The news of Charlie Coles’ death broke last Friday around noon. Like almost everything, I saw it first in my Twitter feed. It was stunning news. While the legendary coach hadn’t been in great health for a few years, I hadn’t seen any recent reports that he was ailing.
Like any other coach or athlete I’ve interviewed or covered, I didn’t really know Charlie Coles. But he was such a fun person to talk to, either in a one-on-one interview or a press conference, that he managed to make an impact anyway. And it wasn’t just on me, a starry eyed young reporter that didn’t know any better. In the last week I’ve seen tributes from many of the writers lucky enough to cover Coles during his 21 years as a head coach.
I was definitely one of those lucky ones and when I heard of his death, my thoughts immediately went to all the great press conferences of his that I’d been at, the few one-on-one interviews I’d done with him and, of course, his great answer to why the game got away from Miami against John Wall and the Big Blue in 2009.
I also thought of a story I’d written about Coles when I was in college. He had recently broken the MAC record for wins and Miami was scheduled to visit Ball State that season. There was speculation this might be Coles’ last game at Ball State because he could retire before Miami would return in two years.
That probably shouldn’t have been reason enough for a 1,000-word story on the opposing coach previewing a nondescript basketball game in late January. But the great thing about student newspapers is sometimes stuff like that happens. I wanted to write a lengthy feature about Coles and no one was going to tell me no.
Looking back at the story, I remember very little about writing it. I know I spoke at length to Coles on the phone from my dorm room. Otherwise, the work that went into that story has faded from my mind over the last 3 1/2 years.
Maybe what stands out most to me from that Miami game happened (of course) in the postgame press conference. The moderator, a Ball State employee, attempted to wrap it up after a couple minutes. Well, Charlie Coles did not do two-minute press conferences. He was the rare coach that enjoyed the give-and-take with the media, even when that meant just a few reporters, most of whom were barely old enough to drink. So, very politely, he told the moderator that he wasn’t done yet and took questions for a few more minutes before thanking us and heading back to the locker room.
I probably only covered 10-12 Miami games, but that, to me, was quintessential Coles. He was going to do it his way and have fun with it. It’s why he was a favorite of writers, yes, but also fans and players. It’s why his passing touched so many people both in and away from the Miami program.
My feature is no longer online because it was published during a time when something screwy happened to the Daily News website, causing about a month’s worth of content to disappear. Looking at the story now, there are things about it I would do differently now and I realize I should have talked to a couple other people. There are other, better stories about Coles out there. But I wanted to republish my own here as my small token of appreciation for always taking the time to talk to me and other reporters, no matter how small the story.
MAC’s top coach comes to Muncie
Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010
The Ball State Daily News
By Teddy Cahill
Fans of Ball State University have a way of finding Miami university coach Charlie Coles.
Not that Coles minds. He’s actually looking forward to his trip to Worthen Arena on Tuesday to play the Cardinals.
“I’ll always run into Ball State fans,” Coles said. “I enjoy fooling around with the fans. I enjoy baiting them a little bit.”
He remembers one interaction this summer when he was in Indianapolis with his wife and granddaughter.
Either the mayor or the superintendent of the schools told me he had a friend in Muncie,” Coles said. “He said ‘My buddy really gets a kick out of you when you’re over there.’ I said, ‘I get a kick out of them too.;:
The interactions are all in good fun for Coles.
“Nothing very serious at all, I hope they feel the same way,” he said. “It’s all in good spirit, the bantering back and forth.”
While Coles has plenty of fun with fans, he also is the Mid-American Conference’s winningest coach. Coles broke the record for MAC victories with a 79-67 win against Miami’s archrival Ohio University. He has 196 wins in his 20 seasons in the conference, including 14 seasons at Miami and six at Central Michigan University.
Though Coles has been a head coach for 20 years and has had bypass surgery twice, he has no intention of retiring soon.
“I’m enjoying it too much,” the 67-year old said. “This year I’m enjoying it more than ever. I haven’t had one bad day of practice and for me, mentally, it’s a good thing.”
The physical effects of coaching has on Coles may not be as positive. In 2008, he missed the MAC Tournament after checking himself into the hospital. He had bypass surgery and doctors reshaped his heart. Unphased, he was back on the sidelines at the start of the next season.
“I don’t know how it is physically on me,” Coles said. “I don’t think it’s harmful, but it’s something you don’t know for sure. I couldn’t let it go right now. I enjoy everything, the bus rides, everything.”
Coles’ demeanor on the sideline gives observers no clue to his age or previous health problems.
Forward Mo Hubbard was recruited by Miami before going to Ball State. He was surprised the first time he saw Coles in action.
“Being at his age, you would kind of expect him to be more relaxed,” Hubbard said. “he was stomping his feet around on the sideline. I was caught off guard by that, but it’s good that he still has energy and love for the game.”
Coles rarely sits during a game and usually has something to say. Whether he’s talking to his players or the referees, Coles is active on the sidelines.
“When you first see him you wouldn’t think he would still be coaching at this age and still be so effective,” Hubbard said. “Obviously, he’s still getting it done at Miami. Appearance can definitely take you off the wrong track.”
Not only does Coles have the respect of his players and recruits, he is beloved by the rest of the MAC’s coaches. When he missed the MAC Tournament in 2008, the rest of the conference’s coaches sincerely missed seeing him in Cleveland.
University of Akron coach Keith Dambrot succeeded Coles at Central Michigan in 1991 and holds him in high regard.
“He’s a great man,” Dambrot said. “He has tremendous passion for the game, the players love him, he has tremendous knowledge and [the record is] just a real tribute to him because he’s overcome a lot of adversity, both physically and career wise. You have to have the utmost respect for a man like him.”
Eastern Michigan University coach Charles Ramsey calls him the master and Ball State coach Billy Taylor has plenty of praise for Coles.
“I know that I certainly have a lot of respect for coach Coles and his program and the way they’ve gone about having that success,” Taylor said. “He’s established and kind of continued the tradition they’ve had there at Miami over the years. Coach Coles is someone who’s been through the battles in the MAC.”
Coles prepares his teams for MAC battles with tough nonconference schedules. While most Division I teams play at least one team from a lower division and a few cupcakes, the RedHawks play as many big-name schools as Coles can find.
This year, Miami traveled to then No. 4 University of Kentucky, No. 19 University of Cincinnati and mixed in games against four other teams ranked or receiving votes in this week’s AP poll. According to realtimerpi.com, the RedHawks’ have played the 24th hardest schedule in the country, by far the best in the MAC.
“Most years it toughens you up,” Coles said. “If you ever beat one, it’s a special moment. We’ve beaten seven ranked teams since I’ve been here and it’s been a great, great, great time every time.”
This year’s marquee game was a 72-70 loss at Kentucky in November, a game that Miami led most of the way. Swingman Nick Winbush set the Rupp Arena record for 3-pointers by a visiting player before Wildcats’ freshman sensation John Wall hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer.
“We’ve played some teams awful tough,” Coles said. “Ask Kentucky who came closest to beating them, not only in score but in the way of beating them.”
Two points remains the smallest margin of victory for Kentucky this season.
But the MAC season is what Coles prepares his teams for. The rivalry game with Ohio is very important to him, but Coles also still considers Ball State a rival.
Recently Coles has had plenty of success against the Cardinals, as Miami has won nine straight against Ball State, dating back to 2004.
“It’s very much there,” Coles said. “I think it’s there and I think your coach thinks it’s there and the players think it’s there. Ball State gets my juices going.”