No Valentines Day love affair will be celebrated any more next Saturday than the one at Millett Hall between Miami University and the school’s late and much-beloved basketball player and coach, Charlie Coles.
The gala day will begin with the women’s annual “Think Pink” game against Ohio University to support breast cancer research. That 1 p.m. matchup will be followed by the men’s 3:30 game against the Bobcats and will include an Alumni Weekend gathering to honor former players, especially those from the Mid-American Conference championship teams of 1955, 1965, 1995 and 2005.
But the real lovefest will take place when Coles’ No. 10 jersey is retired by the school and hoisted to the rafters at Millett, where it will join jerseys of hoops legends Wayne Embry, Ron Harper, Wally Szczerbiak, Dick Walls, Darrell Hedric, Heather Cusick and Mary Ann Myers.
“With our championship teams coming back, it’s going to be a celebration of basketball and Charlie will be the centerpiece of all that,” Miami athletics director David Sayler said. “He’s a special man and we want to do something special for his family. “
In anticipation, some folks already have joined in a spirited debate about Coles.
“I was online the other day and people were going back and forth about the Best Charlie Moment,” laughed Sean Mock, the RedHawks’ director of basketball operations and a former player and coach for Coles.
“Everybody was referring to that Kentucky press conference,” he said of Coles’ 2009 postgame media session that became a YouTube hit. The Redhawks lost on a shot in the final seconds and afterward Charlie sounded as much like a stand-up comedian as he did a coach.
“Best ever? That wasn’t any different than what we heard every day,” Mock said. “For the best, you had to be inside the locker room or in the meeting rooms.”
Or, simply on the team bus.
Over the years it’s been documented how much Coles loved his four grandkids and tried to include them in functions with his team. His granddaughter Jazz used to walk off the court with him after games. He once had grandson CJ, then a preschooler, stand up and do karate moves for the assembled media.
“Back when Jazz and (her cousin) Tyson were, I don’t know, 4 or 5, he’d let them get on the team bus for away games,” said Craig Bennett, the Miami assistant AD for academic support services, Charlie’s son-in-law and Jazz’s dad.
“He’d let the kids stay on the bus as it went down Route 73 until it got to the stop sign by that gas station at 127 (nearly seven miles). He’d have me follow the bus and then right there I had to get on and take the kids off. He was like, ‘C-Man, you gotta be the bad guy and take ’em off. I’m the hero for getting them on .’
“And so every time I’d get on and the kids would be crying because they didn’t want to leave and the players would be laughing at the scene.”
Over the years Coles made himself the hero in so many ways when it came to Miami basketball.
After a prep career at Bryan High School in Yellow Springs where he led the state in scoring as a senior with a 42.1-point average (more than 50 years ago he had the same razzle-dazzle rep as Franklin’s Luke Kennard does now), Coles headed off to Miami University, where he eventually would score 1,096 points and receive All-MAC honors as a junior and a senior.
“He was as good of a shooter as I’ve ever seen,” said Hedric, the Miami Hall of Famer who was a young assistant coach for the team back then. “I remember we went down to Miami, Florida one night and they had a kid called Barry (NBA basketball legend Rick Barry).
“Man, you want to talk about a shootout at OK Corral. He got something like 38 points and Charlie got 38 or 39.”
As a coach, Coles paid his dues at five high schools, was a University of Detroit assistant and the Central Michigan head coach for six years, all before returning to Miami. At first he was an assistant to Herb Sendek, who eventually moved on to North Carolina State.
Coles applied for the head job, but when the school prolonged its coaching search, he was offered an assistant’s position with Tom Izzo at Michigan State if Miami didn’t come through, Bennett said.
The RedHawks eventually hired Charlie in 1996 and he led the program for the next 16 seasons. He became the winningest coach in Miami history, the MAC’s all-time leader in conference wins and was the MAC Coach of the year in 2005, an honor he’d also received while at CMU.
He took his teams to seven postseason tournaments, including the NCAA Sweet 16 in 1999, and in the process graduated almost all of his players.
He retired in the spring of 2012 and died June 7, 2013. He was 71. His funeral service was held on the floor at Millett Hall and drew an overflow crowd.
Miami officials are hoping for the same turnout ,Saturday and if people show up wearing a No 10 jersey (even if it’s homemade) or one of the red mock turtlenecks that became Coles’ trademark, they’ll get $5 taken off their ticket price.
Loyal to Miami
Charlie once told me that when he first got to Miami he’d felt overwhelmed by the college experience — especially the classroom — and that’s why he left after just a semester. He went to Compton, Calif., lived with an aunt and enrolled at a junior college.
When Charlie came home that summer, Miami coach Dick Shrider seemed willing to take him back under certain stipulations and Coles’ dad — disappointed by the defection — pushed his son to return to Oxford.
The departure had cost Charlie his scholarship, but his dad, a hard-working man who had never been to college, agreed to refinance his home in order to pay Charlie’s way. To make it feasible, Charlie lived the next year with Willie Felder, the custodian at Withrow Court, Miami’s old gym.
Coles quickly became a star and by his junior season he was averaging over 18 points. The only other big glitch — as far as Shrider was concerned — was when Charlie slipped off to Cincinnati with Delores “Dee Dee “ Jackson, his Oxford girlfriend, and got married before his senior season.
Charlie said he got kicked off the team for a day, but Hedric quickly intervened and the marriage got the blessing of Charlie’s dad.
“Dick was always concerned about the money, about ‘How are they going to live?’ but Charlie’s father was all for it,” Hedric said. “He said his son couldn’t get a better girl than Dee Dee and he was right, She was a townie here, and I thought it would settle Charlie down. And it did. It was perfect.”
When Charlie died, the couple had been married 48 years and had two kids, Chris and Mary. Dee Dee was the backbone of the home life, while he turned himself into quite a coach.
“I used to kid Charlie because he ended up being a defensive coach,” Hedric said. “Back when he played, he thought defense was something you put around a house.
“But Charlie was made to coach and he loved it. He was a good Xs and Os man. He recruited well and kids liked playing for him. That’s a pretty good package when you have a man like that. And on top of it, he was loyal. He stayed here.
“Everywhere he went people just took to him. He became just a great representative of our basketball program, the athletic department and the entire community.”
Stories and lessons
Charlie could spin a yarn better than any coach I’ve ever known.
“He’d tell a story and maybe right then you wouldn’t know what the heck he was talking about,” said his son Chris, now the head coach at Olivet College in Michigan. “But then a week later you might be by yourself, driving somewhere, and it would hit you: ‘Now I get it. Now I know what he meant.’ “
Sean Mock agreed: “His stories made you laugh and laugh, but there were always lessons with them, lessons you could apply. And now that I’m coaching, I find myself saying some of the same things he would say.”
Many of those closest to Charlie find ways to still connect to him.
“He and I were best friends,” said Chris. “We still are as far as I’m concerned. He used to call me every day to talk and now I still find myself talking to him in my mind.”
And then there is granddaughter Jazz, Mary’s 13-year-old daughter. She was her grandfather’s right-hand girl for several years. When she was old enough, he allowed her to make road trips with the team and join the postgame dressing room celebrations and sit next to him at press conferences.
He took her to basketball camps — including Pat Summitt’s at Tennessee — and when he retired, he coached her basketball team for a season. A 5-foot-5 point guard who plays on the Talawanda eighth-grade team (she had 16 points the other night against Ross), Jazz inherited her granddad’s utter love of the game.
“She still writes him every weekend,” said Craig. “She has this journal she keeps and in it she writes to him telling everything that happened that week.
“She talks about him all the time and after games she says, ‘I wonder what Pops would have told me tonight?’ She is dedicated to basketball and all she cares about is being a Division I player like Pops was so she can then go on and coach like Pops. I’m telling you he lives in her.”
Family, former players, they all feel the same when it comes to Charlie Coles.
“As a person he’s one of the few people I have unconditional love for,” said Mock. “He gave me two opportunities probably no one else would have given me. First as a (walk-on) player and then as a young coach on his staff. I learned a lot from him, learned being a coach isn’t just Xs and Os, it’s about teaching life.
“That’s why I think Saturday will be pretty neat. I figure the ceremony will happen at halftime when our team is in the dressing room. So I’ll go in there and there’ll be nothing up there in the rafters. And then I’ll come out of the tunnel and look up and see his name up there and that’ll make me smile.
“He belongs up there. I don’t think anybody loved Miami more than him.”
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