Wall Street Coach Goes From Lacrosse Field to NHL's Lightning

Lightning Coach Jon Cooper
Head coach Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Photographer: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images
  • Cooper sold securities for Prudential during finance career
  • He earned a law degree after lacrosse at Hofstra University

Standing in the bowels of Madison Square Garden, far below the ballyhooed blue seats he occupied as a fan, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper steers the conversation from Series 7 to seven-game series.

“I’ve probably lived a few different lives,” says Cooper, a former Division I lacrosse player, securities salesman and trader and criminal attorney. “I’m probably a little different because of the experiences I’ve gone through.”

The defining moment, according to Cooper, came when his bosses at Prudential Securities asked that he get a Series 7, a license granted by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority that entitles the holder to sell all types of securities products except commodities and futures.

Having long pondered a career as an agent, Cooper passed and opted for a post in Prudential’s legal department instead. He eventually got his law degree and started his own practice, which he closed in 2003 to pursue a coaching career that included stops with the Green Bay Gamblers, Norfolk Admirals and Syracuse Crunch.

Legal Lessons

“Just being an attorney, how does that help you? You know what that does -- I learned how to argue,” said Cooper, who played lacrosse 3,000 miles away from his British Columbia home at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. “I learned how to stand up and speak in front of people. My job is to convince 23 players to play our structure and go through a wall for us. It’s no different than talking to a jury.”

Whatever Cooper said this season, it worked.

The Lightning, owned by former Fidelity Investments stock-picker-turned- hedge-fund manager Jeff Vinik, finished with 108 points, third in the Eastern Conference behind the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens. Tampa Bay ousted the Detroit Red Wings and Canadiens en route to MSG, a building whose traditions are well known by the man whose team won 6-2 last night to even the Eastern Conference finals at one game apiece with the Rangers.

“I remember when Carol Alt used to walk by and everyone gave her a standing ovation,” said Cooper, whose club had lost the opening game of the series 2-1. “She was dating Ron Greschner at the time.”

Good People

More than anything, working on Wall Street, or Water Street in Cooper’s case, taught the coach the importance of surrounding himself with good people and treating them as he wished to be treated.

“I treat my team that way,” said Cooper, 47.

Duke University lacrosse coach John Danowski, whose Blue Devils have three national titles, including the past two, isn’t the least bit surprised that his former player at Hofstra is having success.

“He was fiercely bright and charismatic,” Danowski said of Cooper, who left school with a business degree. “He understands the human element. He’s able to relate to probably every guy on his team.”

Lacrosse played a significant role in shaping Cooper’s coaching philosophy, teaching him that rigidity is counterproductive.

Cooper grew up playing lacrosse against fellow Canadians Gary and Paul Gait, as well as Tom Marechek, all of whom are known for their creativity and flair.

“It’s amazing that he transferred that loosey-goosey into hockey,” said Marechek, who is teaching and coaching lacrosse at the Friends School of Baltimore.

Cooper said he disdained coaches who insisted their way was the only way. “I will give you structure, but I’m not going to tell Steven Stamkos how to score goals,” the father of three said, referring to the Lightning captain. “The life of a dictatorship is long gone. Let me get to know you, what makes you tick, this is how I’m going to help you. You just have to believe in what we’re doing.”


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