He was looking around Charlie Coles’ home at a life interrupted.
“I was by his chair before and he had his notes done that he was going to tell the girls from the tournament this past weekend,” said Craig Bennett, who is Coles’ son in law, an assistant athletics director at Miami University and Charlie’s assistant on the Ohio Power Basketball team they coach in Oxford.
Craig and his wife Mary (Charlie’s daughter) put together the AAU team this year, ostensibly to help young girls in the area who were interested in hoops — and that included their 12-year-old daughter Jazz. But in reality they knew the program would also help Charlie, a basketball icon in this area.
A little over a year ago — right after the 2011-2012 season — he had retired as the record-setting coach at Miami, the same school where he had had a hall-of-fame career as a player.
After coaching high school and college teams for close to 47 years (six as the Central Michigan University head coach and 16 in the same position at Miami), he left the sidelines with the best league record of any coach in Mid-American Conference history.
“We knew the transition from coaching would be tough for him, but with the girls he was kind of in the same mode as before,” Craig said. “We were in a tournament this past weekend in Franklin and he took out the board and drew up two magnificent plays.
“He told the girls they were running a 2-3 zone and said, look, I think we can get a good shot right here if we do this and this and it worked. We hit the shots. And we ended up runners-up in the tournament.
“And the girls love it. They try so hard to do what he asks them to do.”
Craig grew quiet and when he started to speak again, his voice hitched on the emotion that had welled up inside him.
The 71-year-old Coles died suddenly Friday morning at the Oxford home he shares with Delores, his wife of 48 years.
Although Coles had had a long history of heart problems — two heart bypass surgeries bookended a full cardiac arrest during a tournament game at Western Michigan in 1998 — the cause of his death has not been determined and Craig said even though “it makes sense,” he would “be surprised” if it was heart-related:
“To be honest with you, we are all a little shocked. He had been doing really well health-wise lately. So we don’t know exactly.
“This morning he came downstairs, got something to drink and had a cookie or something and then went back upstairs and was sitting on the edge of the bed watching SportsCenter.
“His wife had come up to get some laundry and she saw him sitting there, one hand in his lap, one next to him — he looked extremely peaceful. He didn’t call out … he just passed away.”
A little sidekick
Coles was a coach like few others in the high-stakes college game.
He had an old-school approach to the game he loved, a folksy wit that made his postgame press conferences must-hear events, and intertwined through it all was a full embrace of his family, an aspect many coaches let unravel as they become consumed by their jobs.
He made sure Delores, whom he called Dee Dee, their two children, Mary and Chris, and their four grandkids, especially Jazz, shared in the basketball experience.
When Chris and his family moved to Michigan, where he now coaches, Jazz was the only grandchild left in Oxford and she and her grandpa became sidekicks.
“I don’t know if I can describe how close they were,” Craig said. “Part of it had to do with Chris moving, but the bond went back to when she was 1 or 2.
“She could hardly walk and he’d ask me to bring her over and she’d ride the team bus down (Route) 27 and then the bus would stop and I’d get on to get her and she’d just cry and cry. She didn’t want to leave.
“I was like, ‘Charlie, you know what’s going to happen.’ But after a while she was doing the whole trip to Kent State or Ohio U. She’d go in the locker room, be with him at the press conference and walk off the floor with him after every home game.
“There was a season three or four years ago where we hadn’t lost a home game all year. So every game Jazz was down there on the court with him. Then they lose the last game and Mary and I just looked at each other and it was like, man, now what? What happens after a loss?
“And next thing you know, he turns around and waves Jazz to come on down. Don’t get me wrong, he was probably burning up inside, but she never knew it.
“I’ve got to say Charlie taught me more about unconditional love and just what family means than any person I have ever known.”
Not a ‘list’ man
When Coles walked away from coaching at age 70, he didn’t have any grandiose retirement plans.
“In truth he’s a simple guy,” Craig said. “He liked movies and reading — he’s been telling everybody about this book he’s been reading called “Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable” — and watching sports on television.
“His priorities in life were basketball, his family, his church and friends and honestly after that it dropped off. He did no yard work. If there was a leaky faucet, forget it.”
So when he retired he got no “honey do list” from Dee Dee?
Craig laughed: “This would be his exact quote: ‘Other guys do lists, I don’t do lists.’ ”
The other thing he couldn’t do — but sure wanted to — was cook.
“It was funny to me that I finally had one thing that Charlie Coles could be jealous of me, ‘cause I could cook,” Craig laughed. “But because he couldn’t, he did what he called his All-Star dinner.
“He would go around to all the different restaurants, some in Oxford, some out of town, and he’d get the favorite things. He loved Riley Pizza. He couldn’t eat it, but he’d pick it up for everyone else.
“Then he’d go to that hamburger place everybody talks about. What is it called, the one Barack Obama mentioned? It’s in Colerain — Five Guys — and he’d get burgers. Then he’d go over to SDS and get wings.
“He’d finally come back home with his All Star dinner and spread it out on the table so everybody could have what they wanted.”
And that’s something Jazz finally thought about Friday.
“She knows what’s going on,” Craig said. “She was here and saw them carry her grandpa out, but just 20 minutes ago she said, ‘I know this is just a dream. I just know this didn’t really happen.’ “
The more she thought about it, the more she remembered all the things her grandpa did to make life special. That’s when it hit her and she told her dad, ‘Gosh, there’s not gonna be any more All Star dinners. I’m gonna really miss them.’ ”
When it comes to Charlie Coles, we’re all gonna miss so much now.