Seconds before the introduction of lineups Monday night at Savage Arena, a gentleman climbed down out of the bleachers, walked to the end of the Miami bench, and shook hands with Charlie Coles.
For a brief moment, the two winningest coaches in Mid-American Conference history shared a word or two.
Bob Nichols, whose name is on the University of Toledo’s court, has been retired for quite a while now.
Coles, whose name should someday be on the court at Millett Hall in Oxford, is joining him.
Miami’s season ended with a 60-53 loss to UT’s Rockets in the first round of the MAC tournament. It marked the 11th time in 21 losses that the RedHawks fell by seven points or less.
“If you coach good kids, and they give you most all of what they’ve got, can you put up with the results?” Coles asked. “I think I can. But I’ve cried a lot.”
And then he blinked back a few more tears.
“This is it,” the 70-year-old Coles said finally. “I’m gone. I’ve coached my last game.”
With that, one of the MAC’s legendary coaches walked away from the only life he has ever known as an adult, from 46 years as a coach at the high school and college level.
“People might ask, ‘don’t you feel bad about leaving a team after a bad season?’ Well, watch me. I’m going to stand up from this table, take a quick right, then a left, get on that bus, and take my butt home. And when I get there, I might have a little red wine.”
One last bus ride. There have been so many of them. Coles was the head coach at Central Michigan for six years and has been in charge of his alma mater at Miami for 16 seasons. In between, for two years, he was head coach at Central Catholic High School in Toledo.
“One of the very fun periods of my life,” he said.
Bob Nichols once coached at Central Catholic too. It’s another tie between Nichols, No. 1 among MAC coaches in overall wins (376), and Coles, No. 1 all-time in league wins (218). Charlie wrapped it up with a 355-308 overall record.
“It meant something,” Coles said of the pregame handshake. “It always means something when I see Bob. We’ve been friends a long time. He’s always been very nice to me.”
His last postgame handshake was with Tod Kowalczyk, the current UT coach.
“He’s a coach’s coach, a guy we all look up to,” Kowalczyk said. “And he’s a terrific human being. From a distance, I always admired his program for how hard his kids play and how hard they defend. Tonight was no different. I was expecting a battle.”
The Rockets got one as Miami overcame a 16-point deficit to take a 53-52 lead with 5:35 to play. But the RedHawks were blanked from there, and it all came to an end for Coles.
“I’m whipped,” Charlie said. “But I’m not tired of the game. I still think the game is fascinating. I still get a rush. When [Brian] Sullivan hit that 3 [for the 53-52 lead], and make sure you say I drew that play up, when it went in I got a rush.
“But the bus trips. Man, if I ever find out who let Northern Illinois and Buffalo in the league, they’re in trouble. And I’m tired of referees. I’m tired of referees before the game even starts.”
Coles said he had a notion before the season started that this would be it. He’s had serious heart problems over the years — he was literally brought back from the dead after collapsing during a MAC tournament game at Western Michigan in 1998 — and has been fighting a virus of sorts for several weeks.
“When I got sick a couple weeks back, that’s when I made the final decision,” he said. “But I have no gripes. No regrets. It’s time for somebody else to coach Miami, and it’s time for me to find out what the next phase is for me.”
And, with that, Charlie Coles stood up from the table, took a quick right, then a left, and headed home.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.