Cooper Manning says Dog The Bounty Hunter was probably Ole Miss’ first choice.
“He must have had other things to do,” he jokes.
Cooper, the eldest of Archie and Olivia Manning’s three sons, will give the keynote address May 9 in The Grove at Ole Miss’ School of Journalism and New Media graduation ceremony — part of the university’s commencement.
Cooper, 45, graduated from Ole Miss in 1996 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.
Will Norton, dean of the journalism school, wasted no time explaining why Cooper was chosen: “He has insights that will inform our students. He was a great football player whose career was cut short. He is a successful businessman and media professional. He is a journalism alumnus. He is funny. Students will remember this graduation speech.”
Yes, they will.
Cooper’s sense of humor is legendary. It won’t be the usual talk to graduates.
“This totally caught me off guard,” he says. “I got an email and a formal letter from Dean Norton just asking if I would be interested. I was excited, nervous, flattered and curious.
“I’m like most people who wake up at night after dreaming I haven’t studied for a test and can’t find the classroom. Apparently, I’ll be talking to between 300 and 400 graduates and their families. It’s at 3 p.m. so I have no idea how many people will show up. But my mouth said I’d do it, so I can’t back out now.
“I loved my broadcast journalism days there. J-school is made up of an eclectic bunch. It doesn’t lack for weird people, which is fun.”
A real estate executive in New Orleans with AJ Capital Partners, Cooper also works for Fox Sports. He is host of “The Manning Hour” and is a contributor for “Fox NFL Kickoff.”
He already is preparing his speech, jotting down notes whenever an idea comes to him.
“I have no idea what I’m going to say,” he says. “My brain usually works better if I don’t prepare. I enjoy that — the thought of what could go right and what could go wrong. I’m kinda working on the icing and haven’t gotten to the cake yet.”
“I want Dean Norton to have as many sleepless nights as I do about this.”
During our half-hour interview, Cooper — a husband and father of three — touched on several subjects:
*He and his family are in Mardis Gras mode.
“Usually, (brothers) Peyton and Eli come down with their kids. That’s what I enjoy, watching the kids on a ladder catching beads with you behind them. A lot of my buddies also come down, so it’s sort of a reunion.”
*He and his wife, Ellen, haven’t yet come up with a formal plan on how to handle the recruiting and media blitz that is brewing. Their middle child, Arch, threw 34 touchdown passes last season as a freshman at Newman High School. He was named National Freshman of the Year by MaxPreps.
“(Arch) really doesn’t want any attention,” Cooper says. “He thinks the whole thing is silly right now. He doesn’t talk to the media, but when he does, what is he going to say? He’s 15.
“Lots of weeks and days go by and none of (the recruiting) is even mentioned. We try to keep it as normal as we can and enjoy the great institution that is high school sports.”
*Cooper and Ellen’s daughter, May, plays high school volleyball and tennis.
“My dad really gets into the volleyball,” Cooper says. “He loves coming to the games.”
Heid, an eighth-grader, plays football (center), basketball and lacrosse.
“Yeah, it’s a great game but I don’t know much about it,” Cooper says. “But I can’t just sit there, so every now and then I’ll yell out ‘run!’ or something like that.”
*Cooper was a fabulous 6-foot-4 receiver at Newman High and signed with Ole Miss. Many believed he had NFL talent. I was in that number after watching him play.
But at age 18, he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis — a narrowing of the spinal canal. It ended his football career and required three touch-and-go surgeries.
Archie has always admired how Cooper handled the situation.
Likewise, Cooper always admired how his parents sat stoically while watching their sons play sports.
“I’m doing my best to imitate them,” Cooper says. “I really didn’t know what to expect, but I’m usually pretty calm. I would say I’m positive and an encouraging kind of guy.”
*2020 will be the first since 1997 that he won’t have a brother playing in the NFL. So will he devote all of his allegiance back to his dad’s old team, the New Orleans Saints?
“I was a rabid Saints fan, but then blood came into the picture and took me to the Colts when Peyton went there. Then I had to divvy it up when Eli went to the Giants. I’ve been so focused on my brothers, I haven’t really thought about it. Yeah, I’ll probably get back to being a Saints fan full-time now.”