May 06, 2022

Ed Cooley: National Coach of the Year

By Joe Carr ’83

As team chaplain, Rev. Mark D. Nowel, O.P. had the ultimate front row seat during the Friars men’s basketball team’s thrilling, historic 2021-2022 season.

Father Nowel, a biology professor who also serves as associate provost for academic policy and mission support, was a presence everywhere the team assembled, his trademark white V-neck sweater revealing the Roman collar identifying him as the team’s certified spiritual leader. He was there at practice, on team flights, and in the locker room pre-game, post-game, and at halftime.

Who better to describe the extraordinary presence of Coach Ed Cooley?

“It’s amazing to watch him,” Father Nowel said. “Above all, Coach Cooley is an outstanding teacher. He is educating the players on the team in the skills of basketball and the ways to be successful in the classroom. He lets them know that, no matter what the future holds, these are the skills and perspectives that are going to be important.”

Cooley leads by example and by action. Father Nowel, who would know a good preacher when he sees one, says that Cooley’s objective on the sideline is similar to his own in the pulpit.

“We are challenging the team or the congregation, as the case may be, to be the people they want to help God create,” Father Nowel said. “Coach Cooley coaches and preaches from the heart. There is a spirit flowing through him, and certainly a fire.”

Men's basketball coach Ed Cooley prepares to cut down the net at the Dunkin' Donuts Center after the Frairs won their first regular season BIG EAST conference title in March 2022.
Men’s basketball coach Ed Cooley prepares to cut down the net at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center after the Frairs won their first regular season BIG EAST conference title in March 2022.

In a season in which his team was picked to finish seventh in the BIG EAST, Cooley led the Friars to the first BIG EAST regular season championship in college history and to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen. In April, he was named Werner Ladder Naismith Men’s Coach of the Year, topping the voting ahead of Tommy Lloyd (Arizona), Mark Adams (Texas Tech), and Greg Gard (Wisconsin).

It was the sixth time in Cooley’s 11 seasons that the Friars qualified for March Madness and the first time the Friars advanced to the third round of the tournament since 1997. Along the way, Cooley earned his 300th career win and recorded his 200th PC win. He went on to surpass Dave Gavitt ’89Hon. on the all-time win list and is second only to Joe Mullaney ’65Hon., ’98Hon. The Friars recorded 27 wins for only the third time in history and were 16-1 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

Like Friar fans everywhere, Father Nowel rejoiced every time a coaching accolade, including the Naismith Award, came Cooley’s way during the past few months. The list is both long and substantial:

  • Associated Press Coach of the Year Award runner-up
  • Ben Jobe National Coach of the Year Award finalist
  • BIG EAST Coach of the Year
  • Field of 68 Coach of the Year
  • Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year Award finalist
  • NABC District 5 Coach of the Year
  • Sporting News College Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year
  • USBWA District 1 Coach of the Year

At every opportunity, Cooley described coaching awards as team awards, sharing credit with the players and the staff who support him and unfailingly taking time to thank his family and mentors.

“This is not an individual award,” Cooley said at the Naismith presentation, held in New Orleans during Final Four weekend. “I think this is the biggest team award a coach could have.”

“Coach Cooley is a contemporary philosopher,” Father Nowel said. “I’ve quoted him in several homilies, pointing out that he always tells his players that — each and every day — they should have said ‘thank you’ to someone and, conversely, they should have been thanked for something. He models gratitude, particularly important at a place like Providence College, and that is a big part of the reason for his success.”

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