Chris Coles reflects on father Charlie’s basketball legacy
There are more important things in life than coaching basketball, Chris Coles has learned.
There are also only so many games in a season. And only so many events that can keep a Coles man from getting to those games.
Chris Coles doesn’t mind being known as Charlie’s son. Charlie won 355 games in 22 years as a head coach at Central Michigan and Miami (Ohio) University, took eight teams to the postseason, coached two MAC Players of the Year and made numerous friends and headlines with his personality and colorful postgame press conferences.
Charlie Coles was tough, too. A heart attack suffered during a game in 1998 almost killed him, but by the next season he was back on the sidelines and guided Miami to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. He stayed on as coach through 2012, serving 16 seasons in all at Miami. He died in June 2013.
Chris Coles is the head coach at Div. III Olivet College in Michigan. Though he’s still at work every day, he’s on medical leave after a household accident last summer left him with, among other injuries, a broken jaw and 19 fractured teeth.
Because he’s not yet cleared to coach in games, Chris will be in Millett Hall Saturday when Miami retires his father’s jersey — and, by proxy, his trademark red coaching turtleneck — in a ceremony at halftime of Miami’s game vs. Ohio University. After the ceremony, Chris will make the drive back to Olivet for its Saturday night home game.
The games go on. Chris Coles said his father always enjoyed Miami’s games vs. Ohio University for the rivalry and for the banter he’d have with the Ohio student section.
"Those kids would be all over him," Chris said. "And he would give it right back."
Miami will retire the No. 10 jersey Charlie Coles wore as a player from 1963-65. Fans who wear a No. 10 jersey — even one that’s homemade — or a red turtleneck will receive a $5 discount on tickets. As part of the event, Miami has been running an interactive "Coles Moments" bracket on its basketball website, encouraging fans to vote for their favorite Charlie Coles memory.
Someone from the Coles family will speak on Charlie’s behalf during the ceremony. Chris Coles isn’t sure who, but he knows it won’t be him.
"It’s still too painful for me," he said. "My dad could talk to anybody. He talked to everybody. I’ve done it before, but talking about him…it’s still very hard for me not having him here."
Chris Coles is a coach because his dad was a coach. When Chris was young there was neither a flu bug nor snowstorm strong enough to keep him from the games his father coached at Saginaw (Mi.) High School. Chris was a high school star, played briefly in college and then got into coaching himself, but when it came to his father’s games he never lost that childlike joy and nervousness he had "all the way back to being five years old."
When the Coles family would attend Miami games, Chris would often have to excuse himself from the family section and sit alone up top.
"I was a grown man," he said. "But I was still a mess."
Chris Coles was in Kalamazoo the day his father collapsed on the sideline during a MAC tournament game at Western Michigan. He remembers the stunned silence — "it got so quiet, you could hear (the doctors) saying he had no pulse" — and the doctors who happened to be at the game and the emergency medical technicians who arrived and eventually took Charlie Coles to a local hospital, uncertain he could be saved.
Miami’s players first gathered to pray, then returned to their locker room. Some initially wanted to leave and be with their families. Some wanted to go to the hospital to be with Coles. Eventually, they all decided to play the game later that night.
The next day, the Coles family was greeted at the hospital with the news that Charlie was awake, was improving and that the first thing he’d asked was whether Miami had won the game.
Miami won that game. They weren’t all pretty, but Miami won a lot of them under Charlie Coles.
The 2013 funeral for Coles was held on Millett Hall floor. He was buried in his signature turtleneck.
"I don’t wear a turtleneck when I coach," Chris Coles said. "I couldn’t. It would be too hard for me. It’s already too hard for me just not having him here.
"That turtleneck, that was his trademark. That’s him."
The face red enough to match the turtleneck when things went wrong for Miami was him, too. So were memorable moments like the press conference after the 2009 Kentucky game, or the times he’d tell opposing fans he’d buy them a beer at the MAC tournament if they could make it.
Chris Coles chuckles about the televised 2004 game at Kent State, when some Kent State students unfurled a sign for the TV cameras that said, "This is Charlie Coles’ home phone number." It really was his phone number on the sign, and as the game went on, not only did students at the game call but so did Kent State fans watching at home.
Delores Coles was at home taking the calls, Charlie was busy in Kent — Miami lost the game — and only upon returning to Oxford did his wife tell Charlie about the calls. When Miami officials later found out what happened and asked Charlie how he’d like the university to handle the situation, his reply was simple.
"He said not to do anything about it," Chris Coles said.
Charlie Coles thought if Miami didn’t want harassment from Kent State, it should have beat Kent State.
That was Charlie Coles. A storyteller. A character. A teacher who was brutally honest with his subjects.
"No excuses," Chris Coles said. "He told the kids what he saw. He never had an attorney or any representation. He never asked Miami for a raise. He just wanted to coach."
Chris Coles has been told that, in addition to looking like his father, he walks like his father and makes hand gestures to his players during games the way his father did. Asked how much of his father is in him when he’s on the sideline, Chris said "everything."
He quickly amendended that, though, stressing that he’s not his father — and that no one is.
"There’s nobody quite like him," Chris said.