The road to being a head coach has its demands. Whether it be your money, time, health or sanity, the needs must be met in order to be successful. Many who have started on this road haven’t had the courage or drive to fully immerse themselves in the realm that is college coaching. Kyle Cooper has started his journey, and is not looking back.
Cooper begins his second year as graduate assistant for the West Virginia University Women’s Basketball team. It will be his fourth year overall with the program.
“I started out as a manager for the WVU Men’s Basketball team for two years,” said Cooper. “I wasn’t as involved as I wanted to be, so I applied for the same position on the women’s staff.”
The Waterford, Pa., native graduated with a Athletic Coaching degree in 2008 from WVU and is now a full-time graduate student.
“I hope to be a head coach someday. So the experience I am getting now is invaluable,” said Cooper. “It’s truly a great oppurtunity.”
WVU Women’s head coach Mike Carey presented Cooper with this valuable oppurtunity. Coach Carey begins his ninth season as head coach and has posted a 150 – 101 mark in eight seasons.
“Coach Carey is one of the most respected coaches in the Big East Conference as well as the nation,” said Cooper. “Having the chance to learn from him has been amazing.”
Coopers’ official responsibilities with the team include running summer camps, on-campus recruiting and assisting with day-to-day operations. He also understands that some of his duties are not always in the job description.
“Being a graduate assistant, I am only supposed to put in 20 hours of work per week,” said Cooper. “But in reality, it is more like a 70-hour work week.”
Cooper has to play assistant, travel agent, navigator, therapist, chauffer, waiter and confidant to Coach Carey.
“I’ve had to run my share of crazy errands, and heard some eve crazier stories,” said Cooper with a laugh. “But I think that stuff just comes with the territory.”
While Coopers’ job may not always be glamorous, he certainly has gained the respect and trust of the coaching staff.
“Kyle’s role is extremely important,” said Carey. “He has a hand in every facet of our program.”
Aside from running summer camps and assisting with day-to-day operations, Cooper has a long list of responsibilities. He organizes visits for potential recruits, which involves meeting with the recruits and their families, taking tours around Morgantown and basically trying to sell himself as well as West Virginia University. He also finds and assists with male students to practice against the team, helps on the bench during games and even travels with the team.
“Kyle’s responsibilities have increased every year,” said Carey. “But he handles them very well. He is very mature for his age.”
Former Assistant Coach Joanna Bernabei agrees.
“Kyle takes his job very seriously and has a great work ethic,” she said.
Bernabei, who was an assistant coach under Carey from 2001-2003 and again during the 2008-2009 season, also served the same position for the University of Maryland’s Women’s Basketball team from 2003-2007.
“He is extremely vital not only to the program, but to team morale,” Bernabei said. “He is energetic, positive and the beast graduate assistant I have worked with.”
These qualities among others will help Cooper in his quest to be the head coach of his own program.
“Kyle is a very focused young man,” said Carey. “Anytime you are focused, you have the chance to be successful.
While Cooper has the confidence of his boss and mentor, he sometimes has a difference in opinion as to how the team should be run.
“When it comes to basketball, I can be slightly obsessive compulsive,” said Cooper. “I stress attention to detail, structure and fundamentals. I think those are things a team could never do enough of, but with certain constraints in college basketball, sometimes there isn’t enough time.”
Even though he has these opinions, Cooper understands his place and that he has to live with hundreds of peas under the proverbial mattress in order for coach and player to coexist.
“Coach Carey and the other assistant coaches have all proven their worth to the world of college basketball and they have paid their dues,” said Cooper. “If they make a decision, I have to fall in line.”
Even though the pressures and responsibilities of with Carey’s staff may seem taxing, Cooper still finds time to be a normal college student.
“I try to keep a very healthy social life with my friends and family,” says Cooper. “It has become harder as I have gotten older, but it has taught me to make the most of my down time.”
The hardest part for Cooper comes during the holidays.
“I don’t get the same vacations as normal students,” said Cooper. “But I have a very supportive family who understands my goals and where I want to be.”
As Cooper mentioned, his holiday breaks are almost non-existent. He is allowed just three days for Christmas, but that is all. No Thanksgiving, spring break, or Easter.
“I am a very family-oriented person, so I struggle sometimes not having them around,” said Cooper. “But they help out by coming to home and away games when they can.”
Cooper’s personality has allowed him to build his own family with the people he works with.
“Kyle is a very personable young man,” said Bernabei. “He is such a good guy and I look at him almost as a younger brother.”
Coach Carey also sees the same family-oriented qualities in Cooper.
“One of the best things about Kyle is that he is loyal,” said Carey. “I have been working with him for almost 5 years now and I know he will have my back. That’s very important to me.”
While Cooper has gained the trust of those above him, he has done something even more impressive, which is gain the trust of the players.
“Kyle is such a fun guy to be around,” said junior guard Liz Repella. “The team loves and respects everything he does for us. We trust him because we know he wants to help.”
Cooper has made impressive strides in his short coaching career, but he understands that the work is just beginning.
“I know I have a long road to travel,” said Cooper. “But I am eager to learn and I’m surrounded be people who want to help me. I couldn’t be in a better place.”