PROVIDENCE – One could walk out of Alumni Hall draped in confidence that Providence College got it right this time.
That was Ed Cooley’s biggest accomplishment on Wednesday afternoon. He gave a fan base a reason to hope again. The Providence native is coming home to breath fresh air into a program that is begging for a turnaround, and he appears the correct guy for the job.
By nature, press conferences to announce new coaches are supposed to be filled with big dreams. They serve as a changing of the guard, the official closure of one regime and the birth of a new one. It’s a fresh start that has everyone believing.
Cooley delivered on all of those fronts. He won’t coach a game at PC for another eight months or so, yet in the eyes of the audience he captivated, he’s already a winner.
“I was getting a little emotional,” said Abdul Abdullah, the former PC point guard and high school teammate of Cooley’s at Central High.
Rest assured Abdullah wasn’t the only one in the audience blown away by the nine-minute “welcome aboard” speech Cooley delivered. The tall man with the booming voice might have been sharing the same elevated platform with wife Nurys along with school president Rev. Brian Shanley and athletic director Bob Driscoll, but make no mistake: the 41-year-old city native was the one commanding the stage.
His remarks were filled with passion and enthusiasm and it was crystal clear Cooley was paying more than lip service, the kind that so often makes an introductory press conference a ho-hum event. Of course he touched upon what it means for him to return to his roots, saying, “I’m not running from Fairfield, I’m sprinting home. I fit here. That’s why this is going to be a marriage made in heaven for a long, long time.” Such words were to be expected, with so many family and friends in the crowd.
It didn’t take long, though, for the “wow” factor to surface.
Coaches can talk all about righting a sinking ship – which the Friars were clearly aboard and why the administration thought a change in leadership was necessary – and usually the public remains skeptical or pessimistic until they start winning a few games. Cooley served notice that it’s a new day, a new beginning. Lets turn the page, but lets do so in a manner that gives people a reason to get jazzed up about Providence College basketball.
How does “we will set this place on fire, and if you’re late, don’t come in” sound? Or, try “we want to become the most dominant, most physical team, not this year, not next year, but every year” on for size. If that doesn’t get the blood flowing, then maybe it was the tenor in which Cooley addressed the Friar players on hand.
Looking left, Cooley stared Bilal Dixon, Gerard Coleman, Duke Mondy, Ron Giplaye and Bryce Cotton straight in the eye and uttered a message that reiterated a new sheriff is in town.
“I love the treadmill in practice. I call it the focus machine,” began Cooley. “If you can't focus in practice, you're going to go to the focus machine.”
Afterwards Mondy said, “I love it. He’s got confidence and we need confidence after the last few years.”
Cooley did not come across as a used car salesman on the day he was introduced. He gave PC fans some words they’ve been yearning to here, doing so with a firm purpose that, yes, a turnaround is going to happen. He ended his inaugural address by urging people to buy season tickets.
“Let’s talk about the strengths and let’s develop the weaknesses,” Cooley said. “Those are all things that we’re going to do.”
After yesterday, you can’t help but feel that Ed Cooley is a man of his word.
Driscoll offered some clues to the coaching search, from how instrumental former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese was to how all parties involved reached the same conclusion that Cooley was the best fit. The A.D. was then asked if he felt pressure to hone in on Cooley right away, given the rash of high profile jobs out there (Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Tennessee).
“I wanted to move quickly because once we decided he was the guy, taking the time didn’t make a lot of sense,” Driscoll replied. “There were other programs that had contacted him through his agent (Providence-based attorney Dennis Coleman), but when Ed and I first talked, it was about fit. He said, ‘I could go to those other places, but I have nothing in common with them. I have everything in common with Providence.’
“There are a lot of coaches who would have leveraged or played games,” continued Driscoll, no doubt referencing the last time PC went hunting for a basketball coach, “but not Ed.”
The second best bit of news for Friar fans was seeing Mondy in a team-related setting. The sophomore guard sat out the final four games of the regular season with an explanation of nothing more elaborate than “coach’s decision.” He didn’t get into specifics as to why his status was in limbo, though he offered, “I’m good, just can’t wait to play.”
Cooley, who has not officially signed a contract yet, planned on addressing the team after the press conference before whisking off to a dinner at a Providence restaurant.
“I’m going to get to know the players,” Cooley said. “I would see their scores, but I didn’t follow their style of play. I was too concerned with my team.”
Among those in attendance were three members of Keno Davis’ staff – assistants Chris Driscoll and Rodell Davis along with Kevin Gamble, coordinator of player development. It’s quite possible all three are spending their final days at Providence, but that figures to be Cooley’s decision to make.
“I didn’t come here to stay a year and go,” said Chris Driscoll, who plans to meet with Cooley soon.
It should be noted that Abdullah and fellow Brown assistant, Pawtucket’s T.J. Sorrentine, were on hand. Abdullah only smiled when asked if anything was brewing for him to serve under Cooley’s stewardship.
Wednesday’s press conference was a far cry from the one that introduced Davis three years ago. Instead of turning the lights off and having the band play and the cheerleaders present, Driscoll thought low key was the way to go. The only bit of adulation on display was a “Welcome to Friartown Ed Cooley” sign perched above the bleachers. Other than that, the tone was all business.
“We’ve been through two challenging years, and to crank up the band and the cheerleaders, to me it seems disingenuous,” said Driscoll. “I wanted it to be, ‘Hey, we had some issues, we solved them, we’re moving forward.’ I don’t need those things with Ed. It’s real and I consciously wanted it that way.”
Afterwards saw Cooley reconnect with old friends and shake hands with new ones. To those who knew him prior to yesterday, it was a scene they were familiar with.
“He’s pretty much at the top of his game. When you come home and have this job in your home state, it’s pretty amazing,” Abdullah said. “When we were (at Central), he was our unquestioned leader on- and off-the-court. He was our spokesman where the rest of us could sit back and be quiet. He puts everyone else at ease.”
Said Dana Smith, the boys’ assistant coach at St. Raphael and ex-Shea High player, “I knew Eddie from the North Providence summer league. We went from gym-to-gym and he always played me tough. I spoke to him (Wednesday morning) to wish him all the best of luck. He will turn this program around. It will be challenging at first, but he’s up for it.”