In the state of Rhode Island, there are truly two local things to root for. The PawSox and Providence College Basketball. We all love the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and now the Stanley Cup Champion Bruins, but they are all Massachusetts-based. Here in R.I., our choices are somewhat limited. While the PawSox are a consistent favorite, the Friars basketball program has fallen upon tough, and at times, very dull times. I get the sense that that is about to change. Newly hired coach, Ed Cooley was recently honored at a pre-game ceremony at McCoy Stadium. With his family in tow, the former Fairfield coach threw out a ceremonial first pitch, and then spent some time with me in the broadcast booth.
Understandably, Cooley is excited about his opportunity. “It’s an incredible honor to be home and an incredible honor to coach the Friars. I’m really happy to be back here in Gods’ country.” Cooley, who grew up poor, earned All State honors in basketball at Central High. It is a rags to riches story. “It is, but I’m the same man with the same principles and same values. Right now, I’m just excited to get our program back on solid footing.” Cooley jumps in on the heels of the extremely non-descript “Keno Davis era”. Cooley makes it clear that Providence is the place he wants to be. “When this opportunity came and other opportunities were being presented, there was only one place I wanted to be, and that was home. There’s no other place I’d rather be. This is a natural fit and I hope to be here for a really, really long time.”
Cooley hopes he can get solid young men to buy into what he’s selling as the Friars’ head man. “It’s going to take faith. We have to sell the school. We have to sell the Big East. We have to sell our tradition and history. There is a very rich history at Providence. I think we have to tell them who we were and where we want to go. There’s going to have to be a lot of trust involved.” In the past, names like Mullaney, Gavitt, Pitino and Barnes helped mold the Friar program. Cooley is undaunted. “I hope someday, to be mentioned in the same breath as those men. The difference is, I want to stay here.”
Cooley knows that in the past, the P.C. job was often a stepping stone to other jobs. He is clear when he says that isn’t how he’s approaching things. “This is my dream job. This my city, this is my state. I want Providence College to be on the national map every single night. In order to do that, we need stability. With stability, comes years. With years, come wins.”
Cooley will definitely mold the program in his own image. He seems “old school” and that’s a good thing. “Clean house is a term that’s often used in sports. More importantly, I want clean men. I want young men that have pride. Men that want to graduate, great people, great players. We want to see who wants to work, who wants to do it the right way. Little things, like being early. Being respectful. When you do things like that you win the game of life, as well as the game of basketball. ” Cooley wants his kids to realize how fortunate they are. “It’s an absolute blessing to play in the Big East. It is an absolute blessing to be at Providence College. You can play on national television every night and show what you said you could do. We will attract young men who will come and help us win a national championship.”
Cooley is looking forward to scouring the gyms across America, in search of the next great Friar. “We’re going to go wherever there’s a player. Whether he’s in another country or across the street. If he’s in another state. If we sell our brand the right way and share our visions and goals, we’ll be attractive to all of them.”
Cooley gets a kick out of the “friends” he now encounters on a regular basis, since his appointment. “The reception has been phenomenal. At the same time, I’m meeting people who say they’ve known me for a long time. Honestly, I don’t remember some of them. I don’t want to be disrespectful so I try to make time for everyone.” He admits that it could be friends that have followed his career from afar. “That’s the special thing about Rhode Island, and especially Providence.”
The new coach has already put his money where his mouth is. He has already decided to help bring underprivileged children to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, to watch the Friars. “I’m working with (former PawSox employee) Steve Napolillo to make sure that every night there will be 100-200 kids at the game that might not ordinarily get to go. Not good students, or bad students. Not poor or rich kids, just children that want to see a game. I remember how much that touched me when I was young.”
Ironic that the young kid who used to sneak in the “side door” of the Civic Center to watch P.C. games is now front and center, carrying the hopes of the Friar faithful on his broad shoulders. He will clearly give the state and region a shot in the arm. He is full of hope and enthusiasm. “Every now and then, I pinch myself and say’wow, this is true’. I’m just so grateful. I want to do something for the little guy. Everyone said you can’t do this, or you won’t do that. I can tell them one thing. I am Providence Colleges’ Head Basketball Coach.”
Dressed in his PawSox jersey, with “Cooley” and the number 1 emblazoned across his back, Ed Cooley truly did look happy to be home.