“Who do you think should be the next head coach?”
This is the question I’m discussing with another basketball fan as we lazily jaunt down the back stairs of Harkins Hall on a late March afternoon. The question was not new, nor was the answer singular in opinions. Since Keno Davis had been unceremoniously dismissed as the Friars’ head coach not even two weeks earlier (after an abysmal season that concluded in a one-and-one Big East Tournament effort) it was the only thing any Friar basketball fan wanted to discuss.
There were a few names to choose from. Mike Hopkins, a Syracuse assistant, was mentioned many times but not one that brought a lot of buzz to the conversation. Pat Skerry, a strong recruiter from Keno’s staff that was well-liked among alumni. And then, there was my answer:
“I’m kind of hoping for this Ed Cooley,” I answered, quickly clarifying, “the Fairfield guy.”
“Really? How come?”
“I like what he did at Fairfield, and I like that he’s from Providence.” I paused, trying to put words to my opinion. “I don’t know I guess, the more I read about him the more I think he’s what we need.”
In front of us, a man in friar robes turned around with a confident, coy, and knowing smile.
“I think you’ll like the news that’s coming soon,” he told us.
The friar was Father Shanley himself, and that confirmed it. He advised me and the person I was talking with to keep it on the down low, patting the air down as a way of keeping things quiet. We both agreed and I almost immediately began texting some of my close friends and fellow basketball fans. Conversations would quickly follow on what this would mean for the program, and any doubts we may still have, but one thing was certain:
Ed Cooley was going to be our next head coach.
March 22. It had been a few days since Shanley gave me (and consequently a small majority of my peers) the tip. I was sitting in the recently-renovated Slavin Center working on a job application. I was a senior and graduation was coming up, the real world along with it, and I needed a job. I had no idea what I wanted to do since I gave up on the idea of law school a year and a half earlier, but the AP posted an opening for a junior copywriter and I thought journalism might be a good avenue for me.
In the middle of typing up my cover letter my phone began to explode with text messages. The news had gone from secretly-official to official-official. Cooley was our guy. The 15th head coach of Providence College basketball. The man who, ideally, would lead us back to the promise land of top 25 rankings, Big East Championships, and routine NCAA Tournament appearances.
But there was more: a press conference was scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, March 23. It would introduce Cooley and have the man himself speak before the fans. Even better, it was open to the public.
“You going to go?” My friend, Friar basketball mentor, and sophomore year roommate Andrew asked me over text.
“I have class at that time,” I texted back. A pause. “Obviously I’m going to go.”
I couldn’t tell you the name of the class even if you asked me back then what I was skipping. It was something to fill credit hours and time so I could graduate. It’s not great to skip classes like that, but with a few weeks left in the semester and graduation shortly thereafter my priorities were taking advantage of what unique opportunities my student experience could still offer me.
Skipping class to go to Ed Cooley’s introductory press conference is still one of the smartest things I did at Providence.
I showed up in Alumni Hall with Andrew and met a few other friends and some recent alumni there, taking our seats on the bleachers. Anticipation was palpable, with energy and excitement circulating. My palms went clammy and my leg restlessly shook on the plywood.
“Was this what it was like when Keno was hired?”
Andrew shook his head no.
After what could have been minutes but felt like an eternity, a new kind of rustle began. Bob Driscoll came out, and Cooley walked across the floor, taking his place on the stage. There were introductions, and then the words everyone was waiting to hear:
“Ladies and gentlemen, our next head coach Ed Cooley.”
Listen, I know by now you know the quotes from that press conference. They’ve become legend, etched into the echoes of Providence basketball history. And if you watch the press conference, you can feel the emotion from Cooley – honest, raw, powerful – that made the words so memorable and meaningful. All of us who went to this press conference remember that.
But the context is important. You can watch the press conference 1,000 times now, but hearing it back then meant everything. We were coming off two terrible seasons and off the court troubles galore. The program was in shambles with seemingly no way up. And here was a man – our new head coach! – who believed in Providence. He saw the Friars for what they were and what they could be. He had a vision for the program, and that vision included every single person who had or would someday support this program. He was reclaiming the Friars from what they had become and transforming them into what we had so badly wanted them to be: a program with pride, tenacity, success, discipline, an identity. It was “our program” he emphasized, stretching his arms to show that it wasn’t just a single player or coach or admin or alum, but all of us.
In eight minutes – EIGHT! – he didn’t bring false hope or even optimism. He brought us a map to the top, a compass on how to navigate our way there, and a relentless belief that we would make it.
Ed Cooley was home, and we were home with him.
The energy was different when Cooley left the stage to meet with press and fans started to clear out. There was a calm determination. A reassurance.
“What’d you think?” I asked a recent alumni I knew. He had been cynical about the program the past few years, and I was curious on his take.
“I think we’re going to win a national championship,” he replied. He didn’t say it sarcastically or boastfully. He said it matter-of-factly. What he saw in Cooley is what we all saw, and it was that kind of success.
Nine years later and here I am. I never did get that job at the AP, but life has a way of getting you where you need to go. A series of freelance gigs has lead me to writing about the team I love, and I like to think that even though I didn’t get the job I was applying for then it did somehow act as the genesis of my journalistic endeavors. I’ve grown since then.
And here we are too. The Friars have grown and so has the fanbase. No longer are we perennial outcasts looking for a way in. We’re the team to beat on most nights. Off the court and on the court we’re a point of pride. It feels good talking to people about the Friars, and many will often know about Ed Cooley as well.
There’s still more work to do. There are more goals to achieve, higher mountains to climb. It’s been nine years and we’ve accomplished so much, and what’s more we’re on the path to continue achieving more.