No basketball coach ever won more games at Miami (OH) University or in the Mid-American Conference than Charlie Coles.
That is the most insignificant portion of Coles’ story. Coles was a teacher of life who just happened to use basketball as his platform.
Coles passed away Friday morning at his home in Oxford at the age of 71. He retired from coaching after the 2011-12 season, due in part to health concerns. During his career, he underwent triple bypass and quadruple bypass surgeries as well as a cardiac arrest suffered while coaching a game. He is survived by his wife Delores as well as his son Chris, daughter Mary, their spouses, four grandchildren and the entire Miami University family.
“He was such a kind man and a genuine person,” said Wally Szczerbiak, who led Miami to the Sweet 16 in 1999. “That’s what you remember most.”
Coles took over the Miami program in 1996 after Herb Sendek left to take the job at North Carolina State. He returned to his alma mater as an assistant under Sendek in 1994 and his teaching style was a natural fit for Oxford.
“I think an era has passed with Coach Coles’ passing,” said former Miami coach Darrell Hedric. “He was all about Miami. Everything he worked about and talked about was about Miami University. Not only was he an excellent coach, he made sure the players got their degrees and became good citizens. He did an excellent job at that.”
Coles’ teams would go on to win 263 games in his 16 seasons at Miami, including 166 in the MAC. Add in his six seasons at Central Michigan and Coles had a career record of 355-308 and 218-156 in the MAC. He coached future NBA players like Dan Majerle (at CMU), Szczerbiak and Ira Newble, but won more games with players who weren’t considered top-of-the-line Division I college talent.
Mike Ensminger was a teammate of Szczerbiak’s and won the 2001 Anson Mount Scholar Athlete of the Year Award. Ensminger spent Friday calling old teammates and friends, including Szczerbiak, to tell them the sad news and reminisce about their former coach.
“It’s like listening to one of his locker room stories; I could probably sit here and talk all day,” said Ensminger. “He was a fighter. He was one of the most resilient, stubborn but loyal guys you’d ever meet. He was willing to take on anyone, anytime, anywhere.”
Maybe that’s how Ensminger found himself at Miami. He was one of the Cincinnati area’s more highly regarded players as a senior at Oak Hills High School, but was still without a scholarship offer as the postseason got underway.
During a sectional tournament game against Moeller, Ensminger suffered a deep cut over his left eye after a hard foul on a breakaway layup, a cut that would eventually require stitches. He missed 2:29 of the game, according to a report in The Cincinnati Post, to get cleaned up and scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in nine minutes of play after his return to lead the Highlanders to a win.
The game happened to be played at Miami’s Millett Hall.
“A lot of people backed off of me because I hadn’t had a great summer in AAU,” said Ensminger. “I was having an okay game but I got mad and came out with my eye bandaged up, blood all over me, and I kicked butt that last quarter and we beat Moeller. Coach came up to me and goes ‘That was a hell of a game. I think I’m going to offer you a scholarship.’
“I’m like ‘You think you’re going to offer me a scholarship?’ What does that mean? I actually wrote him a letter, which I don’t think gets done very often, telling him why I wanted to go to Miami. He told me I was the only guy who wrote him a hand-written letter. I think he appreciated that. We had a great relationship.”
Coles was a native of Yellow Springs and a 1965 graduate of Miami. He averaged 15.4 points per game as a starting guard from 1963-65 and once scored 41 points against the University of Miami (Fla.) in his senior season. He was twice named second-team All-MAC as a player.
As great as all of those basketball numbers were, they weren’t Charlie Coles. Relationships were what defined him.
The outpouring of support across the basketball world was swift and abundent.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin: “On behalf of the University of Cincinnati, my staff and family I want to offer condolences to Mrs. Coles and the rest of the family on the passing of my friend Coach Charlie Coles. He was a great coach and an even better person. Coach had the ability to make everyone smile and always wanted to help those around him. I consider myself lucky to have known him and his passing is a tremendous loss for the coaching community.”
MAC commissioner John Steinbrecher: “This is a sad day for the Mid-American Conference. Coach Coles’ legacy transcends athletics. He was an exceptional person that positively impacted the lives of many people both on and off the court. This loss will be felt not only at Miami, Central Michigan and the MAC – but across the entire college basketball landscape. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Coles family.”
Ohio State coach Thad Matta: “Charlie Coles was one of the greatest men I have ever met. His passion and energy for life, his family, coaching and kids was contagious for all who ever came in contact with him. I owe so much of my life to him and will miss him dearly.”
Arizona State coach Herb Sendek: “I have so many fond memories of Charlie both as a friend and a coach, and many of them start with recruiting drives early in the morning with a cup of coffee on winding roads in southern Ohio. Charlie made you laugh and made you think. He was comfortable and held court with one person or many. But I also want people to remember he was a great coach… a really, really, great coach. Much of what we try to instill today is what Charlie was teaching us two decades ago.”
On Twitter: 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!
Mike DeCourcey of The Sporting News: Charlie Coles was a delight. The best way you can say it. If you could spend 5 minutes with Charlie and not be smiling, you had a problem.
Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports: Just heard about the passing of Charlie Coles, former coach at Miami of Ohio. Sad day for college hoops. Game lost an authentic personality.