Coles still Miami's hotshot.
Fame and fortune were not part of the Charlie Coles basketball coaching formula more than 40 years ago.
"When I first started," he said, "I never thought about NCAA tournaments and I never thought about making money.
"All I thought about was my JV team at a high school in Toledo (Ohio) and that I loved coaching."
A good number of things have changed since those days four decades ago, but one of them is not Charlie Coles, who in 1999 led his upstart Miami (Ohio) team into the Sweet 16 and the national spotlight.
He's back for another run. The RedHawks, by virtue of a last-second, banked three-point shot that won the Mid-American Conference tournament title over Akron, have landed in the Big Dance.
Miami, seeded 14th, plays third-seeded Oregon in a Midwest Region first-round game on Friday at Spokane.
"Glad to be in the tournament," said Coles, a charismatic and fiery father figure who turned 65 years old last month. "Not so glad to be playing Oregon, but we'll give it a try."
Coles may have been born with a basketball in one hand and instructions on how to play defense in the other.
As an Ohio high school senior in the mid-1960s, he average 42 points a game (believed to be second-highest in state history). At Miami, he was a star guard and is in the Oxford, Ohio, university's sports hall of fame.
Coles has coached at the high school level, was an assistant coach at Miami, a head coach at Central Michigan, and for one year way back when was general manager of the Saginaw, Mich., entry in the Global Basketball Association.
Then-Miami coach Herb Sendek plucked Coles out of the prep coaching ranks in 1994 to assist the now-Arizona State coach.
Two seasons later, when Sendek left for North Carolina State, Miami hired one of its own - Coles.
Two other members of that Sendek staff are head coaches today - Thad Matta at Ohio State and Sean Miller at Xavier.
Defense is the Coles battle cry.
No team this season has scored 70 points on Miami, and that includes big-time programs like Kentucky and Illinois.
"I don't holler and scream about it, but players understand we have to guard first if we're to be successful at all," said Coles, whose RedHawks are allowing 57.4 points a game.
Senior center Monty St. Clair has understood for four years.
"When you get to Miami, you learn right away that if you don't play defense, you don't play," he said.
Throughout his travels, Coles always has ridden his own horse.
"I promised myself a long time ago that I would not let anybody spoil this ride of mine in coaching," Coles said, "and I haven't.
"I've never run scared, never done things because others thought I should. What I've done, I've done for the players and because I thought it was the right thing to do.
"I may not be the winningest coach in history, but I am the happiest."
Coles has the sense of humor to prove it.
After the RedHawks last week ousted Ohio from the MAC tournament, the same Ohio team that bounced Miami out the two previous years, Coles had an entertaining reaction to the victory.
"I get to keep my hotel key," he told the Columbus Dispatch. "That's the saddest thing about the tournament, when you've got to turn in your hotel key."
Coles is a players' coach if ever there was one.
This Miami team, the only one of the 31 NCAA Tournament automatic qualifiers with fewer than 20 victories, "is a reflection of the players," Coles said.
"Certain teams are led by the coach, and I am their leader, but they get their energy from each other. I just try to challenge them and give them the opportunity to rally themselves."
Which the RedHawks have done, starting the season with a 5-10 record and finishing 13-4 to fashion an 18-14 record that includes their three-game sweep in the MAC tournament.
"I would say I am the poor man's Tom Izzo," Coles said of the Michigan State coach. "He gets on guys but encourages them, too. He teaches."
And the student learns.
"Coach Coles means a ton to us," said Tim Pollitz, a Miami junior forward who was the MAC tournament's MVP. "He's our role model. He's played and coached. With all his knowledge, we have to soak it up."
Former Miami star Damon Frierson said of Coles, "There is a certain comfort level with him even if you've just met him ... like you've known him your whole life."
There was a brief, terrifying moment, however, when Coles' coaching and teaching days appeared to have ended.
In March 1998, during the MAC tournament, he went into cardiac arrest.
"I didn't have a chance to be scared," Coles said. "When I woke up 18 hours later, the first thing the doctor said was that I'd be back coaching with confidence."
What did he learn from that life-threatening episode?
"To get more sleep," said Coles, whose 17-season college head coaching record - including six at Central Michigan - is 285-224.
One year later, Coles and his star player, Wally Szczerbiak, won two NCAA Tournament games for the first time in Miami history and flew into the Sweet 16 before losing to defending national champion Kentucky.
"I enjoyed that," said Coles, in his 11th season as the Miami coach, "but I also enjoyed Doug Penno's shot (to win last week's MAC tournament)."
He also enjoys his four grandchildren.
"They tell everyone I'll do anything for them, and they're right," Coles said. "If I was 55, I'd drive a hard bargain, but at 65, I'm not sure how much time I've got so I'll be the hero."
OREGON MEN VS. MIAMI (OHIO)
Friday at Spokane Memorial Arena, 30 minutes after Notre Dame-Winthrop, which tips off at 11:35 a.m. TV: CBS. Radio: KUGN-AM (590).
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|Title Annotation:||Sports; Former star guard leads his alma mater back to the Big Dance|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Mar 13, 2007|
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