Friday, July 27 at 2 p.m. ET

Death of Basketball Coach Skip Prosser

Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2007; 2:00 PM

Post college basketball writer Eric Prisbell was online Friday to take your questions about the surprising death of Wake Forest men's basketball coach Skip Prosser.

A transcript follows.


Eric Prisbell: Hello, everyone. Feel free to share your thoughts, or ask questions, about the life and career of Skip Prosser, the popular Wake Forest coach who died yesterday at 56. College basketball is very much in shock after the death of a man universally hailed as one of the good guys in the profession. Prosser elevated the game in so many ways. He was a true renaissance man who could talk with anyone about a wide range of topics that went far beyond basketball. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and the entire Wake Forest community across the country.


Baltimore: What a loss for college basketball. How unique was Skip Prosser among college coaches?

Eric Prisbell: The thing is, college coaches come in all forms, which is one of the things that makes covering the sport so interesting. There are the good guys, the pompous guys, the slick car-salesman guys, the recruiters, the pure basketball coach guys, the honest guys, the not-so-honest guys, on and on.

Skip Prosser stood out for a number of reasons. He was probably the most accessible coach in the ACC. He opened his practice to reporters. (Most schools won't let you get within 100 yards of practice at the ACC level.) He never showed a drop of arrogance or ego.

Not that it matters to anyone but reporters, but he was one of the top five best quotes in college basketball. He would always be honest and insightful, if not a little quirky and humorous. Anytime I was working on an issue story, he was a coach I was sure to talk to.

He could also talk about things that went well beyond basketball. Life seemed much bigger than basketball to Skip. Pete Gillen told me stories last night about how Skip could talk to anyone, be it Mike Krzyzewski or an aspiring young college coach who might call him asking for advice.


Alexandria, Va.: Vick, Donaghy, Rasmussen/Vinokourov ... and the tragic deaths of Mike Coolbaugh and now Skip Prosser. Have you been through a worse two-week span in sports?

Eric Prisbell: Great point. I was talking to a couple people the other day about this. I don't think there has been a darker two-week period in sports in modern history when you consider the number of controversial, tragic and awful of events and how different they are. The integrity of one sport is at stake; another sport¿¿¿s most hallowed record has lost at least some meaning; one of the faces of another league has allegedly been linked to horrific acts of animal cruelty; one of the most popular coaches in college basketball has died. Let¿¿¿s not forget the Tour de France, as well, which seems to know scandal all too well in recent years.


Washington, D.C., by way of Winston-Salem: As a Wake alum, I am tremendously saddened by the loss of Skip Prosser. I attended the school when he began coaching there and he really re-invigorated the campus's spirit related to basketball, and beyond.

I truly hope that whoever is hired to replace him as coach has the same commitment to being active on campus and the same accessibility that Prosser projected. Hopefully his replacement will continue the tradition of making all students, even those who aren't really into basketball, feel the excitement of the game.

Eric Prisbell: Thanks for the note. Lawrence Joel Coliseum was always one of the most entertaining places to cover a game. The fans were crazy, wearing those black-and-gold tie-dyed T-shirts. It did not matter the record. The fans seemed just as crazed last year, and most of that was because of what Prosser did to infuse excitement into the program the last six years.

If AD Ron Wellman wanted to name an interim coach, and he probably is inclined to do so at this point, he has good options. Associated head coaches Dino Gaudio and Jeff Battle both have significant experience. Gaudio was with Skip all six years at Wake and has been head coach at Loyola and Army in the past. Battle goes back to Loyola in 1994 with Skip. Assistant Pat Kelsey played under Skip at Xavier and has been at Wake since Prosser arrived.


Virginia: He is rather young. Did he has a history of heart problems?

Eric Prisbell: I have not heard of any heart trouble in the past. Pete Gillen, who was truly shaken up, told me last night that within the week Prosser had taken a red-eye from the Vegas AAU tournament to one in Orlando. He then made a very early flight Thursday from Orlando back to N.C. Impossible to gauge whether that lifestyle, which all coaches share, had anything to do with what happened. But it does drain you. Otherwise, he seemed relatively healthy for a 56-year-old man.


Anonymous: I am one year older than the coach. I thought my day was ruined when I learned I owe $6k in taxes for last year. I guess the coach's family would think I was pretty lucky.

Eric Prisbell: I hear you. I faced a similar situation with money and the news offered me quite a jolt back to reality. This shook the college basketball world because it came as such a shock and because Prosser was so well liked and respected. When I first heard it yesterday a little after 3 p.m., I was speechless for a few seconds. And I didn't fully believe it until I made some calls. From talking to a few coaches, it sounds like others had the same reaction. The crazy thing is that most coaches were in a high school gymnasium somewhere, be it in Las Vegas, Orlando or NJ, when word started trickling out. Gary Williams told me yesterday afternoon that he was in NJ at a high school hoops event when coaches started getting text messages from others around the country. Gary's voice was still trembling a little.


Bad Sports Weeks: This may have it for different stories but I think the Munich Olympics trumps this by a long shot.

Eric Prisbell: No doubt. I was really just thinking about the last 25 years or so, Len Bias, etc., but you have a fair point. I think it is safe to say that this country's three premier sports leagues have never been dealt such simultaneous blows. Add to that the death of Prosser and it has been a dark month for sports in this country.


Rockville, Md.: The ACC and the world of sports lost a truly good man yesterday. I remember being a student at UMD back in 2003 when Wake came to College Park for a game that ultimately got played in a snowstorm that restricted the crowd to students only. A lot of other opposing coaches would've protested playing in front of 10,000 screaming Terps fans with extra time on their hands, but Skip just seemed amused by the whole thing and went about his business. He was a real class act.

Eric Prisbell: Thanks for the story.

I was fortunate enough to cover one of the best games Wake Forest has ever played, the 111-105 double-overtime loss to West Virginia in the second round of the 2005 tournament. What struck me about that was when Prosser was asked about the season after the game. He was calm but blunt, and he didn't have to be, considering it was such an emotional game. Wake was praised much of the year because of the high-powered offense led by Chris Paul and Justin Gray. But he conceded that the team's season-long struggle to find consistent defense led to their untimely exit. He was brutally honest, not all coaches are immediately after such a draining game.


Columbia, S.C.: I knew Coach Prosser when he coached HS (and taught history)in W.V. He was very smart, funny, and genuinely kind. I don't know if that made him special as a coach, but it seems to make him special as a person. I could never bring myself to bet against him in the NCAA bracket, so whenever he took a team to the tournament, I'd have to work it out with that team winning.

Eric Prisbell: Thanks for passing that along. I think those characteristics certainly made him unique as a college coach at an ACC level. He never seemed to lose the demeanor you describe he had when he taught high school history.


'98 XU Grad in Alexandria...:

He's as much apart of this XU English major's college career as any one of her professors and friends. He taught all of us humility, grace, and what it means to go in there and get the job done.

All of us are thinking of his family today and will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

Eric Prisbell: Thank you. Your thoughts are shared by many of those who interacted with him over the years.


U Street: Do you know how the basketball players are handling this? Are the incoming recruits going to have a chance to back out of their commitment now?

Eric Prisbell: Word late last night was that Ron Wellman met with the team and told them what it meant for them to have known and to have played under a man like Skip Prosser.

Wake struggled in the two-year post-Chris Paul era, but the Demon Deacons were very young last year, aside from Kyle Visser. The future looked bright again because of a very strong recruiting class set to arrive in Winston-Salem in the fall of 2008. Ty Walker, a celebrated 7-footer, was set to join Al-Farouq Aminu and Tony Woods. Too early to tell what happens now in terms of who is coming or going.


Washington: In 2004, when GW played at Wake in the Preseason NIT, Prosser came onto the GW bus after the game help raise the spirits of a GW team that had trailed by five with nine minutes left, but lost by 21. He told them that he thought they were going to be a very good team by year's end.

Three weeks later, GW beat Michigan State and Maryland on back-to-back days in the BB&;T en route to their first of now three consecutive N.C.A.A. appearances.

I thought that summed up Prosser as a coach. One of the good guys in a game where ego can overtake one's humanity.

Eric Prisbell: Great, great story. Thanks for sharing that. I remember that game, and GW did put up quite a fight against a loaded Wake Forest team. And, as Prosser said, GW was very good by season's end, and obviously VERY good the following season.


Washington, D.C.: As a Wake alum, I believed Skip Prosser was a perfect fit for the school I love. I always felt Skip was the embodiment of what coaching SHOULD be. He was intense about winning in the cutthroat ACC, but never seemed to lose sight of his larger mission -- shaping his kids for success in the classroom and beyond.

The outpouring of grief and inspiring anecdotes from both former walk-ons and NBA All Stars alike really show the character of the man we lost yesterday. I hope his family finds strength in the knowledge of all the lives he touched for the better. He'll be missed.

Eric Prisbell: Thanks for sharing those thoughts, all of which I agree with. I think it's fair to say college basketball would be better off in a number of ways if there were more coaches like Skip Prosser. He was a rarity, particularly at the big-time power conference level. How many others quote Emerson?


Kensington, Md.: As a member of the Wake Forest Class of 2011, I was deeply saddened to hear of Coach Prosser's passing. He was such a wonderful member of the Wake Forest Community and will be sorely missed on campus next year, I'm sure.

What do you think this all means for the future of the Wake basketball program? The recent news of a great recruiting year for 2012 had us all excited.

Eric Prisbell: And the recruiting class should still have you very excited. What Prosser had was a strong stable of assistants who have been very loyal to him over the past six years, and beyond. I would imagine they will continue to be loyal to him and will make every attempt to keep that recruiting class together and once again become a contender in the ACC in the coming years. I did not have Wake Forest in my top 6 in the conference for next year, I don¿¿¿t believe they'll have a senior on the roster this coming season, and I think UNC, Duke, Clemson, NC State, Maryland, Virginia/Miami (in that order) are clearly ahead of them this season. But the future looks bright based on the quality of kids Wake secured from the class of 2008. If the assistants can keep that class intact, they'll be a contender in a few years.


Baltimore: Tragic turn of events. What kind of legacy does Skip leave at Wake Forest?

Eric Prisbell: Much of college basketball's underbelly is cutthroat and some of those involved have undesirable ethics. Skip Prosser showed that one can not only survive at the highest level of coaching, but also thrive, by emphasizing integrity and possessing a general enjoyment of all types of people and life. Also, Prosser understood more than most that life is about learning and teaching, two things he embraced as a high school history teacher as well as a well-paid ACC head coach.


Eric Prisbell: I want to thank everyone who joined us today and shared memories and thoughts about Skip Prosser. Take care.


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