Two days ago, we mentioned in this space that if anyone should be named the Coach of the Year in the Big East, it would have to be Providence's Ed Cooley. With a 16-12 record and an 8-8 mark in conference play, the best way to rationalize this claim and vouch for Cooley would be the long-standing criterion of having done the most with what was perceived to be the least, as the Friars were picked last of the fifteen Big East teams that comprised the league's preseason poll in October. Marquette's Buzz Williams and even Jay Wright of Villanova have exceeded expectations as well, and the favorite at the moment is (surprisingly) John Thompson III of Georgetown, but when you compare each of the three and the work they have done this season to the turnaround Cooley has presided over in just two seasons at the helm since coming back to the Ocean State from Fairfield University, the rest of the field just does not stack up.
To supplement the Cooley piece we had here over the weekend, friend of the website Daniel "The Warrior Friar" James has another testimonial for the leader of the Providence program, this one with a rather interesting take on the newfound success in southern New England. Daniel writes for Friarblog.com, and you can follow his insights on Twitter at @TheWarriorFriar. Without any further ado:
There's a fun little metaphor I like to use when I describe the coaching job Ed Cooley has done this year:
Imagine you're a chess player. Picture the board in front of you - what do you have? A bunch of pawns, a king, a queen, some rooks, a bishop or two, and probably a couple knights most likely. Your opponent, typically, has the same.
But imagine you sit down to play and you're missing pieces. You look high and low but you're missing both your knights, a bishop, and about four pawns. 'Oh,' your opponent says nonchalantly, 'that's all you get this game. Good luck though!' Fantastic. At least you have your queen though, right? Nah son, two moves in your queen slips and hurts her hamstring so bad that she can't even play for your next 10 games or so.
And then - here's where it gets real screwy - you get back a pawn and your knight, but you don't get to play with one of your rooks now. The pieces you have to play with keep changing, but the rules stay the same - make the moves you're allowed to make, and kill the king before your king is killed.
How many of you play chess this way? Any of you? Anyone?
Ed Cooley has played chess like this all season. Pieces coming and going, pieces getting injured, and pieces quitting the game after they're finally allowed to play it. And, somehow, Ed Cooley is winning the chess game.
Steve Lavin gave Cooley praise after his loss to the Friars this past Saturday, saying that he resurrected the program Lazarus style. Saying that, other than Georgetown, there's no hotter team in the Big East than Providence. Saying that Cooley should be coach of the year in the conference, if not in the nation, for the job he's done.
Lavin, you're only scratching the surface.
The Friars have accomplished some amazing things this season. They've beaten teams they've had no business beating (according to experts), and they've stayed competitive in games they shouldn't stay competitive in (according to those same experts). They were picked dead last in the Big East. Behind DePaul. Behind everyone. And Ed Cooley didn't give in, didn't fold, didn't bend the knee or anything of the sort - he fought back.
He took a team to a .500 season at this point. Took them within a game of .500 in Big East play. He's got his team playing aggressive defense. He's got them competing every night. He's got them buzzing throughout the nation. And he's done this without having all his pieces for a majority of the games he's played.
This isn't about wins and losses alone. His team is so disciplined it's frightening. Just the other night they beat a pretty solid St. John's team despite converting less field goals than the Red Storm. They're showing not just defensive effort, but defensive firepower. And when two of his best players didn't play defense, what did Cooley do? He put their asses on the bench to start the game, and kept the senior all-time Big East assist man on that bench for ten whole minutes against a very good UConn team. After that? Both culprits (Vincent Council and LaDontae Henton, in case you didn't know) played defense for that game, and every game thereafter.
Cooley has changed the culture of this team. He's changed the perception of the team. The Dunk was 10.5k strong against St. John's, all of them on their feet screaming and cheering for the Friars in ways that hasn't happened in a very long time.
When you talk about coach of the year, what do you consider? Options to work with? Wins? Performance? Culture change? Development? Guess what folks - Cooley has done all of this. And he did sooner than anybody thought he would.
Cooley is a chess player on so many levels it's mind boggling, and there's no reason why he shouldn't have just put the Coach of the Year award in checkmate.