Charlie Coles

In this Nov. 18, 2011, file photo, Miami (Ohio) head coach Charlie Coles calls a play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier in Cincinnati. The longtime Miami coach has died at his Oxford, Ohio, home, He was 71. 

MAC icon and longtime Miami University basketball coach Charlie Coles, the program's all-time leader in wins, died Friday at his home in Oxford, Ohio the school announced. He was 71.

The university did not report a cause of death, but Coles had a history of heart issues.

And those are probably the two of the least illuminating paragraphs every written about Coles, whose heart — ironically enough — set him apart from his coaching brethern.

To know Charlie Coles, even in the limited way sportswriters get to know coaches around the league they cover, was to love and appreciate him. In an era when most coaches have mastered the art of speaking a lot of words to say very little, Coles was a welcome respite.

When Coles spoke, you knew it came from the heart.

Entertaining, funny and insightful, Coles tried to treat everyone who crossed his path in the same manner. He always had a minute; he always had a story.

He was a go-to source for a quote on just about anything. He was candid, and gave you honesty and insight.

Coles' homespun wit and grandfatherly charm sometimes could make you forget the man knew how to coach. He was a two-time MAC Coach of the year, racked up 263 wins at Miami and posted a career record of 355-308 in 22 seasons as a college head coach at Miami and Central Michigan.

His RedHawks won the MAC Tournament three times, and appeared in five straight championship games. He guided both CMU and Miami to regular season conference titles. Coles guided Miami to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament in 1999 with future NBA forward Wally Szczerbiak.

But Coles so much more than just a winning coach. His postgame press conferences were legendary — for their length, their humourous asides, for the warmth and appreciation he showed for nearly everyone and everything in the MAC.

Coles' family, and the Miami community, will feel the loss the hardest. But Coles' absence will be mourned across the college basketball landscape — especially in MAC country. From DeKalb to Buffalo, and especially in Athens.

"It's just a sad day for everybody who's ever been associated with MAC basketball," said Ohio University men's basketball coach Jim Christian. "He was the perfect ambassador for the MAC.

"I don't know if there will ever be anyone better," Christian continued. "He lived in this conference, he loved this conference. He was the historian. He lived in the area, he grew up with it."

Christian knew as well as anyone the depth and capacity for Coles' heart and humor. He served as an assistant at Miami during the 1995-96 season on a staff stacked with coaching heavyweights. Herb Sendek was the head coach that season, Coles was the top assistant. The staff includes others like Thad Matta, Sean Miller, Christian and current fellow MAC head coaches Rob Senderoff and James Whitford.

"It was unbelievable. It was such was great experience and without question it was because of the fun we had," Christian said. "It was hard to be around him and not laugh. We were all lucky to be there."

Coles was a terrific player on his own in the early 1960's and admitted he never fully got over a loss at Ohio in a championship-deciding contest while playing at Miami. He referenced it often whenever Ohio came up on the schedule.

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.

And while he was the coach at the school considered to be Ohio's biggest rival, Coles seemed to receive amnesty from the Bobcat faithful. Perhaps it was the classy, light-hearted manner in which he carried himself. Perhaps it was the in-game back-and-forth he enjoyed with the Ohio student section.

But he always enjoyed the games with the Bobcats. Coles' last game in the Convo was on Gary Trent Day in January of 2012. Then, as he often mentioned, he recalled his love for playing Ohio.

"This is a special place and they have something going on here," he said that day. "I hope they appreciate it as much as I do."

Coles was the man who, literally, died on the bench during a game. In 1998, at Western Michigan, Coles had to be revived by doctors sitting courtside after collapsing during the game with a heart attack. Coles missed the end of the 2008-09 season as well because of health problems and had four operations over the next few months.

But he returned to coaching until retiring after the 2011-12 season.

Coles will be missed, and not solely because of his coaching acumen.

"He could put a smile on anyone's face," Christian said. "It was just the way he looked at and approached life."

Christian said he had talked to Coles recently, and said Coles was as upbeat as ever. News of his death was surprising.

"He was Charlie being Charlie. He was doing great. He was telling me how happy he was that I was back in the MAC."

A class act. A funny, geniune personality. An old-school coach who still taught a college class. A MAC icon. A competitor through and through.

Charlie Coles was all of these things and more.

You don't have to be a RedHawk to know he'll be missed.

"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."

Goodbye Charlie. You were one of a kind, the kind we likely won't ever see again.

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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