Staff Shakeup: Evan Cooper Out At Nebraska

Evan Cooper Nebraska

On Friday evening,  Matt Rhule’s operation took a huge hit when Nebraska defensive backs coach Evan Cooper decided to retire for personal reasons. What does this sudden departure mean for the Cornhuskers going forward? And what does his new replacement bring to Lincoln? Let’s take a look.

 Developer of Talent

In addition to his duties in the secondary, Cooper was known as the primary talent evaluator for the Cornhuskers. On the defensive side of the football, he used his Florida connections to secure the commitments of linebacker Vincent Shavers, as well as edge rusher Willis McGahee IV.  Furthermore, the defensive line made a significant jump under his watch. Highly touted prospects Cameron Lenhardt and Princewill Umanieilen brought explosiveness to Terrance Knighton’s defensive line as a freshman. On the offensive side of the ball, he would have similar success finding talent. He fought off the Miami Hurricanes to bring in freshman wideout Jacory Barney Jr. And during the season,  Jaylen Lloyd became a big-play wide receiver. Under Garrett McGuire, transfers Jahmal Banks and Isaiah Neyor will have ample opportunities to show off. The offense will most likely not be affected. But his departure could affect the defense. Cooper’s leadership provided stability in the secondary. Without it,  defensive coordinator Tony White may see a slump in production with his freshman players.

Stability on Defense

In Cooper’s first season as the defensive backs coach for Nebraska, several players in his position room experienced massive jumps in their play. This was evident when safety Omar Brown and cornerback Tommi Hill proved themselves throughout NU’s season after both had virtually unknown careers with the Big Red. As a JUCO safety in Lincoln,   DeShon Singleton knew he could get early playing time.   In five games with the Cornhuskers, he finished with 19 tackles and one pass breakup. However, he couldn’t continue through 2023. A knee injury on the opening play against Michigan dashed his chance of NU making a bowl game.  In that regard, NU’s linebackers delivered in spades. Safety hybrid Issac Gifford nabbed an honorable All-Big-Ten mention at the end of 2023. And Omaha native John Bullock was a solid contributor after struggling in 2021 and 2022. Can they work together to deliver the Huskers their first winning season since 2016?

Read more about Issac Gifford’s decision to return to the Blackshirts in A Wild Week For The Nebraska Football Program

A New Face In Lincoln

On Saturday morning, ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported that the Cornhuskers are set to tab John Butler as their new secondary coach. His arrival in Lincoln will give the Blackshirts’ defense much-needed NFL experience. From 2014 to 2017, Butler served as the secondary coach for the Houston Texans under head coach Bill O’Brien. After he parted ways with the franchise, he joined head coach Sean McDermott and the Buffalo Bills in the 2018 season.  During his time with the secondary, safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer became standout players. Also, cornerback Tre’Davious White would earn two Pro Bowl nods in 2019 and 2020. He had similar success as a college coach. At Minnesota, he would serve as the Gopher’s special teams coordinator and provide additional help with the linebackers. However, he wouldn’t have major success until he arrived in Happy Valley. In his time with the Nittany Lions, he helped coach the team to a 7-5 record. During that time, his defense would have 20 takeaways. Does Butler’s techniques work immediately? Or will an adjustment period have to take place during the season?

Can He Still Recruit?

How will Butler recruit the secondary positions in Lincoln? It’s something that Rhule and the rest of Nebraska’s coaching staff will have to address. The 51-year-old has been out of the college game since the 2013 season. In the decade since Division One football has undergone major change with the addition of the transfer portal and NIL. Can he adapt to this new system by flexing his recruiting muscles nationally? Or will he choose to establish a pipeline in the  Philadelphia area? Butler is a Pennsylvania native, and the Huskers have had success in the state. In 2023,  Rhule used his connections to bring Rahmir Stewart into the program. Could this happen again with NU’s 2025 recruiting class?

 

Evan Cooper Nebraska
Photo courtesy: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

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