Ernie Cooper to rejoin Grizzlies football program

Longtime coach takes over freshman program at Granite Bay
By: Steven Wilson,
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Longevity: Granite Bay's only head football coach from 1996 (when the school was established) to 2012; returned for one season in 2014.

Roles: Cooper is a credentialed math teacher who also has taught P.E. and been a strength coach.

Accolades: Led Granite Bay to five Sac-Joaquin Section championships and a state title in 2012.

Cooper's notable alumni: Receiver Adam Jennings played for three teams during a five-year NFL career in Atlanta, Detroit and New York (2006-2010). Sammie Stroughter played wideout for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2009-12, while Dallas Sartz (Washington/Minnesota/Seattle, 2007-08) and Miles Burris (Oakland Raiders; 2012-14) played linebacker in the NFL for a few years. 

Receiver Devon Wylie has been a member of eight NFL teams, most recently with the Falcons in 2015, and currently plays for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.

2008 Granite Bay graduate Peyton Thompson is a current NFL safety for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He recently completed his fifth season in the NFL and his third campaign in Jacksonville.

Offensive lineman Gavin Andrews, who played for the Grizzlies’ Division I section-championship team in 2011, had 22 career starts on the offensive line at Oregon State over the past five years. Furthermore, Brendan Keeney, the quarterback on that 2011 team, was a preferred walk-on at Cal.

One of Cooper’s latest prospects was 2014 graduate Cam Smith, who is currently a sophomore linebacker at USC and was the 2015 PAC-12 Freshman of the Year. 


After 15 seasons at the helm of the Granite Bay varsity football program, roaming the sidelines with a clipboard in one hand and his reading glasses in the other, legendary Granite Bay coach Ernie Cooper announced his return last Wednesday. 

This time, the veteran leader will assume the heading coaching duties for the freshman program as he transitions from Friday to Thursday night football. 

“Obviously, the coaching bug never really left Ernie,” Granite Bay’s Athletic Director Tim Healy stated. “He needed a break because he puts a lot of time and energy into everything he does … but the idea was that he wanted to get back involved in some capacity.” 

Cooper was the only varsity football head coach at Granite Bay since the high school was established in 1996 before first retiring in 2013. After one season back at the helm of the varsity program in the fall of 2014, Cooper called it quits again, bowing out with a varsity coaching record of 164 wins, 47 losses and one tie in 15 seasons. 

“He’s a phenomenal motivator,” Healy added. “He’s hyper-organized and structured, and really does a phenomenal job of creating certainty for the kids, which I think is a very important part of being an effective football coach.”

During his time at the varsity level, Cooper won ten league championships, five section titles and two state championships; Division II in 2000 and Division I in 2012. His break from coaching in 2013, following a state championship season, didn't last long as he returned to the sidelines in 2014 and led the team to a 9-4 mark and another Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth.

“(The move) brings his energy, his knowledge of the game and his passion back into our program, which is what we were looking for,” Healy said. “But it allows him the flexibility to enjoy his family time as well.”

Cooper previously decided to step down and focus his energies on running the school’s strength and conditioning program in 2015. After a needed break, he’ll now redirect his focus to the freshman program. 

“What Ernie brings to the table is so valuable that we wanted to get him back involved with the kids,” Healy added. “I think that fits his family and life schedule right now, which is an important piece.”

Joining Cooper at the freshman level will be Steve Smith, last year’s varsity defensive coordinator, and Mike Valentine, who’s been a part of the program for the last 18 years.

“It’s essentially an All-Star, collegiate-level staff coaching the freshman football program,” Healy admitted. “So I’m really excited to see what those guys do.”

Last year’s junior varsity head coach Matt McLemore is scheduled to move up to the defensive coordinator position on varsity next year, while the program also adds Norm Ryan, who coached football and taught U.S. history for 34 years at Casa Roble High School, including the past 14 years as the program’s varsity head coach. 

“Looking at it overall, with what we’re doing, (we’ve made) some bold moves, but I think some pretty neat moves,” Healy added. 

The freshman program went 5-5 last year, but ended their season on a three-game win streak. 

Cooper will look to continue that winning tradition, but he’ll also look to build a foundation for the junior varsity and varsity programs — a move that should pay dividends down the road. 

“I’m happy for our community because we get one of the best coaches around, back in our program,” Healy concluded. “He’s an asset to our program and our school, so I’m very pleased with this move.”