Jan. 29, 2014
By Sean Brennan
With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, you actually can go home again.
Just ask Providence coach Ed Cooley.
“I feel very fortunate to be the head coach of Providence College,” said Cooley, now in his third season with the Friars. “Having grown up here in Providence, having seen all the great coaches come through here, I was a Friar fan at birth. I went to the camps here starting with (former Providence coaches) Rick Pitino and Gordie Chiesa and I worked the camps when (former Providence coaches) Rick Barnes and Tim Welsh were here. Being a head coach here really is a dream opportunity. At the end of the day I think jobs are about fit and I think we’re the right fit for one another in this time and place.”
It’s a rare thing when childhood dreams actually come true, even if they are delayed a bit, as was the case for Cooley.
“I wanted to attend Providence College but I wasn’t talented enough” said Cooley, who was a two-time Rhode Island High School Player of the Year at Providence’s Central High before playing collegiately at Stonehill College. “We were brought up on BIG EAST and Providence basketball and being from Providence, there aren’t many people from Providence that aren’t Friars fans. I was probably the biggest Friar fan. I remember Otis Thorpe when he was playing and Ricky Tucker when he played. It’s just a great tradition and for me to be part of this organization, I feel blessed.”
But perhaps it’s Providence and the Friars’ rabid fan base who should feel blessed to have Cooley at the helm. After posting 15 wins in his first season but only a 4-14 BIG EAST mark, Cooley led the Friars’ long-awaited turnaround campaign last season when Providence finished with 19 wins and a 9-9 mark in the BIG EAST. It also culminated in Providence’s first postseason bid in a decade as they won two games in the NIT Tournament before bowing out to eventual champion Baylor in the quarterfinals.
“To reach the postseason was a great accomplishment being that we started 2-7 (in the BIG EAST) and went 7-2 down the stretch,” Cooley said. “I was very happy with the development of our program and where we are now. It truly is a credit to our players’ mental toughness and our chemistry.”
But this season, despite Providence’s brilliant start, has been a bittersweet one for Cooley. He has the Friars sitting tied for third place in the conference with wins over Creighton and Xavier already. But he has also been forced to deal with the aftermath of a fire that severely damaged his home on January 8, one that has forced the entire Cooley family to make different living arrangements.
“We’re living in a hotel now because there was a lot of smoke and water damage to sections of our home,” Cooley said. “It’s not livable right now but hopefully in the next 6-8 weeks we can get back in our home.”
While other coaches can spend all their time immersed in their season - dissecting tape, game-planning for opponents, not to mention recruiting – Cooley is forced to spend some of his dealing with the fallout from the fire.
“That has been very stressful but what I appreciate is that our players have been great and our support staff here has been great,” Cooley said. “They have been a big, big help. When you’re dealing with insurance you’re trying to see what clothes are salvageable, what furniture is salvageable, you know? There’s curtains from the living room and in the bathroom you have to pick out fixtures and all that. My wife (Nurys) has been doing a lot of that but you just have to go item by item.”
But somehow Cooley has been able to seamlessly juggle rebuilding his home life with guiding his Providence team to what could be a most special season for the Friars.
“I think you control what you can control and that’s how I live my life,” Cooley said. “I can’t control something that I have no control over. That process will take care of itself. My number one job is to be a great husband and father first, then a great coach and a great leader. Those are the things I can control and when I keep those things in perspective it kind of works itself out.”
At 15-5 overall and 5-2 in BIG EAST play heading into Thursday night’s meeting at Marquette, Providence can be considered the surprise team in the conference this season, even if it’s a label Cooley doesn’t necessarily agree with.
“On November 1 I thought we were one of the better teams in the league with the personnel we had,” Cooley said. “Then (sophomore guard Kris) Dunn went down (with a season-ending shoulder injury) and our two freshmen (Rodney Bullock and Brandon Austin) were suspended (for the season), so our mission was the same but some of our goals changed. People calling us a surprise team? When you have a player like Bryce Cotton, who is arguably the best player in the league along with (Creighton’s Doug) McDermott, you’re going to be in a lot of basketball games. We have Kadeem Batts who is a fifth-year senior and LaDontae (Henton) has played a lot so we had people in place who believed what we were teaching. So, surprise? If that’s what you want to call us, great. But I’m more concerned about Marquette.”
It’s been a while since Providence was a major player in the BIG EAST with the Friars having last won the BIG EAST Tournament crown in 1994. Is this team capable of ending that two-decade drought?
“The way this team has been, with everything we’ve been through and the adversity that we’ve faced, sure they are,” Cooley said. “This team is capable of doing just about anything. The reason I say that is because these kids believe and they are fighting in each and every game with a purpose. I wouldn’t put anything past this team.”
Ed and Nurys Cooley, along with their daughter, Olivia, and son, Isaiah, hope to be back in Casa Cooley sometime around the end of March. There is still a good amount of season to be played, but don’t be surprised if these Friars are still playing some very meaningful basketball once spring has sprung. Even if it means Ed Cooley has to spend a little more time in hotel rooms while his Friars pile up more victories.
Yes, despite everything, life is good for Cooley.
“It really is,” Cooley said. “Even with the fire I always think greatness comes out of opportunity and something good will come from this for my home, for my family and for my team. If you worry about things you can’t control and you start stressing over all those things, that’s where your energy will go. My energy goes toward positive behavior and positive outcomes. That’s why I think we’ll be successful no matter what.”