Ed Cooley is a man on a mission. The 2022 Naismith Men’s College Coach of the Year, who led the Providence College Friars to the Big East Conference championship and deep into the NCAA tournament in 2022, has a greater goal in mind. “The reason why I coach is to win a national championship,” says Cooley, widely known for his commitment to both his players and his community.
No doubt, Cooley’s vast knowledge of the game and ability to inspire young men from diverse backgrounds is the key to his success on the hardwood. Off the court, Cooley’s gregarious personality and winning attitude have made him one of the most popular and respected figures in the state. “When I was a young kid, I always wanted to be a head coach. When I went to college, I always wanted to come to Providence College to be the head coach. Talk yourself into existence to give yourself an opportunity to be great,” he says, believing every word.
The coach won’t be completely satisfied until the Friars take home a national championship, one that he will undoubtedly share with the city he loves. Although that goal may have seemed like a pipe dream just a few years ago, it is a very real possibility with Cooley’s leadership and the support of the college.
Cooley grew up in Providence, where he overcame challenges that still face inner-city youth. “Being born and raised here, seeing the Friars my whole life, going back to when I was at Central High School, trying to get to a game wasn’t easy… I couldn’t afford it, so I would sneak in the back,” he recalls. “When coach Rick Barnes was there, I’d play pick up sometimes in the summer with Dickie Simpkins, Eric Murdock… we became friends. A girl I was dating went to Providence College, so I was on campus a lot.”
His advice to the present generation? “I always try to give inspiration to young men and women that come from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he says. “Regardless of your circumstance today, I tell them, how do you make tomorrow better? It’s gratitude, it’s appreciation, it’s meeting people, it’s going out of your way to help others, letting people know who you are as a person, and taking advantage of opportunities that come your way.”
Cooley recalls support he got from teachers and coaches growing up. “My 8th grade science teacher and I are really close, my 9th grade English teacher and I are really close. Those relationships fostered growth; they came to my graduations in prep school, in college,” he notes.
Cooley is known for recruiting top athletes, many of whom are also pursued by larger schools in cities like New York and Los Angeles. His strategy in bringing them here is to first sell Rhode Island’s beaches and “unbelievable” food. “I talk about how diverse the city is, the different communities. I talk about how downtown Providence has really grown. Then, I talk about the school and its diversity.”
Cooley credits PC’s administration with the program’s success. “The leadership of [PC President] Ken Sicard has been amazing. His presidency, and the things he’s done there have been amazing. Players and coaches win games; administrators build championships.” Equally important to the team’s success – the city of Providence. The team’s motto is “Us We Together Family Friars.”
While today’s games see sellout crowds almost every night, Cooley explains that it took a lot of work and support from their fanbase, local businesses, and community to create the family atmosphere you’ll now find watching a Friars game.
“When I got hired in 2011, I said we came here to win, and we came here to win big. Everybody thought that was an arrogant statement,” recalls Cooley. “You have to have a vision, you have to have a dream, you have to be driven, you have to be surrounded by people that share the same vision, and that give you the resources to build an organization. As long as you are aligned with your administration, with your board, and then your community comes in and supports it, to me, that is the recipe for success.”
His message to supporters: “Dream big, believe big, give to others, and make Providence the most special place in the world.”
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