CINCINNATI (AP) — Longtime Miami (Ohio) basketball coach Charlie Coles, the school’s all-time leader in victories, died Friday in Oxford, Ohio, the school said. He was 71.
No cause of death was reported immediately, but Coles had a long history of heart issues.
Known for his colorful wit and a coaching competitiveness as the mid-major RedHawks often scheduled national powers for their nonconference games, the two-time Mid-American Conference coach of the year had 263 victories at Miami. He also was the Mid-American Conference’s all-time leader in conference wins with 218. He had a career record of 355-308 over 22 seasons at Miami and Central Michigan.
“The basketball world lost one of its great ambassadors in Charlie Coles today,” University of Kentucky coach John Calipari said in message via his Twitter social media account. “As a player, coach, mentor and teacher, no one was better than Charlie. He was a true, compassionate competitor who will be missed.”
Coach Mick Cronin of Miami’s nearby rival, the University of Cincinnati, expressed condolences to Coles’ widow and family in a statement.
“He was a great coach and even better person,” Cronin said. “Coach had the ability to make everyone smile and always wanted to help those around him … his passing is a tremendous loss for the coaching community.”
Coles retired in March 2012, following the RedHawks’ first-round loss at Toledo in the first round of the conference tournament. He coached Miami 16 for seasons, with a record of 263-224.
Coles’ Miami team made a longshot run into the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 in 1999, led by future NBA forward Wally Szczerbiak. Miami lost to Kentucky. It was one of three NCAA tournament appearances for Miami under Coles, and his team also twice played in the NIT. His first Miami team made the tournament in 1997 with a 21-9 record, most victories ever by a first-year Miami coach.
The RedHawks narrowly missed what Coles said at the time would have been “my best win” in 2009 when then-No. 4 Kentucky rallied from 18 points down and won on John Wall’s game-ending jumper, 72-70, at Lexington.
Asked afterward by a Kentucky reporter about letting the win get away, Coles replied with a verbal volley of indignation and humor, saying the reporter should ask Calipari why it was such a close game.
“All I’m hearing is they’ve got four (NBA) draft choices and you’re asking me ‘how it got away from you?’ We came up with a brilliant effort,” Coles said.
Coles had heart problems for years, missing the end of the 2008-09 season because of health problems. He had four operations in the next few months, one to reshape his heart. He recovered and returned to coaching, getting a contract extension.
The school hired John Cooper from Tennessee State last year to succeed him.
Coles is survived by his wife Delores, son Chris and daughter Mary Bennett, and four grandchildren, the school said.
“He loved his family,” said Chris Mack, coach of another rival neighbor, Xavier University. “I will never forget his grandkids sitting on his lap at press conferences.” Mack in a statement called Coles “a shining example of what all coaches should strive to be.”
The Yellow Springs, Ohio, native was a star Miami player in the early 1960s, averaging 18.5 points per game his junior year with a 50.3 field goal percentage. His jersey was retired by Yellow Springs High School, and he was inducted into the Miami University Hall of Fame.
He also continued to teach during his coaching career, conducting a basketball coaching theory class at Miami. His players regularly scored above national averages academically, Miami said Friday.
AP Sportswriter Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
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