This week one news report almost gave me a heart attack to end it all. Out of nowhere it was reported that Ed Cooley was the top coaching candidate for the men’s basketball team at the University of Michigan. The whole Providence College community thought that they were seeing double or having some sort of elaborate dream, because nobody would’ve expected to hear aliens were taking over the Earth before this was reported.
Ed Cooley was born and raised in South Providence, Rhode Island. He grew up as an All-Stater at Central High School, going on to have a nice college career at Stonehill, then immediately became a coach. Cooley moved from school to school throughout New England before finally landing his dream job in his home city, head coach of the Providence Friars men’s basketball team.
When the hire was first made, Cooley was relatively unproven coming from an unheralded Fairfield program. In his five seasons at the helm he had a record of 92-69. It doesn’t look amazing on paper, but considering he was the first Fairfield coach to finish his career with a winning record since the 70s, his resume was pretty damn impressive.
When Cooley was named the head coach of the Providence Friars, the program was in a constant cycle of below average talent and results. The Friars were expected to land themselves in the bottom few spots of the Big East every season, and expectations were lower than ever.
This expectation didn’t last for long. Cooley brought an energy and tenacity to his coaching that Providence hadn’t seen since Rick Pitino. Cooley wanted to change the culture from winning to losing, he wanted to get the best recruits, and he wanted to make Providence a program worth cheering for again.
Ed Cooley certainly did what he set out to do. In his eight seasons at Providence, he has a record of 162-110, has been to five NCAA Tournaments, two NITs, and has won the Big East Title once.
He established Providence into a perennial winner, and has created an environment where everyone expects to make the NCAA tournament each year or it wouldn’t be considered a successful season. Which is the total opposite of how it had been in Providence. For the previous two decades, if they won a game in the Big East Tournament it was a great season.
Cooley rose expectations to new heights, and gave a struggling program hope.
This season, after making the NCAA tournament five straight seasons, PC had an off year and landed themselves in the NIT. What used to be seen as a great accomplishment is now scoffed at as a failure of a season, that is the type of attitude and expectations Cooley has brought in such a short tenure.
After a few successful seasons with Providence he was granted a ten year contract making upwards of $2.6 million each season. At that point it seemed as though Providence had Cooley locked up until he wanted to retire, his future had no doubt. Then Monday hit, when the report broke out of nowhere that Cooley would be meeting with Michigan’s Athletic Directors to possibly take over as head coach of the men’s basketball team.
Some people with “sources” were even beginning to report that Cooley to Michigan was basically a done deal. Once those tweets caught traction, it sent Providence fans into a minor frenzy. They understand how vital Cooley is to the teams success, and many people realize what losing him could do to the program.
Many current players could leave, the top recruits for the next few years could decommit, the winning culture could go out the window. All of those factors put together would set Providence back to where it was 15-20 years ago. The sewer of the Big East… excluding DePaul.
Thankfully for the future of Providence College athletics Cooley decided to take his name out of the running for the Michigan job, and instead signed a multi year extension on top of his ten year contract with PC. I was actually able to hear the entire state of Rhode Island let out an exasperated breath at the same time as the news broke. It was a huge scare, but all it did was lock Cooley up long term and gain some national attention along the way.
What makes Ed Cooley such a special coach isn’t his savvy for drawing up X’s and O’s, but instead the type of man he is. He treats all his players as if they’re his own son. He makes you want to play for him, and play hard. He inspires his players to be their best on and off the court, and he makes it obvious that he cares about the kids more than anything else. Cooley teaches his players to be tenacious, and they play that way, because he inspires them to work hard.
Providence doesn’t always have the most polished teams or the best shooting teams, but they’re always tough and play hard-nosed just like their coach wants them too. Many times a coach can be overlooked, but in college they’re imperative to a teams success.
Without Cooley, Providence would currently find their program in shambles. Providence fans should feel lucky every time Cooley rips his pants on the sideline, because they can remember how close he was to leaving, and what it was like before he came. Cooley is the culture, and for Providence, the culture is everything.
The hometown kid is staying right where he belongs. There’s nothing but prosperity in the future for the Providence Friars.
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