The Miami University basketball coach announced his retirement March 5 after his RedHawks lost to Toledo in the Mid-American Conference Tournament. It was the final loss of Miami’s disappointing 9-21 season and of Coles’ 16 years at his alma mater and 22 as a head coach.
Coles’ announcement was hardly unexpected, as the 70-year-old was in the final year of his contract and has recently struggled with various physical ailments. But, even so, it was done in classic Coles fashion — a 20-minute postgame press conference with one question asked that finished with a standing ovation from the assembled reporters. That’s how good Coles has been for sportswriters — the same people who wouldn’t show any emotion at the announcement of world peace applauded for Coles.
There are plenty of reasons why. He not only leaves as the winningest coach in Miami history — he had three NCAA Tournament berths at his alma mater to his name, a Sweet 16 appearance and leaves countless lives touched as a coach and role model. He also made our jobs as reporters easy. When I covered UC, there was no better week than Miami week. It was like three guaranteed easy stories — just set down a tape recorder and let Charlie go (hit up YouTube and search “Charlie Coles” and “Kentucky” and see what I mean).
With that in mind, I thought he’d have a press conference in Oxford this week and I’d go, drop off my recorder and find a seat in the back — allow Charlie to write one more story for me.
Instead, Coles conducted one-on-one interviews for any newspaper reporters and TV crews that wanted to talk to him.
For the most part, we didn’t talk about basketball, his accomplishments or his future. Instead, he talked about his failures and shortcomings. It was inspirational. Here was someone making a huge decision and perfectly at ease with not only the decision, but also the reasons behind them.
“As far as coaching a team, I don’t think I was very good at it the last three or four years — I really don’t,” Coles said. “I don’t think I wanted to be good at it. ... I’m fascinated by individual performance — and that’s not just in basketball, that’s in football. I’m fascinated by what athletes have done, the good ones, the (Tom) Bradys, the John Stocktons, the Greg Madduxes — those guys that have perfected what they do. I fell for it, and it hasn’t been good for me because it’s made me bitter, because I think every athlete should strive to be better. I think I was probably a negative force with my teams at least over the last four or five years.”
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins knows what Coles is saying, but isn’t quite buying it.
“I think he probably believes that, even if I don’t,” Huggins said.
I called Huggins to get his best Charlie Coles story — anyone who has encountered Coles has one.
“Charlie goes to bed at like 9, 10 p.m.,” Huggins said, “and he was waking up at five in the morning to get his workout in, and this guy moves into the neighborhood and so Charlie wakes up and the lights are on over there — this guy’s already up. So Charlie woke up earlier and then that guy woke up earlier. Pretty soon, Charlie’s getting up at four in the morning just to beat that guy up and work out before that guy does. That’s Charlie. Charlie’s just really, really competitive. He talks all that (stuff), but he’s really competitive.”
I also asked current University of Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin his best Coles story:
“When we first met, he was coaching at Toledo Central Catholic and I was 21 and we were at 5 Star (basketball camp). ... We were in the dorms at Robert Morris (College) with no air conditioning. It was morning; I was getting out of the shower and he was shaving and had his sandals on. You know how he looks — imagine how he looks in the morning. Coach Coles, he looks over and says, ‘What’s up kid?’ We start talking, I introduce myself and he says, ‘Are you Hep’s son?’ He also asked me if I was a camper. I told him I was a coach. I had hair at that time. We became friends that week at 5 Star, stayed in touch and he’s the best. That’s how we met, he was wearing a towel, shower sandals and his stomach was hanging out — it was not a pretty sight.”
Coles says he’ll continue working in basketball, with players and with coaches: “I’m not going to be able to let everything go.”
Luckily, there will be more Charlie Coles stories to come.
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