(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA — Montana head football coach Bobby Hauck has added more Big Sky Conference coaching experience to his already veteran staff, with Roger Cooper joining the program as UM's new safeties coach, Grizzly Athletics announced Monday.
Cooper replaces Shann Schillinger, who left UM for a defensive analyst position at Mississippi State.
Cooper returns to the state of Montana after spending 10 years at Idaho State, where he most recently served as the associate head coach, defensive coordinator, and linebacker coach under Rob Phenicie.
"We're really excited that 'Coop' is joining us here at Montana. He's a guy I've had my eye on for a long time, maybe even since he was a senior at South Kitsap High School. We should have recruited him when I was at Washington," said Hauck. "I've known him for many years and have a really high regard for his abilities as a coach and who he is as a person."
Instead of Washington, Cooper would go on to be an All-American linebacker at Montana State. He then began his coaching career at Bozeman High School before serving as a graduate assistant for the Bobcats in 2011.
He began coaching at ISU the following year when he was hired by long-time Big Sky coach Mike Kramer to lead the Bengals' running backs, eventually working his way up to defensive coordinator in 2018.
"I'm absolutely thrilled to be joining the staff at Montana and am excited to learn the traditions here and everything that has helped make this place successful," said Cooper. "It's really a blessing to be here."
At Idaho State, Cooper mentored some of the top linebackers in the Big Sky Conference, including the league's 2014 Freshman of the Year and three-time all-conference pick Mario Jenkins.
Jenkins, who finished fourth in the voting for the Jerry Rice Award given to the top freshman in the FCS and went on to earn an NFL mini-camp invite from the Kansas City Chiefs, was one of 18 all-conference selections for Cooper's defensive units in his 10 years with the program.
Led by Cooper, ISU's linebacking unit in 2016 was one of the best in the Big Sky, with Jenkins earning second-team all-conference and Joe Martin earning third-team honors. The trio of Jenkins, Martin, and Hayden Stout combined for 259 tackles, six interceptions, five sacks, 16 tackles for loss, and two fumble recoveries that season.
Prior to his time at Idaho State, Cooper served as a graduate assistant at MSU in 2011.
Before working at his alma mater, he coached at Bozeman High School in 2010, where he helped the Hawks win the program's first state championship since 1917 as the coordinator of the top-ranked defense in the state.
As a player, Cooper was a standout linebacker who earned first-team All-Big Sky honors in three-straight seasons (2002-2004) and was named the Big Sky defensive MVP in 2004. He was also a second-team All-American and a starter on an MSU defense that helped snap Montana's 16-game win streak in 2002.
He then spent three seasons in the NFL and NFL Europe from 2005-2007, with stints in Dallas, San Francisco, San Diego, and Frankfurt, Germany, before suffering a career-ending injury.
Cooper says he's excited to stay in the Big Sky and help mentor Montana's league-leading defense, a top-three unit in the FCS against the run that led the nation in defensive touchdowns in 2021.
"You really have to be a well-rounded coach to defend all the different offenses in our conference. I think this defensive staff does an amazing job of being disruptive," Cooper added. "With all the traditions and the rivalries in the Big Sky, it's just really exciting for me to be back here in Montana."