In case you didn't hear, Miami basketball coach Charlie Coles retired last night following MU's loss to Toledo in the first round of the MAC Men's Basketball Tournament. If the tributes start piling up, we apologize even if we feel it's warranted.
I'll start with this one even though it was a prefab interview. Coles goes on for 20 minutes and I'll say the good stuff begins at about 10 minutes in, when he starts talking about his favorite place to coach on the road ... he admits he doesn't know where NIU is.
But the invaluable part of this is at the end ... the "rapid fire" questions including who would play him in a movie and his favorite vacation spot. Of course I'm giving you points to fast forward to, which is a disservice because it's 20 minutes you should watch completely.
In 2009, a University of Kentucky beat writer asks Coles how an upset "got away from you" after MU held them close and led for much of the game against the No. 4 team, only to have John Wall hit the game-winning shot at the end. He wasn't fazed and wasn't pissed by the loss but his reaction is pricless to the question.
The adorable level is stratospheric in this video. A cute old man with cute little grandchildren. Almost too much to bear! But consider the layers of this video: not only is he a family man but he's talking after a game played at Division II Saginaw Valley State, proving he's a dying breed and making poignant comments about the state of NCAA sports.
I could go on. Any press conference with Charlie Coles name on it may have poor audio but that has nothing to do with the words emanating from the coach.
And he's more than sound bytes. WAY more. In fact, he was providing them before they were called "sound bytes." Back then it was probably called "personality" or something like that. And that's another thing he did: Coles always did a commensurate job in mentioning how things were compared to today, but he never lived in the past. What's important in college athletics is when a coach around for more than 20 seasons, he'll be schooling young men who weren't born when he began this gig. It's always important to keep those previous experiences in context.
When a basketball coach retires, this means he was great. Leaving the game on one's own terms is difficult especially in a world of win-now bosses and abominable expectations from fans. Coles never had a powerhouse. He had some MAC championships, NIT appearances and of course the one taste of the Sweet 16 in 1999. You may identify his coaching career by that one season, but defining it by one miracle tournament run sells him short. He had many just-okay seasons since then and yet he kept his job. Why? Was it understood that he was tenured? Was it because he set a good example for other coaches? Was it because he also taught a basketball course to students?
There may be other immeasurable qualities that RedHawks fans can probably explain better than me, but perhaps this is the reason, above all others, that he's perhaps the best basketball coach the MAC has ever had: I'm singing praises about him and he's coaching a school many other MAC schools/fans don't really like. It's fun to root for Miami to lose. And on the surface you want Charlie Coles' team to lose too. But between games, perhaps even during them, we all think the world of him.
There aren't many other examples where that's the case. Bobby Knight? Sure you may appreciate that he's a good coach but tell Purdue that he's likable. Mike Krzyzewski? Go around Chapel Hill and see who wants to shake his hand. Now go to Athens, Ohio and talk about Charlie Coles. You'll never confuse Athens for Oxford but most reasonable men and women are going to be rather laudatory about him.
Much like the Mid-American Conference bands together during national tournaments and bowl games for a common goal, Charlie Coles was not just Miami's, but the entire MAC's basketball coach. He was ours, dammit, not yours. No disservice to Reggie Witherspoon, now the elder statesman of the MAC, but I don't think Akron and WMU fans will be able to call Witherspoon "theirs" even if he coaches for another 15 years and breaks Coles' record for most MAC conference wins of 218. He'd probably be considered a great coach that may have been shy but accomplished much. Coles didn't seem to be about accomplishments in the tangible sense, even though he had them. He was about coaching, and Miami University, and he made that apparent, both on the sidelines and after the games, through pull quotes and YouTube clips.