Twelve years ago to this day, Ed Cooley was hired as the head coach of Providence College basketball.
There was a lot of anticipation leading up to his announcement. Keno Davis had gotten the boot, and every fan had a guess (and a personal preference) on which coach they wanted. I became partial to Cooley after learning a bit about him, and while walking through the crowds in Harkins Hall after class someone asked me who I liked for the next head coach.
Ed Cooley at GTown pic.twitter.com/pqtaAQKk0Q
— Kevin McNamara (@KevinMcNamara33) March 22, 2023
“Ed Cooley,” I said. “He’s our dude. He’s the right fit for the job.”
In front of us, clad in the familiar white robes that every student on PC campus could recognize, Brian Shanley turned his head around. Without breaking pace, he nodded.
“You’ll be very happy with the upcoming announcement,” he said, a knowing smirk telling me all I needed to know about the next hire.
March 22, 2011, Ed Cooley is announced as the Friars 15th head coach. While I was excited, some people needed more convincing.
All those concerns were put to bed at his introductory press conference.
To understand the task Cooley had at that press conference alone is to understand that Providence basketball wasn’t just in a bad spot, it was awful. On the court the results were dismal. Off the courts the program had even more problems. Students were angry. Fans were jaded. Now Cooley had to come in and not only start to move their momentum back towards positivity, but also show why he was the right pick for the job.
Even the most jaded fans were sold on Cooley by the end. I remember the feeling of optimism that blanketed Alumni Hall. A burden had been lifted from the shoulders of fans who felt like they were carrying their program in a funeral procession.
Ed Cooley has arrived to Georgetown. pic.twitter.com/a8QFF1LhW0
— John Fanta (@John_Fanta) March 22, 2023
“What’d you think?” I asked one of the season ticket holder fans I knew.
“I think we just found our guy for life,” he replied. “I think we’re going to the Final Four with him.”
Our guy for life. That was the thing, being a Providence fan at the time. You were used to one of two things happening with coaches: they would be successful and move on to a better job, or they would fail and be shown the door (quickly). In a conference like the Big East where you had lifer coaches constantly bringing their teams success, it was hard not to feel jealous of not just the success those programs had, but the coaches who continued to stick around and bring them that success. Having a coach that would stick around, build the program to success, and then keep building after? A guy who wouldn’t be measured by years, but decades? It was a pipe dream for Providence fans.
I could spend my time telling you what he did on the court these past 12 years, but you already know the story there. Most do. The on the court stories are the ones that end up on the blogs, and papers, and podcasts, and video recaps, and whatever else. But being the coach for life meant more than just winning on the court. It meant defining the culture off the court.
The stories were plenty. Cooley would see you on campus with another team’s logo on your shirt? You were taking a detour to the bookstore with him to get some Friar gear – on him, of course. Private workout facilities? Why use that in Cooley’s mind when he could be running in Concannon Fitness Center, belting out the lyrics to his favorite songs. Student athletes weren’t going to class? Cooley would show up, take notes, then ask the athlete in question to compare notes with him from class that day. New students are coming into Providence? Let Cooley jump on the mic and turn them into Providence Friar evangelicals within 45 minutes.
And again, I completely understand why Providence fans are pissed off. they think it’s a lateral move because Georgetown has been so shitty.
Cooley also could have handled it better. No doubt.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) March 22, 2023
These were the type of stories you’d hear to the point where it just became part of the PC experience. We knew we had someone special.
Heart and Soul. Us, we, together, family, Friars. Mantras that, arguably, can sound kind of silly. But they were all of ours. The Friar fans had something to unite them. A rallying cry. Something that inspired and motivated. And that came from Cooley.
That type of relationship buys a lot of goodwill on both sides. Cooley promised a lot of success on and off the court. He delivered, though arguably at scales people would say should have been higher. But hey, when you’re the coach for life, fans understand. Dropping a one-and-done as a six seed to Dayton was forgivable because we’d be back the following year. Missing the NCAA Tournament despite having an NBA level talent on the roster could be written off as a bad year. There was always another year to keep growing. Patience is a virtue, and fans had a near-infinite amount of patience for Cooley.
Until this year.
Hindsight. That’s the word I’d use regarding the months leading up to the end of the Cooley era. In February the team started to flounder – but it’s only a hiccup and they’ll get back on track. Then the rumors started to circulate regarding coach and Georgetown – but rumors are everywhere and you can’t listen to them. Then the team struggled even more, looking lost on the court – but coach will get them focused in time for the NCAA Tournament no doubt. Then Cooley was extra evasive and odd about his status with Providence as head coach – but he’s just playing an angle and will use everything to negotiate at the end of the season.
Now, in hindsight, everything changes. Suddenly things line up in ways you didn’t see before. Now Cooley’s evasive attitude, the team’s poor play, the lack of focus, it all adds up to a new outcome. An outcome nobody wants to admit.
I could sit here and write about how fans are angry and they’re right to be. I could sit here and tell you that Cooley’s legacy should be secured after 12 years because he brought Providence back from the brink. I could argue in every direction because I’ve seen and read every argument in every direction. If you’re curious about it, go on Twitter. Today you’ll see the guy from Barstool having an argument with Jeff Goodman – and he’s currently destroying Goodman in that argument.
The thing is, all that already exists, so I don’t need to repeat it here. What I do want to say is that this leaves Cooley’s legacy up in the air. Tarnished, absolutely. But more importantly his legacy will be questioned and examined more harshly than before. You could argue he was no Dave Gavitt or Joe Mullaney in terms of records, but in terms of impact he was just as significant to Providence basketball as those two. Yes, it’s true. Cooley took a program that was both feet in the grave and resurrected it to be stronger and better than it had been in decades. That was no small feat, and if we’re set up for success today it’s because of the work Cooley did these past 12 years.
“It was going to take a very special place for me to leave. It was hard. I tell you, it was hard. 12 years at a place where you grew up. 12 years at a place that you took from the bottom. Talking about leaving was one of the hardest discussions I’ve ever had to have.” – Ed Cooley
— John Fanta (@John_Fanta) March 22, 2023
But that won’t be remembered the way it should be. Instead, that legacy will be debated now because of how Cooley left. And those debates have merit. Was Cooley sincere when he spoke his mantras he’d conclude every speech with, or was that something to slap on a t-shirt and sell in the bookstore for $24.99 plus tax? When Cooley talked about his love for Providence College, how much of it was directed toward the love he was receiving versus the love he was actually giving? When he said this was his dream job, was he being sincere?
Every win and banner Cooley brought is an uncontested success. The culture he instilled, the thing that Friars prided themselves in having? That’s got a big question mark on it. Cooley did that to his own legacy with his own actions these past few months. And it’s not right because that’s not how his legacy should have ended here given all he’d done.
Cooley had built a culture and mindset at Providence over his 12 years here. A culture that seemed incapable of failing or tarnishing. But it turns out appearances were deceiving and, ironically, the person who could ultimately topple all that was built was Cooley himself.