When USF takes the football field for its first game, you can be sure of one thing: The Bulls will be well-versed in Ronde Barber.
USF's new assistant head coach, Ron Cooper, has made that a priority. To know Barber is to know how to do it right, he preaches.
Cooper was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' secondary coach last year and saw a work ethic in Barber that he never witnessed in more than 30 years of football.
"Ronde was like a first-day rookie the way he organizes things and takes notes," Cooper says. "His preparation is unequalled. He has been in the NFL for 16 years and takes notes on everything. It is something I will share with everyone. If he can do that, it should not be anything to ask a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior take his pen and write notes."
Cooper has been around a lot of impressive players during his nearly three decades coaching football. Before coming to the Bucs in 2011, he coached two straight Jim Thorpe Award (given to the nation's best defensive back) winners at LSU in Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne, along with Tyrann Mathieu, who was the nation's defensive player of the year in '11.
Cooper will coach a USF secondary that finished last in the country with only one interception. The team had two, but one was by a defensive tackle.
Shoring up the secondary was a priority during recruiting, and the Bulls signed six to play back there. Cooper's penchant for turning out elite defensive backs enabled USF to get some top-notch prospects, led by Lamar Robbins of Miami Southridge.
"We signed a good group that can come in and help us and be able to compete for a job right away," Cooper said. "It's open season back there (secondary). I told the guys what happened last year has to change. When you play in the secondary, you've got to have amnesia. We are looking to start all over and got some players."
Cooper could've used some amnesia last year with a Bucs secondary that was a big reason the Bucs ranked last in pass defense.
He had to deal with head cases Aqib Talib and Eric
Wright, both of whome were suspended for drug use and missed time for other reasons. Talib was traded, and Wright is not expected to be with the team next season. Other than E.J. Biggers, the Bucs cornerbacks were basically guys off the street, and safety Mark Barron was a rookie with limited pass coverage skills.
There were rumors Bucs head coach Greg Schiano wanted Cooper out. Others said Cooper couldn't find the door fast enough. He didn't want to address the issue, but it appears he wasn't happy there.
"I coached college football for 28 years and realized that's what I really love to do. Then I got a chance to work for coach Taggart and that really made my decision easy," Cooper said. "I like mentoring the 18- to 22-year-old guys. They can be developed a little more. When you get those 25- and 28-year-olds, they have done it a certain way and it's hard for them to change.
"But mainly I am ecstatic about coaching college again, and my wife and kids are glad to be back in a college environment."
Cooper was coaching LSU to an undefeated season and BCS title game berth in 2011 when his Tigers played Taggart's Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers head coach left a lasting impression.
"Our defensive staff felt WKU was one of the most prepared offenses and difficult schemes we had to prepare for that season," Cooper said. "We were supposed to be mighty LSU, and they came in and ran their offense and did what they did. It was impressive; that was a tough one."
USF's recruiting class ranked third in the Big East and first among the teams that will be part of the conference in 2014, which exceeded expectations considering the school's recruiting budget.
Though its an imperfect science to figure recruiting costs, ESPN.com had USF with the lowest football recruiting budget (2011 figures) in the Big East at $184,280. Even UCF, slated to join the Big East next season, was higher at $265,312. Rutgers was the highest in the conference, with a recruiting budget that reached $350,261.
It shouldn't be any surprise that five of the eight schools with the biggest recruiting budgets are in the SEC. But it might surprise some that Tennessee led the way at $1.3 million, proving you don't always get what you pay for.
Alabama was second ($925,660), wretched Auburn was third ($814,657), and Florida was 11th ($554,537). Most of the private schools did not report their findings. The group included Miami and Big East schools Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
Of course these figures do not take into account money slipped under the table to players. If you are planning to investigate that, it is advised to take a few bodyguards and keep the motor running in your getaway car at whatever campus you are visiting.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.