Memories of Coach Cooper

Ezra Cooper, one of the greatest coaches in women’s football history who helped build the D.C. Divas into a national powerhouse, passed away this past offseason at the age of 39. Coach Cooper left a profound legacy on the game of women’s football. With his passing, the sport lost one of its greatest coaches, a mentor and a friend.

“Coach Coop” made an impact on everyone he met. Some of the current members of the D.C. Divas football team spoke recently about what they’ll remember most about Coach Ezra Cooper.

Allyson Hamlin (quarterback):

“Coach Cooper had an incredible ability to make every single person on the team feel special. He had a way of communicating with us, and as a team, we all bought in and believed what he told us. Coop was so gentle but so fierce at the same time. And he was such a humble coach. For him, it was never about egos. It was always about us and about the sport.

I remember being shocked when I found out that he was only a couple years older than me. I found this out probably six or seven years into my playing career, and I was blown away because he was just so wise beyond his years. All those years I played for him, I would have run through a wall for him. He was that kind of coach, the kind of coach that you’d do anything for.

Honestly, he was just a wonderful man, not only a great coach but a wonderful person to be around. I really credit this entire organization to him, because I truly believe we would not be here without him. Coach Cooper kept us together and kept us believing. He gave us all a gift that affected so many of our lives and changed our lives forever. He was a very, very, very special guy.”

Trigger McNair (linebacker):

“I get emotional even talking about Coach Cooper. He was just a genuinely nice guy, the kind of guy who treated us like his kids. He was a great motivator. He knew how to get his message across and get the best out of each player. When I was playing, I truly would have run through a wall for him. He was that type of coach.”

Donna Wilkinson (linebacker):

“One of the first things I remember about Coach Cooper – especially after a hard practice – was his conditioning. He liked doing those long runs, almost punishing you and tiring you out. He brought out the pads in practice, and we hit a lot. He always made sure that we were very physical; he loved the physical aspect of the game. He was really a grind-it-out, ‘you’ve gotta hit a lot’ type of coach.

Of course, everyone remembers that he was such a great leader and motivator. But for me, I’ll always remember his toughness and how much he pushed us to be physical and gritty and get down in those trenches. When I suit up for practice, that’s what reminds me of him. As I think about him, I believe that the best way we can honor him is by being very physical and tough whenever we play.”

Becky Worsham (offensive line):

“Coop always stressed selflessness on the field. He always said that as an offensive lineman, you have to devote your body to the play, and every play has to be that way. I felt like he understood us in particular, because he was a lineman when he played. I really bought into everything he told us, because he played on the line so he knew what we were facing.

He was just such a positive person. We received encouragement every practice. Even when we’d make a mistake, he would say, ‘It’s okay…we’re gonna get better.’ It was awesome having that feeling of comfort. He had a calmness about him that made you feel like everything was going to be all right.”

Rachel Huhn (offensive line):

“Coach Cooper had this amazing ability to relate to each one of us individually. He would know what everybody’s mood was at practice. He would yell at the people who had the personality that could handle it, but for others, he would come over and put his hand on your shoulder and calmly say, ‘Hey lady, this is what you need to do to get better.’ He knew what each of us needed to hear.

What I’ll remember about Coop is that he knew that he needed to connect with each person individually before the team happens. That was what kept me coming back to football when I started out playing for him, because he always made me feel like I was part of the group.”

Rich Daniel (general manager):

“The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Ezra Cooper is that he was the father of D.C. Divas football. He was the first man to believe in what the women were doing. He was the first man to commit the untold hours and emotion and finances to this group. And then to do it for as long as he did and to have the success he did, in my mind, puts him among the greatest coaches this region has had in any sport.

Coach Cooper had a lot of daughters, and he had a lot of extended family that loved ‘Papa Bear.’ That’s how I view him – as one of the fathers of women’s football, this loving, Papa Bear figure. I have a lot of images in my mind of Ezra hugging players and showing that kind of thoughtful support, not just in what he said but in the way he would touch someone’s helmet, pick them up, or give them a hug.

He was a warm guy who knew how to listen. He’d listen to whatever issues they had going on, not just with playing their position on the field, but more importantly, he’d listen to what they had going on in their lives.

One of the great things about the Divas organization is that we’re a family that truly supports each other, and a lot of that has to do with the way Coach Cooper treated everyone. The family atmosphere we have around this organization has been carried on because of the example he set and the way he cared for and looked after everybody.”