Determined Cooley takes over Friars

The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 23, 2011; 6:09 PM

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- New Providence basketball coach Ed Cooley vowed Wednesday to win at the school he grew up watching.

"Not only will we win here," he said, "but we're going to win and win big."

Cooley, 41, is a proud Providence native who was hired on Tuesday to replace Keno Davis. A day later, Cooley, who left his post at Fairfield to take over the Friars, spoke enthusiastically to a crowd at the Mullaney Gymnasium.

Providence finished in 14th place in the Big East this season, going just 4-14 in league play. The Friars have not made the NCAA tournament since 2004.

Cooley spent his childhood trying to find his way into Providence games when he didn't have the money. So, it was only natural, as he was about to become a hot commodity on the national coaching scene, where he wanted to be for the long term.

"He said, 'I'm either going home or I'm staying at Fairfield'," agent Dennis Coleman said just before Cooley officially signed his contract.

Coleman said he received calls from other schools, even from one that told him to "keep him at Fairfield for one more year because we're going to make a change." But Providence was the only school that would make him leave the Stags, who won a school-record 25 games this year and could be a favorite to win the MAAC next season.

Cooley owns a home in Providence and his wife, Nurys, is a retired Providence police officer.

Of course, there were "bigger" jobs available, like N.C. State, Georgia Tech and Tennessee. But not in Cooley's eyes.

"The best job is right here where I stand. I don't care about any other job. Truly," he said. "The biggest job on the table was Providence College. That's the only place I wanted to come. Seriously."

He admitted he was contacted by other schools.

"I don't want to put them out there like that, but I told our representation I only want to hear from one school," he said. "If they call, let's go talk to them. If it fits, let's do it."

It wasn't easy, though, to leave Fairfield. Cooley, after all, led the Stags to the MAAC regular-season championship this year. He coached his final game at Fairfield on Sunday, a 72-68 loss to Kent State in the second round of the NIT. All told, his final three seasons were above .500 and he closed with a 92-69 record.

But now, he goes home, where he was a two-time Rhode Island Player of the Year in high school.

The press conference was attended by the mayors of Providence and Cranston and other luminaries, including former Providence great Ernie DiGregorio.

When it came time to find a replacement for Davis, Providence president Father Brian Shanley and athletic director Bob Driscoll brought in former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese for help with the search.

It didn't last very long.

"Father and I put together our list, and Michael Tranghese put together his list, and our top five were the same. But most notably, the top candidate on each list was Ed Cooley," Driscoll said. "We wanted someone who will be a teacher, mentor and coach. Ed Cooley was across the top of our lists.

"I wanted somebody who had built something out of nothing. His players absolutely love him and respect him."

Cooley, who was an assistant at Boston College before taking the Fairfield position, preaches defense. The Stags (25-8) were second in the country this year in points allowed per game.

"We want to have the most dominant, physical team not just this year, not next year, but every year," he said. "We want our off-court behavior to match our on-court behavior. Make your free throws. Make sure you go to class. We play in the toughest conference in the country and we're going to be on top of it."

After Cooley finished the press conference, he met his new players for the first time, a day after he had an emotional final meeting with his former players.

"I'm not running from Fairfield University," he said. "I'm sprinting home."

© 2011 The Associated Press