HOUSTON (AP) -Cecil Cooper will return as manager of the Houston Astros after receiving a two-year contract Friday that runs through the 2009 season.
The 57-year-old was named interim manager when he replaced the fired Phil Garner on Aug. 27.
The announcement was made before the Astros opened their final series of the season, against Atlanta.
``It's a great thrill for me,'' Cooper said. ``I'm very confident I can do this. I know I can do it. We're going to get it done.''
Cooper had worked as Houston's bench coach since 2005. His promotion comes a week after the Astros named Ed Wade their new general manager to replace Tim Purpura.
``I'm became very comfortable, very quickly being around Coop,'' Wade said. ``I look forward to a long association.''
Houston has gone 13-15 since Cooper took over.
Cooper, a first-time major league manager, is the first black manager in Astros history.
When Cooper was hired, owner Drayton McLane suggested that the final month of the Astros' lost 2007 season amounted to an audition for Cooper, a five-time All-Star during his 17-year playing career.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig endorsed Cooper a few days after he was hired. Cooper played for Milwaukee when Selig owned the Brewers from 1977-87.
When he succeeded Garner, Cooper said the team needed to play ``with more excitement, more fire.'' He's tinkered with lineups and encouraged more steal attempts in his month on the job.
The Astros are still guaranteed to finish with their second losing record since 1991.
Cooper said the Astros have the players in place - both on the current roster and in the minors - to win next season.
``We have some pieces in place and some young guys who can add to this mix,'' he said. ``When you put those guys together with the talent we have, we're going to be OK.''
This weekend's series will mark the end of Craig Biggio's 19-year career with the Astros and McLane was originally going to hold off promoting Cooper until next week. He decided not to wait because ``the conclusion was so obvious.''
``Cecil is a perfect fit for the managerial job based on his leadership and experience,'' McLane said. ``We look forward to his influence on our team as we move forward on our quest to bring a World Series championship to Houston. We feel he is the most qualified person to help us accomplish that goal.''

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