams to championships and to the college football playoffs, but I think we’re trying to get them to really understand the work that it’s going to take to get to that championship level because it’s not easy. I was at Oklahoma for four years. We went to four-straight Big 12 championships, three of the four college football playoffs, but I can remember how intense it was in practice, in the weight room — it takes work. You’ve got to be demanding on yourself. I think the best teams that I’ve been around have been player-led, which leads back to what Coach Kelly is trying to get these guys to understand is that it’s player accountability, it’s player-led, those are when you have the best teams, those are when you have the best opportunities to make it to that next level to bring championships to your program.

ED: What’s your approach when it comes to building relationships with a completely new group of guys, in your meeting room and on the field, when you’re all getting to know each other? 

KC: I am who I am. I try to be myself. I’m pretty outgoing. I’m constantly texting or calling my players, just checking in with them. How’s school? We’ve been out a few times to dinner. They’ll be invited over to my house and we do little things in our meeting groups where we’ll have several players introduce themselves. I think that it’s all about getting to know each other. Those guys got to get a feel for me, how I coach, how I am off the field. I bring my family around because I want them to see me as a family man as well, but the biggest thing is building that culture, that relationship within the room, and getting those guys to know that this is bigger than football. You guys need to love and care about each other, not just on the field, but also when you’re away from this building. The more time that you can get those guys spending time together, the more accountability that’s going to build on the field.

ED: If we went back and pulled some of your former players, how do you think they would describe you as a coach?

KC: I’ve heard a player’s coach. I’ve heard I get a little bit too excited at times. I think that they would say that I’m always going to have their back. I think that they would say that I’m going to push them, I’m going to be demanding. I think that most of them would also say that I’m really big about the fundamentals, not necessarily the scheme. I think that they would also say that he’s going to be in your life forever, that he really means that. I’ve been invited and been in several of my former players’ weddings, dating back to 2005. I’ve seen their babies born. They call me now.  Some of them are in the coaching profession, asking for advice. I’d hope that they would say that when I tell them something for the long term that he’s going to hold true to that.

ED: LSU has a long, rich tradition at the defensive back position, specifically in DBU. How does it feel to be a part of the LSU football program, and then also that defensive back part of it, and continuing to build that?

KC: I’m honored to have the opportunity as a coach to come into such rich history and tradition, with all the defensive backs that they’ve had. It’s a heavyweight, I feel, because you want to make sure that legacy lives on. But at the end of the day, what I told the guys is, this is your car, you’ve got to drive your own car. You’ve got to set your own legacy. You’re a part of something special, everybody understands that this is DBU. We’re going to go out and we’re going to play like that. The expectation is that we’re going to recruit like that. The expectation is that we’re going to carry on that legacy. I think, for me as a coach, I’m honored, but I also think that the players feel appreciation and gratitude that they’ve got the opportunity to come and play for such a prestigious university, especially, being DBU. 

ED: Just a couple of weeks left of spring ball, what are some of the main things you want your group to accomplish through these 15 practices?

KC: The biggest thing I want is to continue to get a grasp of the overall scheme. I think that we can continue to enhance our communication. I want them to be confident and I want them to play fast. I feel like these first couple of weeks, which is pretty typical in a new system with new coaches, this is kind of like the 51st dates. They want to see how coaches are going to react to the players and how the players are going to react to the structure and all the things that go on between practice, but now it’s to the point, these last two weeks. They’ve got a grasp of the system. Keep enhancing that and just play fast. Execution would probably be, if I had to have one word, we need to execute now at a high level.

ED: Lastly, what does Kerry Cooks do when he’s not coaching football?

KC: Kerry Cooks is a family man. I’ve got two daughters. When I’m away from this building, it’s all about them. Whatever they want to do, it’s all their time, so I could be anywhere from Main Event to Dave and Busters to a cheerleading or gymnastics practice.