AKRON, Ohio When Miami (Ohio) head coach Charlie Coles took the floor about 90 minutes before his team's game at Akron Wednesday night, he walked deliberately and with a slight limp. He looked his age, frankly.
Coles turned 70 last week.
Almost exactly three hours later, Coles was mostly sitting and watching a superior Akron team steadily take over the game when one of his players was hit with a technical foul -- and subsequent lecture -- from the nearest official.
Suddenly, Coles was out of his seat, his face was the color of his bright-red sweater and he was filling the official's ear with all sorts of personal thoughts.
Coles turned 70 last week.
It was vintage Charlie Coles, a legendary coach and a legendary character. Get him angry and he'll jump up and defend his players like he's half of 70. Talk with him about how or why a certain game went a certain way and you'll get an honest answer.
"We don't have a good team this year," was among his postgame observations.
It's been a rough year for Miami, which slipped to 8-16 with Wednesday night's loss. It's Coles' 16th year as head coach at his alma mater, his 22nd as a college head coach in total. He's also served as a general manager in the Global Basketball Association and as a high school head coach, and he's done all that in most of his current players' lifetimes.
Last April, Coles was presented with the NABC Guardians of the Game Pillar Award for Education, an award for coaches who have made long-lasting impacts on and off the basketball court.
He's earned the right to chew out an official. He's earned the right to keep doing things his way.
A few weeks ago, with his team in the midst of a four-game losing streak, Coles told a local newspaper that he was considering retirement. He later chalked that up to frustration, saying that no decision had been made and that he'd be doing a disservice to the game if he walked away with "anything left in the tank."
His is quite a tank. Coles had a heart attack during a game at Western Michigan in 1998. He was thought dead but was revived by doctors on the floor after 20 minutes. He'd previously had a heart attack and subsequent bypass surgery in 1985-86, when he was the head coach at Central Michigan.
"I hate to see him get so aggravated like he did tonight, I really do,"Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. "I worry about him. Think about what he's been through, and think about the guts and determination he's had to come back from all that.
"I can't say enough good things about Charlie. He cares about the kids. He's a real tribute to the sport."
Coles says -- always has -- what he feels at the time and reserves the right to change his mind. He recently laughed off the retirement comment to Miami's student paper, saying "I've probably retired 700 times."
He's probably considered it at least 303 times, now that his career head-coaching record is 354-303. He's won 262 games at Miami, winning about 55 percent overall and a bunch of big ones. He's won three MAC regular-season titles and been to the NCAA Tournament three times, the most memorable coming on the Wally Sczerbiak-led run to the Sweet 16 in 1998-99.
Akron's superior athleticism was already showing in the first half Wednesday night when Akron's Nick Harney came clean to a rebound and dunked it back through, giving the Zips a six-point lead. Coles immediately called time out and immediately started discussing what happened with Miami forward Jon Harris.
"The ball's over there,"Coles said after the game, pointing left and re-creating his conversation with Harris. "He's wondering where he should be. There ain't but one ball. How hard can it be?"
Whatever else Coles said in that particular time out worked. Miami came out of it and scored 10 unanswered points to take the lead.
Coles has seen a few games, made a few adjustments and told a few stories. He's like your father, your grandfather and your crazy uncle all rolled into one. And when he talks, you'd be wise to listen.
On Wednesday's game, he said his "big guys were lifeless. They didn't get it done."He said he chose to unleash on that official because if one of his players needed a lecture, Coles would be the one to give it.
"I hold the right to vehemently protest, which I did,"Coles said.
He referenced Martin Luther King in one sentence and pick-and-roll defense in the next. He shook his head at some of his team's mental errors, noting that his players "played their butts off"and that guard Brian Sullivan, who's generously listed at 5'11 and made five 3-pointers, "is pretty amazing."
Coles has always been a great quote. Perhaps you remember this gem after his team lost a close one to John Wall and Kentucky two seasons ago?
No one around Miami's program -- most especially Coles -- is talking about retirement or what might happen when the season ends. It's not Coles' style to worry about anything but producing players who become good people and winning game plans, even when such plans require ugly basketball. He wouldn't want any tributes. He certainly doesn't want any lectures from any officials.
He told a story about a game earlier in the year when another official held up the end of a game with a discussion Coles felt was both too lengthy and unnecessary. Coles said that official acted as if "he'd been elected deputy sheriff of the country"and was now allowed to issue orders.
"He's the sheriff, so now he's giving orders to a 70-year old man who either ain't listening or can't hear,"Coles said. "I haven't determined which it is."
This Miami team has endured more than its share of bad luck. It lost three key players to either injury or attrition. It lost by 6 at Xavier, by 9 at Cincinnati, by 7 at Vanderbilt.
"He's always overscheduled,"Dambrot said. "And this (Miami) team really isn't bad. Their record doesn't usually indicate how good they are because he's always playing a lot of really good teams. And this team is competitive with three pretty good guys missing."
This Miami beat potential NCAA Tournament teams Dayton and Belmont but also has three two-point losses and suffered a three-point loss last week at Northern Illinois, one of the worst Div. I teams in the country.
"That's a seven-hour bus ride back (to Miami) from Northern Illinois,"said Kent State coach Rob Senderoff, who worked under Coles as a graduate assistant at Miami in the 90's. "Charlie's done good things in this league for a long time, and he's done it without charter flights and without staying at the Four Seasons. It will wear on you, but he keeps coming back.
"I've always admired his ability to get kids to play hard, regardless of the circumstances, and especially in February and March. It's not a stretch to call him a legend. He's a great coach and a better person."
Senderoff didn't hesitate when asked if he thought he'd be coaching at age 70: "No. Hell, no."
Said Dambrot: "I'm 53 and this beats me up. I take naps in the middle of the day. I know Charlie doesn't do that."
When Akron was dribbling away the final seconds of Wednesday night's game, Coles turned around and shook hands with Akron fans seated in the first row behind Akron's bench. He and Dambrot shared a long embrace at mid-court.
"I had a great time tonight,"Coles said. "I always have a great time here."
About 30 minutes later, Coles was headed toward Miami's bus when he was greeted by two Akron students who wanted to pose for a picture and tell him thanks for all the great games through the years. Coles told them that he'd buy them a beer in Cleveland at the MAC Tournament next month if Miami wins its first-round game and gets there. How many coaches do that?
We don't know if he's retiring, but we know Charlie Coles will pretty much be coaching forever. And we'll drink to that.