by Angie Renninger, Miami Athletic Communications
A signature pencil-thin mustache and trademark red mock turtleneck sweater are a few of the features that depict Charlie Coles. Father figure, icon, teacher, legend and passionate are some of the characteristics that are being used to describe him.
Much has been said about his legendary press conferences, and I was the lucky one to enjoy 11 seasons with a front-row seat to take in every one as the athletic communications contact with Miami University men’s basketball.
His iconic Kentucky press conference has been highlighted numerous times since his passing on Friday. What I will remember about that night came before the press conference on our way to the media room and what happened after as we walked across the court for his postgame radio show.
As we left the locker room, he quipped, “Ahh! We had them, Ang. We had them!” Both of us had bittersweet half smiles, knowing what was nearly pulled off, and all I could say was, “We did, Coach. We did.” After the press conference, we emerged from the tunnel at Rupp Arena to the court and were not only greeted by the Miami faithful but also by hundreds of Wildcat fans, draped in their Kentucky blue, who stood and cheered Coach Coles in appreciation of the Herculean performance by his RedHawks that night.
Those walks to meet the media after the game are some of the moments I cherish the most. Sometimes there was a celebratory high-five or hug after a big win amidst the quick banter about the highlights of the previous 40-minute battle. Other times, no words were necessary and a shared glance spoke volumes about the mutual disappointment felt over a tough defeat. As years passed, the entourage grew as one, two, three or all four grandchildren frequently joined us in the media room.
Those are among the times I hope they will remember and cherish.
There were the countless hours logged together on buses traveling to and from games when you truly get to know people. My seat typically was the third back on the driver’s side, perched behind Coach Coles, and there were a couple of things you could always count on during these trips.
Unlike the rest of us, Coach Coles was never going to have a pillow or a blanket with him, even for the excruciating eight-hour trip to Buffalo. If he slept, his head was going to nod off ever so slightly to the side and as uncomfortable as it looked, he was never going to complain of a sore back or stiff neck.
I’m pretty sure we had a map of every Cracker Barrel in the country and if we were within a 20-mile radius of one, chances were very high we were going to eat at “The Barrel”. With about a month to go in the season, the Miami version of the NCAA selection committee—made up of the coaching staff—was going to convene in the front of the bus to debate who would be selected for postseason play. An exclamation of “They In!” meant a member of the Miami committee dubbed a team worthy of the NCAA Tournament. A “They Hosting” proclamation meant the Miami board placed a team in the NIT. These deliberations could go on for hours and although not scientific, the scrap-paper method worked quite well for this commission.
There was never a shortage of candy, stories or laughs shared amongst the staff on these road trips, and at least once a year the coach in front of Coach Coles or myself would wind up with a soggy computer bag after a pop sitting on the floor tipped over on a wayward turn.
A few years ago, he brought this bright red fedora to the office, and it became Coach’s gimmick for the season. It. Was. LOUD. But like him, it was one of a kind. At one point, getting matching red fedoras for the entire staff was discussed, but that—much to the relief of a few of the staff members—never materialized. Often times, he’d wear it on his way into Millett Hall for gameday. On road trips, he’d stride onto the bus with the grin of a Cheshire cat decked out with his dress coat and hat, and Coach Jermaine Henderson would just shake his head as Coach Coles slid into his seat. But, as brazen as Coach could be sometimes, we (mostly I) could never quite coax him to wear it into an opposing arena.
There was a playful quality about him that you couldn’t help but admire. At a family birthday party for one of his eldest grandchildren, Jazz, hosted in his office, it was announced that we would be playing hide-and-seek … including the adults … no excuses. So we all went out into the arena to find our hiding places. I think Coach found a place under the tarps that cover the seats in the upper level of the arena, and he loved every minute of the game.
He loved playing with Tyson, Jazz, Taya and C.J., and he made them a part of what he did.
On a few occasions they had front-row seats from the bench. Whenever the grandkids were at a game, they would accompany Coach off the floor and lead the players in a one-two-three REDHAWKS cheer in the locker room. They would also join him for the press conference. To close one particular press conference, he had C.J. demonstrate his karate moves to the press. Classic Coles.
When Chris and Robin moved to Michigan where Chris pursued his own coaching career, they would bring Tyson to the hotel when we played at Central Michigan. He would spend the night with Coach and join us for all the activities of the day throughout the end of the game.
I’ve rebounded for Tyson a few times at a hoop that wasn’t being used during practice on those trips, and he is a pretty sharp shooter. That apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
At an early age, Jazz was drawing up plays and talking about wanting to become the head coach at Tennessee in a video that got the attention of the Lady Vol staff. I’m guessing somewhere down the road there will be a third generation in the Coles lineage patrolling the sidelines of the hardwood.
Coach LOVED a good laugh and would find one anywhere he could.
On a road trip to Central Michigan in 2007, then junior forward Tim Pollitz forgot to pack his practice shorts and decided to borrow a pair from Steve Hricko, one of the managers. Tim was a good deal bigger than Steve, and when he came out to the floor his practice shorts were every bit as tight as the red compression shorts underneath.
To say the near seam-splitting scene was funny is putting it mildly. It had some of us laughing so hard we were on the verge of tears, while others of us crossed that bridge and had them streaming. Coach Henderson and our operations guy Chris Thomas were collapsed on the bleachers heaving with laughter. All of us were thinking Coach was going to have a complete field day with this.
To his credit, Coach Coles took the floor and did not make mention of it. The team went through shoot around and had huddled up before getting ready to depart the building. After Coach made a few remarks, he cracked a smile and said with his nickname for Tim, “Now, my man, Big Red,” and everyone burst out laughing. “You didn’t think I was going to let THAT one go, did you?”
Coach Coles relished being old school.
He wanted no part of computers. Did not have one in his office. Email? He would get a hard copy, pen a reply and have his administrative assistants Corrine or Connie electronically respond to the message. Don’t bother leaving a message on his cell phone. He wasn’t going to pick it up. In fact, the voicemail was deactivated. Text messaging? Not a chance. Until a few years ago when they finally got him converted to DVDs, he was still using the VHS method of watching game film, and he was a man who watched a LOT of game film. And when the NCAA went to computerized compliance tests for coaches … well, that’s a WHOLE other story!
While at times somewhat comical, it speaks to who he was. He was much more interested in talking to you than sending a grammatically-dysfunctional text or whipping out a quick email. Time with people meant something. Words meant something. And he knew how to communicate with people as is evidenced from the numerous references to his press conferences, the outpouring of sentiments from former players of lessons learned and the number of people who have mentioned they “just recently talked to him.”
In a way, it’s somewhat ironic how the news of his passing and many of the thoughts and tributes have exploded through social media and various internet sites since late Friday morning.
Charlie Coles has a beautiful and wonderful family, and Mrs. Coles, Chris, Robin, Mary, Craig, Tyson, Jazz, Taya, C.J. and his extended family are in many of our hearts right now.
I am grateful to Coach Coles for many things over the years but most significantly for the way he always treated me. Coincidentally, Mary and I are the same age separated by just a few days, and he always made sure I was treated professionally, the way he would want others to treat his daughter if she were in my shoes. A father figure to everyone.
As I sat down to compose this, it was so much harder than I thought it would be to write a piece on Charlie Coles. I expected the words would just flood out, but I started and stopped what feels like a hundred times because I found it difficult to put into words all the many things that were swirling in my mind while still adequately trying to pay tribute to a man who meant so much to so many.
A Facebook post from a former RedHawk Bryan Reed seems to sum up the living legacy of Coach Coles.
“Charlie Coles, I never understood why you never kicked me out of school for some of the things I did when I was at Miami, but because you didn't I grew into a better person and now I'm able to pass on a lot to the younger kids because of you. You will be truly missed. So glad that I still have great memories of you.”
The outpouring of thoughts from so many is nothing short of impressive and helps illustrate the impression and impact Coach Coles had on so many across the nation. From the stories that have been shared on Facebook, to the volume of tweets on Twitter which caused Charlie Coles to trend worldwide on Friday, to the moment of silence that was observed prior to Friday’s Cincinnati Reds game and the numerous radio and TV segments, articles and blogs that have been produced, his legacy is profound.
Below we pulled together a sampling of what has been published through traditional media and social media to share with you and pay tribute to a man who gave so much of himself to so many.
Hamilton JournalNews (Tom Archdeacon)
Hamilton JournalNews (Rick Cassano)
Cincinnati Enquirer (Bill Koch)
Cincinnati Enquirer (Shannon Russell)
ESPN.com (Jon Greenberg)
Athens Messenger (Jason Arkley)
Muncie Star Press (Thomas St. Myer)
Detroit Free Press (Mick McCabe)
MLive.com (Hugh Bernreuter) - column
MLive.com (Hugh Bernreuter) - news story
Washington Post (Associated Press)
Sports Illustrated vault (Grant Wahl) from 2002 - Professor Hoops
Interview with MAC-sports.com (from 2011)