Utah Warriors Head Coach Greg Cooper’s Outlook Shaped By Fight With Cancer

SALT LAKE CITY – In 1981, Utah Warriors head coach Greg Cooper was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer as a 15-year-old teenager.

Growing up on the North Island of New Zealand, the diagnosis had a dramatic impact on Cooper and his family.

Cooper immediately began treatment for the disease, undergoing more than two years of treatment before making a difficult decision. Cooper decided to discontinue treatment, a decision that his mother did not agree with.

This wasn’t Greg Cooper giving up.

Instead, Cooper focused his attention on lifelong goals with a focus on survival. “I really, really became focused on becoming an All-Black, because it was about survival, but I also believed that if I became an All-Black that I could get over this,” Cooper said.

The ‘All-Black’ is a nickname for New Zealand’s National Rugby Team.

After stopping treatment, Cooper relocated to the South Island of New Zealand where he signed with the Otago rugby organization ahead of joining the All-Black soon after.

Cooper ended up spending six seasons, 1986-92 with the All-Black while starring for Otago. He is the organizations all-time leading scorer.

It’s a singular focus that Cooper learned and practiced that he credits with his success in life.

“I became a hard worker and thought about my game a lot. That was really almost my entire focus at that time. And then I thought I’d take that focus into the coaching ranks one day,” Cooper said.

The experience of quitting treatment and refocusing all of his energy into Rugby has had a long lasting impact on the Warriors new head coach, “It’s shaped me. No question about that and it made me grow up pretty quick — quicker than normal.”

And with the experience Cooper has found himself thankful for the challenge.

“There’s been tough times, but that’s life. We all go through tough times,” Cooper said. “But you put it in perspective, and while you don’t enjoy those tough times, you recognize you have to get through them and get your job done. And then after all that — that’s when you grow, look back and be thankful for the challenge.”

Cooper coached the Mitsubishi DynaBoars in Japan before joining the Warriors. Prior to that, Cooper helped lead Stade Francais to a European Challenge Cup Championship. He also served as Head Coach to the New Zealand U21 team and Head Coach for the Highlanders of Super Rugby and Otago Rugby Union.

Excited for the challenge that lies ahead, Cooper has enjoyed his experience in Utah.

“I love the pace of life here, how friendly the people are, and I think it’s going to be a great experience in that way, and certainly for the rugby reasons,” Cooper said. “I see great potential here and it’s my privilege to just help be a part of it.”


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