By STEVE KRAH
A buzzword during the COVID-19 pandemic is “new normal.”
For Purdue University baseball recruiting coordinator Cooper Fouts and the rest of the Boilermaker coaching staff, scouting and evaluating talent has changed during a time when recruits missed out on a 2020 high school season, others had their college campaigns cut short and traveling is discouraged.
“It’s taken a different turn,” says Fouts. “We’re really putting a emphasis on relationships.”
The NCAA recruiting calendar was changed and keeps changing.
“At first, it was we can’t recruit until April 15 and then get back on the road like normal,” says Fouts, 37. “But they kept pushing it back. That just didn’t happen.
“This is our normal right now.”
Fouts, who works for Boilers head coach Greg Goff after spending the 2019 season with Mark Wasikowski (now head coach at the University of Oregon), has been gathering as much information about players as possible.
“We look at video and honest video with some failures,” says Fouts, who also serves on a staff that includes Chris Marx, volunteer Harry Shipley, director of player development John Madia and supervisor of operations Tim Sarhage. “On our level, there’s more failure than they’e used to. They have to learn and make adjustments. Expectations are even higher.”
In many ways, coaches glean more from failure than success.
“We like to see what their body language looks like,” says Fouts. “When they’re struggling, you see a lot more truth.
“We’re cross-checking more and making more calls since we can’t see for (ourselves). We don’t get to see interactions. And we want to see the whole package. This makes you trust your gut more.”
Ninety minutes of Fouts’ morning in July 8 when spent in a FaceTime call with a player in Texas, talking about and showing them the facilities at Purdue.
There are plenty of conversations with high school and travel coaches, including the opponents of the player.
NCAA rules dictate that players do coaches and not the other way around.
“There’s a large amount of emphasis on how they communicate on the phone,” says Fouts. “I’ve never offered a kid we haven’t seen in-person. That’s a huge change.
“That virtual tour allows (recruits) to make the right decision. We do it multiple times every week.”
Fouts has been coaching since right after college graduation and has done his best to serve the interests of the man in charge. At Purdue, that’s been Wasikowski and Goff.
“It’s the preference of what those head coaches like and how they want to build a team,” says Fouts. “I’m a follower of their desires.”
With Goff, Fouts has a little more freedom with hitters and their day-to-day instruction and planning.
Fouts has not seen players already on the Purdue roster in-person since March. The hope is that they will be reunited Aug. 24. That’s when the 2020-21 school year is scheduled to begin at Purdue.
The Boilers have players in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Midwest Collegiate League and had hopes of placing some in the Coastal Plain League.
Prior to coming to West Lafayette, Ind., Fouts spent the second of two stints at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. He was on the Waves staff 2011 and 2012 with head coach Steve Rodriguez (now head coach at Baylor University in Waco, Texas) and 2016-18 with Rick Hirtensteiner at the helm.
“He’s my biggest mentor,” says Fouts of Rodriguez. “he was so good at giving guys the freedom to play.
“He wasn’t a micro-manager. Players were not paralyzed by a thought process. That allowed them to be successful. He does the same thing at Baylor. He knows what his players can and can’t do. They absolutely play loose.”
Hirtensteiner was an assistant to Rodriguez during Fouts’ first tenure at Pepperdine.
“He’s an absolute great man of faith,” says Fouts of Hirtensteiner. “He treats his player so well. He gave me a ton of freedom on the coaching and recruiting side.
“He’s just a thoughtful individual. He’s not emotional. He was never overwhelmed by a situation.”
In between his seasons at Pepperdine, Fouts was on the staff of Eric Madsen at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah (2013-15). Madsen taught him much about the mechanics of hitting and more.
“He’s a really good offensive coach and a great human being,” says Fouts of Madsen. “He allowed me to make a lot of mistakes.”
In 2010, Fouts was an assistant at the College of Southern Nevada in North Las Vegas, where Tim Chambers was the head coach and Bryce Harper earned the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s best amateur baseball player.
Harper graduated high school early so he could attend College of Southern Nevada and was selected No. 1 overall in the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Washington Nationals.
Fouts was 11 when he first met Chambers, a man who also coached him his first two years at Bishop Gorman High School in Summerlin, Nev., and for one year at CSN.
“(Chambers) was awesome,” says Fouts. “He’s one of the better managers of people I’ve ever been around.
“He let guys play aggressive and make mistakes.”
Fouts played his final two varsity seasons at Bishop Gorman for head coach Kenny White.
Originally committed to Auburn (Ala.) University, the righty-swinging catcher played three seasons Texas Tech University in Lubbock (2003-05), playing alongside older brother Nathan Fouts. Cooper appeared in 156 games, hitting .265 (114-of-431) with two home runs, 77 runs batted in and 76 runs for Red Raiders head coach Larry Hays.
Fouts remembers that Hays was pretty hands-off as a coach and led assistants tend to day-to-day details.
“He was a great mentor as a Christian man,” says Fouts of Hays, who concluded his Tech run in 2008. “Larry was beloved in that Lubbock community.”
Besides his brother, Fouts got to be teammates with Big 12 Conference Triple Crown winner Josh Brady, who also played at the College of Southern Nevada, and future big league pitcher Dallas Braden.
“(Braden) was one of the two best competitors I’ve ever been around in my life
(the other is Harper),” says Fouts, who still has occasional contact with the two players.
Fouts was drafted twice — the first time in the 26th round by the Oakland Athletics in 2001 — but decided a pro baseball playing career was not for him.
He picked up his diploma on a Saturday and began coaching on Brandon Gilliland’s staff at Lubbock Christian School two days later in 2006.
Fouts was born in Kokomo, Ind., in 1983. At 7, he moved with his family to Indianapolis, where he attended St. Thomas Aquinas School.
After Cooper turned 11 in 1994, the Fouts family moved to Las Vegas and lived there through his high school days with the exception of a one-year stay in Memphis, Tenn.
Cooper and Bri Fouts are to celebrate 10 years of marriage July 24. The couple have three children — daughter Harper (who turns 8 July 29) and sons Emmit (who turns 6 on July 10), and Nash (who turns 4 on Aug. 18).