Alumni Update: Cooper joins RMU football family at Westminster

Chris Mueller, Sports Editor

Kyle Cooper hasn’t missed a beat since his playing days in Moon Township ended last season.

Cooper was a two-year staple of the Robert Morris defense at inside linebacker, compiling 152 total tackles in 27 games. He was the team captain and developed into a true player/coach hybrid on the field in his final season as a redshirt-senior.

Ironically, Cooper elected to remain in football since hanging up the spikes – now transitioning into a coaching role as a graduate assistant at Division III Westminster College.

The opportunity presented itself immediately after his final collegiate appearance.

“Our last game was against St. Francis, and Scott Benzel was their associate head coach and defensive coordinator,” said Cooper. “After the game, I went up to him and expressed my interest in getting into coaching. He said he’d keep that in mind.”

Benzel was a former Robert Morris defensive coach for nine seasons prior to St. Francis. He coached Cooper for three years at RMU, and then improved the Red Flash defense from 120th to 10th in total defense in just two seasons as co-defensive coordinator.

“That was in late November. At Christmas time, [Benzel] told me he was a finalist for the job as head coach, and if he got it, he’d extend the opportunity for me.”

By January, Cooper was already at Westminster for his first step on the coaching ladder. It was an ideal situation to begin his journey with six other members of Benzel’s new Westminster staff having Robert Morris ties.

“Kyle was a guy I always liked for his intensity,” Benzel said. “He’s a very intelligent guy. One of the guys I thought we could bring on board.”

Offensive coordinator Rich DiMaio was a former record-setting quarterback at RMU, and began his coaching career as a grad assistant under Joe Walton. Defensive coordinator Jake Nulph coached at Robert Morris for four seasons after captaining the 2004 squad.

Offensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Colyn Haugh graduated from the Robert Morris program in 2006, and stayed in Moon Township as a defensive line coach/video coordinator before joining Benzel at St. Francis. Special Teams coordinator Garett Clawson was also a former RMU kicker.

There’s now a Robert Morris football factory brewing in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania this year. Just don’t forget Dan Radakovich.

“When you go through the hiring process, you hire who you know and who you trust. There’s a lot of great coaches out there trying to get in the business,” said Benzel. “For me, I had a great familiarity with the guys we brought in. They knew the system that we were going to run defensively.”

Benzel rose through the coaching ranks learning the Radakovich defensive system. Radakovich was Robert Morris’ first defensive coordinator, extremely instrumental alongside Walton in the birth of the program 21 years ago. He was brought on this year as a football consultant, and a mentor to his former understudies heading the Westminster program.

For Cooper, he’s now teaching the same system he excelled in so highly as a player.

“Learning that defensive system, honestly you’ve always got to have a high IQ,” Benzel said. “Kyle had always demonstrated to me that he had the ability to learn. For me, that was always important when I was looking at coaching players, that they had that level of intelligence.”

Cooper will be a graduate assistant for the next two years while earning his second Masters Degree in Education. He primarily handles the defensive line responsibilities, and is a major asset to the program in recruiting.

“It’s funny, you really don’t know what type of coach you’ll be. You kind of learn on the fly. You’re molded by the coaches on your staff and that are around you,” Cooper said. “Stepping into the coaching ranks, I have a lot of respect for the past coaches I’ve had.

“Just the time you have to put in, the intricate details that go into each game week. The things I kind of took for granted as a player, I now fully value as a coach.”