Wally Szczerbiak and Charlie Coles will forever be connected in Miami University basketball history, and Szczerbiak will forever be proud to say that.
Coles died Friday at age 71, having coached at Miami for 16 seasons and winning a school-record 263 games. Szczerbiak is the second-leading scorer in Miami history and led the RedHawks to the NCAA Sweet 16 as a senior in 1999.
“We had some really good times,” said Szczerbiak, now a basketball analyst for the MSG Network and the CBS Sports Network. “I think he cultivated me as a player and allowed me to blossom and be very successful. He saw my work ethic and drive, and he nurtured that. As a team, we accomplished some great things.
“He not only cared about what you were doing on the floor, he wanted a relationship with you off the floor too. That goes a long way. He wanted to make sure you were doing the right thing with people and as students and setting yourself up for life.”
Coles was well-known for his entertaining press conferences, and Szczerbiak said he was the same kind of guy on a daily basis with the players.
“He would come up with some funny stuff,” Szczerbiak said. “During the rigors of practice and the dog days, he had a knack for making things fun and enjoyable. He brought a different side to coaching, a more humanistic side. I think that was very welcomed by his players.”
Carl Richburg, a 2009 graduate who spent four years in the MU program, saw some of Coles’ playful side as well.
“He came into the locker room one time with 50 Cent blasting on the radio,” Richburg said. “He had on some sunglasses, his shorts were pulled down low, and I think the song was ‘Just A Little Bit.’ The lights are off, he’s bobbing his head like he’s listening to the music, and the whole time he’s rapping the whole song.
“I’m thinking, ‘I can’t believe he knows this song.’ Finally, at the end, he’s like, ‘Cut it, cut it, cut it. You know what the moral of this song is, right? We all just need a little bit more. If every single person in this locker room just gives a little bit more, we’ll be able to accomplish our goals the rest of the season.’ It’s stuff like that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. He was a master of motivation.”
Richburg is grateful for the opportunity Coles gave him in transferring from Southern Indiana. They spoke on the phone earlier this week.
“I was talking to him about college coaching opportunities, and he was still making calls for me and giving me recommendations,” Richburg said of the Monday conversation. “I was trying to ask how he was doing, and he was more worried about how I’m doing. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
Now an assistant coach at Thomas More College, Richburg was always amazed by the number of people Coles knew and interacted with.
“We couldn’t go anywhere — an airport, a random gym or somewhere out in California — without him knowing somebody or someone knowing of him,” Richburg said. “He’d have a story about how he either played or helped or coached somebody that was his cousin or nephew or whoever. He had that contagious personality that you had to respect.”
That contagious personality showed on the court. Coles loved the give-and-take with fans, especially at Ohio University’s Convocation Center.
And he was always a teacher, the rare Division I coach who actually taught a basketball coaching theory class at Miami.
Twitter was loaded with comments Friday as news of Coles’ death spread. Some of those entries:
• Indiana coach Tom Crean: “Our staff meeting came to a screeching halt today with the news of Coach Coles passing away. He let me into his world since I was 20.”
• Miami athletic director David Sayler: “Devastated to learn of the news regarding the passing of Miami legend Charlie Coles. Coach embodied the ‘Miami Man’ and he will be missed.”
• Kentucky coach John Calipari: “As a player, coach, mentor and teacher, no one was better than Charlie. He was a true, compassionate competitor who will be missed.”
• Arizona coach Sean Miller: “SW Ohio was blessed to have both Skip Prosser and Charlie Coles. Quite possibly two of the greatest people to have coached college bball!”
• Xavier coach Chris Mack: “Our staff once watched Coach Coles’ UK press conference 20x in a row on youtube after a road game. He will be missed greatly! One of a kind!”
• Ohio State women’s coach Kevin McGuff: “One of my first mentors and a great friend. Never been a finer human being grace the sidelines as a basketball coach.”
• South Florida sports writer Al Butler: “You can bet Charlie Coles is now wearing that red turtleneck in Heaven.”
Born: Feb. 6, 1942, in Springfield, Ohio
Retired: March 5, 2012, in Toledo
Died: June 7, 2013, in Oxford
Family: Survived by his wife, Delores; son Chris (wife Robin); daughter Mary Bennett (husband Craig); and four grandchildren, Tyson, Taya and C.J. Coles, and Jazz Bennett
Coaching record: 355-308 (263-224 in 16 seasons at Miami, 92-84 in six years at Central Michigan)
MAC leader: Ranks first in Mid-American Conference wins with a record of 218-156
Postseason: Made eight postseason appearances, seven at Miami (NCAA in 1997, 1999 and 2007, NIT in 2005 and 2006, CBI in 2008 and 2011) and one at Central Michigan (NCAA in 1987)
Honors: MAC Coach of the Year in 1987 and 2005; District 14 Coach of the Year in 2011; NABC Guardians of the Game Pillar Award for Education from The Hartford in 2011
Inductions: Miami University Hall of Fame in 1990, Greater Cincinnati Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008 and Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011
As a player: Scored 1,096 points in three seasons at Miami, graduating in 1965, and was twice named to the All-MAC second team
High school: Graduated from John Bryan in Yellow Springs in 1959, averaged 42.1 points per game as a senior and had his jersey retired by Yellow Springs in 2000