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Published: Wednesday, 1/21/2009

Miami's Coles still around, thankfully

BOWLING GREEN - Charlie Coles, who's had a lifelong love affair with basketball, is nothing if not a coach. It's his passion, the breath he draws.

So, after coming through two open-heart surgeries in a matter of one week last March, Coles was telling anybody who would listen that he'd be back on the Miami University bench during the 2008-09 season.

"But I didn't really believe it myself," he admitted last night.

Well, believe it. The RedHawks beat Bowling Green 67-60 to win their 10th game overall and improve to 3-1 in the Mid-American Conference.

It was also the 217th victory for Coles at Miami, which makes him the winningest coach in school history.

"I'm like the NFL running back who gains 100 yards," he said. "That's the good news. The bad news is that it took me 100 carries."

He's exaggerating well, a little. After all, as Coles pointed out last night, he was a junior high teammate of BG senior Nate Miller's grandfather. Yes, Charles Leroy Coles has been around for awhile.

He has 309 wins as a college head coach and that number doubles when you add in his 15 years as a high school coach, two of them at Toledo's Central Catholic in 1993-94.

Coles may be the most popular men's basketball coach ever in the MAC. He is beloved at Millett Hall in Oxford, but gets a rousing welcome when he steps on any court around the league.

Maybe it's an appreciation of the fact he's still around. As cool a cat as Coles may be, he has nonetheless used up quite a few of his nine lives.

"I've got a few left," he said. "I almost died of pneumonia when I was 8 years old, so count that, too. The Good Lord has allowed me to live to coach, on several occasions."

Coles underwent heart bypass surgery in 1986 after one year as head coach at Central Michigan. He left Mount Pleasant five years later, not of his own volition, and signed on as head coach at Central Catholic, not exactly a sign that more college coaching was in his future.

But his alma mater, Miami, came calling with an assistant's job when Herb Sendek was hired as head coach in 1994 and two years later Coles was elevated to the head job at age 55. He barely made it past 56.

Near the end of the 1997-98 season, in a MAC tournament game at Western Michigan, Coles suffered cardiac arrest while prowling the sideline. A stunned, shaken crowd watched in silence as doctors and paramedics worked on him for more than 20 minutes, bringing Charlie back from the dead before he was transported to a Kalamazoo hospital.

Coles returned to the bench the following season, a magical one for Miami. The RedHawks were 24-8 and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 round before falling to defending champion Kentucky.

After four straight seasons of at least 18 wins, Miami made its stop at Anderson Arena last year with a sub-.500 mark, but it was clear that the record and a 55-52 loss to the Falcons weren't Coles' only problems.

He seemed short of breath after climbing stairs to the postgame interview room, his color was slate gray, and he kept wiping sweat off his brow.

A little more than a month later, Coles left his office, walked to his car, and drove himself to the hospital.

The rest is history.

Happily, though, Charlie is not.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398



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