Departing football coach made an impact off the field as well, players say

Loran Cooley, who led the Baldwin football team for three seasons, announced on Monday that he is leaving to become wide receivers coach at Westminster College.

Purbalite staff

Loran Cooley, who led the Baldwin football team for three seasons, announced on Monday that he is leaving to become wide receivers coach at Westminster College.

By By Purbalite Staff, Baldwin High School - PA

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Coming out of middle school, Dorien Ford was not especially hard-working or motivated when it came to playing football. Then, for Ford’s freshman year, Loran Cooley became Baldwin’s head coach.

“He saw I was more laid back and lazier, and he changed that about me as a person and an athlete,” Ford said on Tuesday.  “As a person I respect what he did. Not all coaches would reach out. He would call me and text me every day to make sure I was doing  what I had to do — going to workouts, finishing workouts, and just making sure I never missed anything.” 

Today Ford is a junior who has been recruited by many Division 1 schools. More importantly, Ford said, Cooley became a mentor and helped Ford develop as a person.

Other Baldwin players had similar praise for Cooley, who on Monday announced he was leaving to become wide receivers coach at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa.

In his three seasons as Baldwin’s head coach, Cooley revitalized the program, and will be leaving the team better than how he found it. But Cooley said he has always wanted to coach at the collegiate level, and he couldn’t ignore this new opportunity.

“I was contacted last week about a position at Westminster College coaching the wide receivers, and for me and my family it was an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up,” Cooley said. 

The call from Westminster came from Head Coach Scott Benzel, who said his connection with Cooley dates back to watching Cooley play wide receiver at Duquesne.

“Coach Cooley is someone that I have known since his playing days at Duquesne,” Benzel said. “I was a defensive backs coach at Robert Morris during his collegiate playing days and we competed against him.”

When it came to filling the wide receivers coaching position, Benzel knew Cooley would be a good fit for the program.

“I have followed Loran throughout his coaching career and was always very impressed with his on-field presence and his connections to the local high school athletes,” Benzel said. “His work that he did at Baldwin reaffirms to a lot of us that he is a star on the rise in the coaching world.  I’ve also been through rebuilds and they take a great deal of patience and vision.”

Coach Cooley would check in with players before dances or school events to make sure they were doing the right things.”

— John Saras

Cooley took over a Baldwin program that had been struggling, and the team went 1-9 in his first season, then nearly made the playoffs with a 4-6 record in his second year. This year the Highlanders went 5-6 and made the playoffs for the first time in six years.

Cooley has impressed many since his playing days, rising up the ranks from coaching receivers at Gateway High School, to becoming the head coach at Baldwin, and to now getting to coach at the collegiate level with an old colleague. Although he is moving on in his career, Cooley said Baldwin will always be a special place for him.

“The hardest part was leaving kids at Baldwin,” Cooley said. “It was a happy-sad moment when I addressed the team because they know how much I love them and I know how much they love me.”

Cooley said he will always remember his time here.

“I was so blessed for the opportunity to become the head coach at Baldwin,” Cooley said. “The players all bought in and we had a tremendous journey.”

More than anything Cooley said he wants his players to remember that although they are parting ways, it does not mean their paths are not connected.

“Just because I’m not the coach there, doesn’t mean we’re not family,” Cooley said.

History teacher Chris Reilsono, who coaches the running backs for Baldwin, said Cooley was able to connect with all of his players and coaches.

“Over three years, you spend so much time with the coaching staff that they become family,” Reilsono said. “Coach Cooley made a fantastic impact on the football program and we all wish him the best in this new opportunity.”

Many players said Cooley built strong relationships with the team. Sophomore defensive back Kameron Allen said he appreciated Cooley’s attitude towards the game, but also that Cooley would get his players a tutor if they were struggling academically.

“He is a very competitive man with a great fighting spirit,” Allen said. “He had love for all of the players on the team, and was a role model for us on and off the field.”

Junior Connor Lavelle agreed.

“He always reached out to me outside of the sport,” Lavelle said. “Coaches in the past never really did that.”

Athletic Coordinator John Saras also had high praise for Cooley.

“He had a substantial impact on Fighting Highlanders football,” Saras said. “He looked for the best interests of his players.”

Saras said Cooley’s ability to relate to his players helped him form good relationships, which ultimately made the team better. Saras additionally cited Cooley’s dedication to the weight room in the off-season as a reason for the team’s improvement. 

Cooley also looked out for his players in many aspects of their lives, Saras said.

“Coach Cooley would check in with players before dances or school events to make sure they were doing the right things,” Saras said.

Even though Cooley had resigned just a day earlier, Saras said Tuesday that many people have contacted Baldwin to express interest in the head coaching position. 

“Cooley helped give energy back to Baldwin football,” Saras said.

The way Cooley connected with his players during his short time at Baldwin is a testament to the way he ran the football program, players said. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference. The love really was felt, and Ford said Cooley’s legacy will be bigger than football.

“He never gave up on me or on us,” Ford said.

Staff writers Jaiman White, Adam Goldsboro, Tyler Zeman, Zachary Wyse, Eli Achtzehn, Cassie Snyder, and Olivia Macellaro contributed to this report.

This story was originally published on Purbalite on February 11, 2020.