In nearly 30 years, I never heard Charlie Coles get booed. Not at Anderson Arena, not at Savage Arena, not at Quicken Loans Arena, certainly not in his home gym.
I watched in amusement many a night as Charlie “bantered” with officials, his face screwed into disgust, from the opening tip until the final horn. I never saw him get a technical foul. He disliked referees. They loved him.
I never saw a player disrespect Charlie, from the great Dan Majerle at Central Michigan, to the last kid on the bench at Central Catholic High, to a star like Wally Szczerbiak at Miami University.
To put a different spin on Will Rogers’ line, Charlie never met a man (or woman) who didn’t like him.
That certainly applied to sports writers and broadcasters. Charlie was a colorful, unfiltered sound bite, an endearing subject for a scribe with an empty notebook and a hole to fill down the left side of the page.
I wasn’t looking forward to filling this particular hole with this particular column. Charles Leroy Coles died Friday morning at age 71. It would be easy to say we lost one of the good guys, but that might be too faint praise.
Never has someone with such a bad heart had such a big one.
Charlie would be the first to admit he stole 15 years. He bought 99 percent of the farm, as he once put it, in 1998 when he went into cardiac arrest during Miami’s MAC tournament game at Western Michigan. Doctors and paramedics worked on him for 20 minutes and brought him back from the dead right there on the basketball court.
Coaching is stressful, to say the least, not the ideal job for someone with a bum ticker. But Charlie, who had undergone bypass surgery in 1986 while at Central Michigan, insisted he would be back, and sure enough he led Miami to a 24-8 record and into the NCAA Sweet 16 the next season. And before he was done at the end of the 2011-12 season, he’d won more conference games than any coach in MAC history.
I first met Charlie in the early 1980s through mutual friend Dick Crowell, the former Bowsher High coach. They had met at a coaching clinic a few years before when Charlie was winning state championships at Saginaw (Mich.) High School and became fast, close friends.
“I talked to him a couple weeks ago and he sounded great,” Crowell said. “He was having his nightly glass of red wine, his medicine as he called it, and said he’d live to be 100. He’d had heart trouble for a long, long time, but this is still a tough pill to swallow.”
Coles was out of coaching for a year in the early 1990s after leaving Central Michigan and Crowell told him on the phone one night that the job at Central Catholic was open.
“That’d be a good place for me,” Charlie responded. And it was. The Irish went 32-16 in two seasons.
“He always loved Toledo,” Crowell said.
So, appropriately, it was here that he coached his final game on March 5, 2012. He didn’t make his retirement official until afterward, but people suspected. He walked slowly onto the floor in his dark suit and bright-red turtleneck and UT fans stood and applauded.
Like I said, nobody ever booed Charlie Coles.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.