Report: Cooper's knee 'very bad'

Miami's 2009 season ended with a loss, and the 2010 campaign isn't off to a great start either.

Running back Graig Cooper could miss all of next season because of a severe right knee injury, a person briefed on an initial diagnosis told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of school policies about revealing injury information.

Cooper was hurt Tuesday when his knee gave way after a misstep on slippery turf late in the first half of Miami's loss to Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl. He led the Hurricanes (9-4) with 695 yards rushing this season, and his 2,218 career yards places him No. 5 on Miami's list.

Now, there's a strong chance he won't play again until 2011, although more tests are planned to determine the exact nature of the injury and develop a timetable for surgery.

"It's very bad," the person said after some members of the team returned to Coral Gables, Fla., on Wednesday morning.

Cooper will undergo an MRI on Thursday, but he has been told that he likely tore his anterior cruciate ligament, his father told the Palm Beach Post on Wednesday.

"We won't know how bad it is until they take the tests," Tino Thomas, Cooper's father, said, according to the newspaper.

On the play that featured the injury, Cooper picked up a short kickoff at the Miami 24, burst through a hole and seemed poised for a long runback. Near midfield, he planted his knee in what players described as sandy turf -- large divots appeared in the surface all game long -- and the joint gave out. Cooper collapsed quickly, squeezing his knee tightly with both hands.

He was not available to reporters after the game.

Cooper was considering turning pro for the 2010 season, as were a number of other Miami juniors, including top wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, left tackle Orlando Franklin and defensive lineman Allen Bailey.

Hankerson said Tuesday night that he's coming back. Franklin has long said he's certain to return, and Bailey's mind isn't totally made up but he's also leaning toward playing his senior season.

All that news represents significant victories for Miami's hopes for 2010, and could soften the blow of Cooper's injury.

"That's key," defensive back Brandon Harris said. "Hankerson and Allen Bailey, they were great playmakers on our team. They made the big plays when we needed them. ... Just to have those guys around, with their experience and their leadership ability, that's going to go a long ways toward carrying this team."

Aside from the rocky finish, it was an improved season for Miami.

The Hurricanes were 5-7 in 2007, Randy Shannon's first year as coach. Miami improved to 7-6 last year, then added two more wins to the total this season, Jacory Harris' first as the Hurricanes' full-time starting quarterback.

"The next level we've got to get to, I guess, is finishing the season strong, just learning how to finish," said Jacory Harris, who has an injured thumb and is looking forward to having time to heal. "That's something that we got to put into our minds during the offseason by telling ourselves, you know, in everything we do, just finish. Hopefully that will carry over into the season."

By then, Shannon likely will have a new contract. But the process could take a while.

Shannon's deal expires at the end of next season, and athletic director Kirby Hocutt told The Associated Press on Wednesday that getting an extension signed "is a priority in the coming days and weeks."

The sides have been talking, at least informally, for more than a year, and it's believed Shannon's representatives made a request for a three-year extension with a modest raise several weeks ago, then got a counteroffer involving less money in return. Miami also wants to extend offensive coordinator Mark Whipple's deal, which actually could occur before Shannon's new deal gets hashed out.

For his part, Shannon sees signs that a return to championship form is getting closer.

"I'm proud of these guys for what we've been through for my last three years, you know, getting some guys in this program to believe that we can turn it around," Shannon said. "The first year was difficult. The second year was a little stress because we played so many young guys, like Jacory and these young sophomores that we got. This year, they stepped up."

In a very quiet locker room Tuesday night, players vowed that would continue.

"This is the University of Miami. I didn't come here to win nine games," Franklin said.

Said Brandon Harris: "This will probably be the most intense offseason that any other class at the University of Miami has had. ... We really want to go undefeated next season and win a national championship. That's going to start this offseason."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.