Washington State assistant coach A.J. Cooper is expected to leave the program to join Arizona State, according to a report Sunday from FootballScoop.
Cooper is the second defensive assistant to be plucked out of WSU this week by the Sun Devils. Defensive coordinator Brian Ward is reportedly heading to the desert to take the same role at ASU under first-year coach Kenny Dillingham.
A native of Phoenix, Cooper has spent much of his coaching career working alongside Cougars coach Jake Dickert. The two came to WSU in 2020 out of Wyoming. Cooper tutored the Cougars’ edge rushers – arguably the team’s strongest position group – over the past three seasons and added defensive run-game coordinator duties to his plate this year.
Under Cooper, the Cougar edges developed into a deep and talented group, boasting All-Pac-12-caliber leaders in Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr. Cooper helped devise some of WSU’s creative and disruptive formations up front, including the “Cheetah” third-down package that features four edge rushers on the defensive line.
The Cougars led the Pac-12 with 74 tackles for loss this season and finished the year fifth in the conference – and 35th nationally – in rushing defense at 127.4 yards allowed per game.
A key piece in WSU’s defensive resurgence last year, Cooper led both the edge rushers and defensive tackles for the second half of the season after several staffers were fired for failing to comply with a state COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The Cougar edges headlined the unit’s breakthrough campaign, combining for 153 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 16½ sacks and six takeaways. WSU finished the 2021 season tied for fifth nationally with 29 turnovers gained.
After a standout career as a tight end at North Dakota State, Cooper began his coaching career with his alma mater in 2006. He stayed with the program for eight seasons, overseeing the Bison’s defensive ends from 2009 to 2013. He and Dickert were staff members at NDSU for three seasons (2008-10).
Cooper mentored defensive ends and coached special teams at Wyoming from 2014 to ’19. He served as the Cowboys’ defensive run-game coordinator in 2019. Cooper and Dickert reunited in Laramie, Wyoming, in 2017. Dickert coached the Cowboys’ safeties for two seasons before earning Wyoming’s defensive coordinator position in 2019.
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