No one can accuse Indian Creek football coach Brett Cooper of being afraid of either change or a challenge.
Taking over the Braves’ program means Cooper’s seventh stop in 11 years — his three-year stretch as Greenwood’s offensive coordinator and quarterback coach (2010-12) being the lengthiest stay at one place during that span.
Moreover, the 33-year-old is succeeding someone who ranks eighth on Indiana’s all-time wins list in Mike Gillin, who in 15 seasons guided the Braves to a 129-44 record, three sectional titles and the program’s only semistate appearance in 2010. Cooper said he believes his travels as an assistant coach have prepared him well.
“I’ve always felt pressure was a good thing for me. When there’s pressure I’m usually at the top of my game,” Cooper said. “Following a guy like Mike is borderline impossible to do, but somebody had to take the job, and he left a great program behind.”
In Cooper’s decade as an assistant coach he learned under successful high school coaches in both Indiana and Ohio — even picking up a state championship ring at Cincinnati (Ohio) La Salle in 2014. He also worked one season at the University of Indianapolis.
The past two seasons, Cooper has been at Massillon Washington High School in Ohio, a nationally renowned program that has won 24 state championships and was recognized as mythical national champion a record nine times between 1935 and 1961.
Cooper served as Nate Moore’s quarterbacks coach at Massillon in 2015 and was the team’s offensive coordinator last season. Prior to that, he and Moore worked one season together at La Salle, where they captured a Division II state championship.
“Brett is a guy who is going to be active in the community. He knows how to run a football program, and he has a great football mind,” Moore said. “Brett has coached in big games at a very high level.”
Cooper’s coaching career began in 2007 with a two-year stint at Warren Central. This enabled Cooper the opportunity to learn from former Warriors coaches Steve Tutsie and John Hart.
“I learned a lot from a lot of different people. You just get exposure to a lot of different things,” Cooper said. “Anytime you take over any job it’s a little nerve-wracking, but being a head coach for the first time, there’s extra pressure.”
Hired by Indian Creek in February after Gillin departed to coach at Mooresville High School, Cooper plans to implement a pro multiple offense, which he said will attempt to establish the run game first.
Despite Gillin’s fondness for throwing the football, the Braves ran the football 1,690 times compared to 1,381 pass attempts in his final five seasons.
“I think a lot of people underestimate how much Mike’s teams ran the ball,” Cooper said.
While it remains to be seen how different the Braves’ offensive balance will be, there will be little doubt that Cooper is changing Indian Creek’s game-night look.
The team’s white helmets, which previously featured a thin red spear with “Braves” written above it in red cursive lettering, now include a wider red spear with a feather (think Florida State Seminoles) on both sides.
Home uniforms are red jerseys and red pants; Indian Creek will model white jerseys and blue pants for road games starting with the Aug. 18 opener at North Putnam.
“I think you have to add your own touches,” Cooper said. “It would be different if I had worked with Mike and been in his program. I’ve been to many programs, and it’s a culmination of the programs all together now that I’m running my own.”
Born: Springfield, Illinois
Family: Parents Robin and Connie; sister Jennifer Bartenbach, 38; nieces Kaitlyn, Reagan and Emerson
High school: Glenbard South, Illinois (2002)
College: North Park University, Illinois (2007)
Major: Physical education