Miami’s Charlie Coles: As Serious as a Heart Attack
The man just won’t quit.
Miami (OH) head coach Charlie Coles returns to the basketball court this season after missing the spring and summer with health problems.
As the severity heart ailments increases, so too does Coles’ resolve. At several points during the course of his coaching career he has been faced with seemingly career-ending setbacks.
In 1985, Coles underwent heart bypass surgery. The angioplasty actually proved ineffective and the doctors knew they had not cleared it out completely. Had he called it quits at that point, no one would have blamed him. College athletics is a highly stressful atmosphere filled with demands from academically devoted school presidents, financially invested alumni, occasionally irrational fans, and the disenchanted bench players.
Pleasing everyone is impossible. Appeasing most of the groups is challenge few master. Charlie Coles willingly inserts himself into this boiling, tempestuous stew every day. Why? Because he craves the experiences offered to him and his team throughout the season.
“We played Louisville last year,” explains Coles as his voice rises with enthusiasm. “And guess what? We had the ball with five seconds to go in the game, and if we make the shot, we go up by one…. The great Rick Pitino. And it was phenomenal! Miami is in the game! Where else can you get that?”
He loves this game. With a passion that ignores money, television cameras, and even prestige. The rush of excitement still affects him. It is beautiful to witness a 66-year old man who loves his job. The only fear is that the very same rush could kill him.
Ten years ago, Coles collapsed on the floor at Western Michigan. He had suffered from cardiac arrest midgame. Fortunately, doctors in attendance resuscitated him successfully.
He kept coaching.
Back on March 1, Coles drove himself to the hospital. Hours later, they flew him, via helicopter, to another hospital. First the doctors shocked his heart to get it back into rhythm. Yes, “shocked his heart.” That’s the official wording.
“I am thinking third grade I was taught you don’t mess with the heart in any kind of way,” recalls Coles. “If something went wrong with the heart that was it for you.”
Over the course of the spring and summer, doctors also completed a quadruple bypass surgery and removed his gull bladder.
He kept coaching.
All of these health problems, stunning and eye-opening as they are, are not surprising considering the family history. “My dad died of a heart attack,” remembers Coles. “He was 59 years old. He was waiting on a bypass. He died on Sunday and the bypass was scheduled for Thursday. And my mother had a heart attack before she passed away with cancer.”
Though the job title remains consistent–head basketball coach–Coles’ disposition has been transformed. He does not yell as loudly or as often as he used to. He does not even dress as loudly as he used to. In the 80’s he was known to suit up in an all black three-piece suit with chalk white tie. The slick, imposing mafia look was his chosen aura.
Now fans are more likely to see him decked out in a soft gray suit sans tie. The reddish shirt underneath represents his moderately casual on-court demeanor.
There are still outbursts. Officials are not free from his ire. Surely fear enters their minds as Coles fixates those calculating eyes. The hands on hips and disdainful gaze only signal the beginning of a trying night for the officials.
Court-long shouts are the duty of the assistants. But midgame tutorials still come from the seasoned Coles. Often the instructions end with Coles and a player sharing a knowing smile.
In an era of irrational sums of money changing hands in the name of college athletics and banks tagging their names to any arena they can find, Coles’ simple smile offers basketball a placidity it so desperately needs.
And so he keeps coaching.
The hope is that Charlie Coles gets to choose when he is done coaching rather than God choosing for him.