Are the glory days coming back? With the hiring of Ed Cooley as the new Providence College men’s basketball coach, the Friar Faithful are dreaming of the second coming of the glory days when the Civic Center (now the Dunk, of course) rocked on cold winter evenings and the Friars pulled off hand-wringing, heart-stopping victories over the likes of Syracuse, Georgetown and a host of hoop powers from around the country. After three dismal years of Keno Davis’ underachieving teams and wholesale defections of season ticket holders (this writer included), Coach Cooley brings the hope and anticipation of a new and prosperous era filled with cheers and happy endings.
So who is this guy that is seen as a savior, someone who will make us forget those the last three years? (Actually, if you count several terrible seasons under Davis’ predecessor, Tim Welsh, the suffering has been considerably longer.) He’s homegrown, a product of the hardscrabble streets of South Providence, a star on the great Central High School teams. After a playing career at Stonehill College, he learned the coaching business from Al Skinner, first at URI then Boston College. Most recently he was building a very successful program at Fairfield University in Connecticut, with back-to-back 20 win seasons and postseason appearances.
I had the opportunity to chat with the coach about coming home to Providence and what he sees as the future of both the Friar program and the Big East Conference, which is bracing for the defection of two high profile members, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, leading to speculation other fooball-centric members will soon follow.
You have said that Providence College is your dream job. Besides coming home, what else about the job made you want it?
Staying in the same region of the country, for sure. The chance to coach in the Big East Conference – who wouldn’t want that? And, of course, the tradition at Providence College. I can’t think of a better job.
I was at the news conference when you accepted the job. You raised the hopes as well as the expectations of the Friar Faithful that day. How do plan to make the program competitive in the toughest conference, at least for one more year, in the country?
You have to change the mindset, develop players, instill discipline on and off the floor. You have to recruit the players you want to coach, and set expectations high. Get them to be consistent defensively, share the ball and work hard all the time.
It’s been said that the culture of this program needs to be changed. How do you do that?
This is a difficult league. Everyone needs to be committed. We need to have a positive outlook at all times. The kids need to understand that academics are important. Habits will change over time. It doesn’t happen overnight. There needs to be accountability. You don’t ask, you demand. Raise the bar, the expectations. The kids’ perspective needs to change.
Several of your predecessors have said that the job was more difficult than they thought it would be. After a few months here, do you find any aspects of the job more difficult than you expected?
I think this is a great job. Of course there are things that are difficult. What job isn’t like that? But there’s no place I’d rather be.
You have received verbal commitments from two highly rated players nationally. What does it take to consistently recruit blue chip prospects to Providence?
Honesty with the kids. Get involved early. We have a great staff here. They do a great job. You need to show kids that you will help them develop, get better. Show them that you want them in your program. Our staff is the key, very important. Also, we try to stress the tradition here.
You are well stocked in the backcourt. I know you can’t comment specifically about prospects, but are you currently involved with any highly rated big kids?
We are currently involved with some very good kids. Our staff is working very hard to get them to Providence. We need some bulk.
A few players from last year’s team have left the program. Who among those returning do you think will step up and be a pleasant surprise?
[Guard] Bryce Cotton has been working hard. He should contribute. [Guard] Gerard Coleman also. And [freshman guard] Kiwi Gardner should help right away.
What are your thoughts on what is happening with the Big East Conference right now?
I honestly can’t comment because I really don’t know what’s going to happen. All I can say is that [PC president] Father Shanley and the athletics department are committed to playing at the highest level. As for myself, I’m in it for the long haul. I’m going whereever the school goes.
Would you be excited playing in a basketball-centric Catholic conference? There has been speculation about one consisting of the current non-football playing Catholic schools, Notre Dame, and possibly the addition of an Xavier and Dayton, or maybe even Butler.
Sure. That would be fine. The football schools are all looking for the deal that’s best for them. We have to do the same.
Finally, Coach, I gave up my season tickets two years ago after 36 years. Convince me to come back.
I’ve watched the Providence program from when I was kid, going back to the days of Gary Walters, then Rick Barnes, Pete Gillen. Coaches that have won have left. I’m here to stay. This is where I’m from. I’m not looking to leave, not looking for more money. All I’m asking for is a chance. If you’re going to give somebody a chance, give it to me. We’re going to get better, much better defensively. Every kid will know that unless he gives his all on defense all the time, he won’t play. Anybody who doesn’t work hard and hustle all the time better find another school. They will be held to a higher standard. And there will be improvements in other areas. There will be a more fan-friendly atmosphere. I will work my butt off. We will be a lot better. Come on back. Give us a chance.