Mike Muse already had set out on his career path. He was a high school coach. He was in his mid-40s.
But there was always something missing for him, a dream deferred that he couldn't quell. He wanted to compete for a national championship -- in Division I men's basketball.
So, after working Wake Forest's camps for Skip Prosser for three years and attending nearly 20 practices a season, he jumped at the chance to replace Tim Fuller as Prosser's director of basketball operations in June 2006.
Muse gave up being the boss and a comfort level that few head coaches dare to dash so quickly, especially at age 45.
The grief starts to subside and you recall the good memories. But there are still times when it hits me like a ton of bricks. He was a teacher, a mentor, a coach and a good friend. I'm proud to be one of Skip's guys.
Prosser and Muse had struck up a strong relationship. Prosser was no fool. He knew talent in players and in coaches and found one in befriending Winston-Salem (N.C.) North Forsyth High's coach. Adding someone who was a peer, more than a younger, greener coach, made too much sense for a staff that was already so cohesive with assistants Dino Guadio, Jeff Battle and Pat Kelsey.
"I just knew right away that my philosophy and his philosophy just meshed," Muse said Thursday night. "I wouldn't have done this for any other program. … It was a local-boy-does-good story. I was blessed to be here. The Good Lord put me here for a reason to be a part of Coach's life."
Muse was there when Prosser's life shockingly ended July 26. He died of an apparent heart attack after a his regular late-morning jog. Prosser was 56.
It was Muse who found Prosser in his office, gave him CPR, ran for help to find a trainer and a doctor who had a defibrillator. And then it was Muse who ultimately had to end the team's youth basketball camp with the speech that Prosser was supposed to deliver.
Saturday, Muse will join the rest of the staff and the Prosser family for the funeral, in his adopted hometown of Cincinnati.
And it was Muse who went back into Prosser's office a day later to rearrange the furniture, to put his office back the way it was, so that it appeared as if nothing happened.
But it did. His mentor and his friend died, and it is a memory that Muse -- like many others -- is still trying to process. So far, he said, the good memories have outweighed the bad. He refuses to focus solely on Prosser's final moments. Still, it is hard not to recount every single detail when asked. It is still too fresh.
July 26 was a normal camp day for Muse. Everything was going as planned. Muse said Prosser, who took a 6 a.m. flight from Orlando, Fla., to get back for camp, had called him from the Greensboro (N.C.) airport and said he would be on campus in a few minutes to get caught up on camp.
Muse had to race home to pack. He had received special permission from the NCAA to go on the road because directors of basketball operations normally aren't allowed to recruit. Muse was going to replace Kelsey in Las Vegas, who was coming back home to be with his pregnant wife. As soon as camp ended, Muse was supposed to be on his way to Vegas.
"When I got back to campus, I saw coach running around the track," Muse said. "His routine used to be a couple of miles on the track and then a bike ride to burn 450 to 500 calories. He was doing everything right. He was drinking lots of water.
"But he yelled out to me that he had no time for a bike ride, that he was going to do more miles on the track and had a couple of laps to go. I told him that I had to run to the bank and that I would be right back to brief him on closing ceremonies of the camp. He wanted to be there to ref the last game. He loved to do that."
Muse was first in line as he cashed a check at the bank, which is on campus. He was back to the basketball office, he said, within 10 minutes.
"When I got there, one of the secretaries said, 'You might want to check on coach, he's awful quiet in there.' I said, 'He's probably sleeping off the early-morning flight.' I knew he had been flying all over the place and his routine was to go back to the office, read a few papers and catch up on the news and then cool off before a shower.
"I walked in there and coach looked like he was asleep. I yelled at him and got no response. I yelled again louder and got no response. I started noticing his color wasn't right. I shook him. I didn't get a response. I checked his pulse and he had no pulse. He wasn't breathing. So I did a round of CPR with him on the couch."
Muse said he had taught CPR in Winston-Salem in the high schools for 17 years. He had done it for real twice before.
"The adrenaline takes over and you do what you're trained to do," Muse said. "I tried a couple of rounds of CPR but I knew I needed a defibrillator. So I left coach. The secretary had called 911. I ran down the steps and saw one of our trainers, Scott Spernoga, and told him I needed his help."
Muse said he and Spernoga got Prosser on the floor. Spernoga did the breathing and Muse did the chest compressions four or five times. And then a doctor arrived with a defibrillator. At that point, he said, "we got out of the way."
The next few minutes were a blur. Muse tried to call the other assistants on the road. A secretary was trying to find Skip's wife Nancy, who was on her way to Cincinnati. (Ultimately, the school didn't release his death for hours until she could be contacted.) Prosser was taken away in an ambulance to the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:41 p.m.
Coach looked like he was asleep. I yelled at him and got no response. I yelled again louder and got no response. I started noticing his color wasn't right. I shook him. I didn't get a response. I checked his pulse and he had no pulse. He wasn't breathing. So I did a round of CPR.
"The hardest thing was having to shut down camp and keep my composure knowing what you had just done," Muse said. "In my heart of hearts, I knew [that Prosser was dead] but I hadn't heard it from the doctors. I saw the results of the defibrillator. I knew things looked grim. I knew it would take a miracle at that point.
"Everybody did their job, we all did the best we could under the circumstances and kept our composure. We had to shield the little kids from the ambulance and [emergency] vehicles. Soccer coach Jay Vidovich kept the hallway clear and people away. Everybody just chipped in and helped."
Muse said he didn't break down until the next morning when he returned to put Prosser's office back together. He didn't want anyone to see him fall apart, but a photographer for the Winston-Salem Journal News captured him sitting on the steps collecting his thoughts.
"I was overcome with emotion," Muse said. "It just sunk in and hit me when they took that picture. It was the lowest of low moments. I got weak and realized what had happened the day before. You start to think, 'Did you do everything right?' You get overwhelmed."
Closure comes Saturday with Prosser's burial in Cincinnati.
The staff still doesn't know what will happen with their future, but Muse said they have faith in Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman.
"It's a tough decision and we're praying for him that he'll make the right decision for the university and the basketball program," Muse said. If Wake Forest replaces Prosser with an assistant on his current staff, both Gaudio or Battle have extensive experience and would likely be put in charge on, at the very least, an interim basis.
"My lasting memory of Skip Prosser is his compassion and courage and his integrity, and how he led by example and made everybody who came into contact with him feel special," Muse said. "He believed in me and gave me a shot to help live out my dreams. He was a friend to me, and I will always hold him dear in my heart."
Muse said he keeps thinking of Prosser. He thinks about their talks in Prosser's office or in a car. He thinks about them talking about recruits. He thinks about all their time together.
"The grief starts to subside and you recall the good memories," Muse said. "But there are still times when it hits me like a ton of bricks. He was a teacher, a mentor, a coach and a good friend. I'm proud to be one of Skip's guys."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.