College basketball: Coles is gone, but left lasting impressions
Charlie Coles’ former assistants include Thad Matta and Randy Ayers.
During his sophomore season playing basketball at Miami University, Jermaine Henderson found himself at a crossroads in his life. The East High School product was unhappy riding the bench for coach Herb Sendek and was leaning toward forfeiting his scholarship and transferring to Ohio State to complete his education.
All of that changed when Miami hired Charlie Coles as coach in 1996-97.
“He called me in his office and talked with me for three hours, mostly about what I wanted to do with my life,” Henderson said. “By the end of the conversation, he told me, ‘You’re going to finish your degree here, became a student assistant and join my staff. That’s the way it’s going to be.’ I just sat there with my mouth open, nodded my head and said, ‘Yes, sir.’ That’s just the kind of personality he had.”
He followed Coles’ plan to a T, and in Henderson’s words, “We were locked at the hip for the next 17 years.”
By his senior season at Miami, Henderson was a co-captain and starter at point guard. He spent two years as a graduate assistant before being hired full-time. Eventually, he was promoted to associate head coach and it was presumed that he would succeed Coles. When John Cooper of Tennessee State was hired instead in April 2012, Henderson became an assistant at Missouri State.
Although they talked only occasionally after the transition, Henderson was saddened to learn of his mentor’s death on Friday at age 71. Coles had suffered from declining health for several years and was stricken with prostate cancer in the past year.
On Feb. 28, 1998, Coles suffered a heart attack on the bench during a game at Western Michigan and was revived on the floor just feet away from Henderson. Not long after Coles was recovering from a double-bypass, he motioned to Henderson for a piece of paper. On it he wrote, “Did we win?”
Coles went 263-224 in 16 seasons at Miami and, counting a six-year stint at Central Michigan, 355-308 overall. His former assistants included Randy Ayers, Thad Matta and current Illinois assistant Ryan Pedon of Bexley.
In a statement on Miami’s website, Matta said, “Charlie Coles was one of the greatest men I have ever met. His passion and energy for life, his family, coaching and kids was contagious for all who ever came in contact with him. I owe so much of my life to him and will miss him dearly.”
Henderson credited Coles for steering his life and career in the right direction.
“It would be an understatement to say that Charlie was a huge influence in my life,” said Henderson, 38. “He devoted his life to teaching life, and how to be the best father and man possible. He was always telling stories with a lesson that was always bigger than the game. Sometimes, it took several years for those stories to make any sense, but ultimately you found the words to be profound.”