Ed Cooley returns to PC a success story
Coming Home with Ed Cooley
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- If only Gloria Searight could see Ed Cooley now, standing in front of her house on Sassafras Street, wearing a black Providence College golf shirt and comforting her husband of 43 years, Eddie.
What would she say after she wiped away the tears, gave Ed a big hug, and just stood there in awe?
She would be so proud.
"I wish my wife was here," Eddie Searight said, tears streaming down his cheeks from underneath his glasses and Boston Red Sox hat.
"I do too," said Cooley, his own voice cracking a bit. "I do too."
"I wish she was here to see this," Searight said. "It would mean a lot to her."
Here's why: You can scour the country and find plenty of hometown success stories of coaches coming back to their alma maters or the places where they grew up. But there will be few that can match the authenticity of Cooley and Providence.
He is a product of the city. Cooley was one of nine children in a family of a mother on welfare. She did what she could, but clearly Cooley felt even before he was 10 years old that he needed to seek help.
He doesn't speak disparagingly about his biological mother, Jane Cooley, or his father, Edward Smith, who was rarely around for his kids. But if it weren't for seeking refuge at the Searight house after befriending sons Eddie Jr. and Corey, then he might not be who is he today, let alone where he is as the new coach at Providence College.
"He was playing baseball with my oldest son," said Eddie Searight, standing in the driveway of his home. "My wife always liked to help people. That was the way she was. That's the way my mother was."
Cooley needed a stable home, a place where he could count on a meal. He said that wasn't the case at his house. The Searights were working class folks who didn't mind finding more to give to another mouth.
"A meal every day changed everything for him," Eddie Searight said. "We were going to take him in, so we took him in."
"I remember going to Burger King with them once and Mr. Searight told me I could order whatever I wanted to, don't be afraid," Cooley said. "I just felt like I belonged here."
And he essentially has never left. He would stay countless nights at the Searights, just a few blocks from his house on Elma Street. There is nothing at that spot on Elma anymore, save a vacant lot that is flush with overgrown weeds and brush.
"I still see my bedroom and the stairs," Cooley said, pointing to an open area.
No matter where he coached -- from Central High to Stonehill College to Boston College as an assistant and Fairfield as head coach -- this is where he came when he returned home. This was home.
Fran Murphy, the director of the Washington Parks Community Center, and Jim Jackson, the athletic director, have been at the center for three-plus decades. They were there to shepherd Cooley. They also knew the Searights, who always ensured that Cooley was in the right place, with good folks who wouldn't steer him wrong.
"He wasn't a problem," Murphy said. "Anything I asked him to do, he would do. One day I needed him to be Santa Claus to visit our group home."
"I was the Black Santa," Cooley said with a chuckle.
"He was walking down Broad Street as Santa," Murphy recalled. "He wouldn't refuse anything we did. He didn't refuse. He never talked back. He had a lot of respect. That's what makes him. He knows how to follow the rules. Life is about rules."
The community center acted as more than a safe haven and an outlet to play sports, mostly basketball. Cooley would go to the community center for food.
"I would come here for the cheese and the butter," Cooley said. "I remember being in line."
"The commodities," Murphy said. "They would line up around the building, all day on a Saturday. It was the social services. We do a lot of things here to make a community whole."
Said Jackson, "He just lived here, from the ninth grade to the 12th grade. He was our voice, our deep voice. He had an agenda in his head. He had a very good upbringing when he went to live with the people he lived with. Mrs. Searight got him in the right classes. Eddie wasn't one that hung with the wrong crowd. He spent a lot of time here."
And then the hugs came again. Murphy got one. Jackson got one. Cooley was a success story when he went to play at Stonehill. He was a winner when he coached as an assistant at Rhode Island and at Boston College, helping the Eagles and Al Skinner find hidden gems while going from the bottom of the Big East to winning a conference tournament title and appearing in five NCAA tournaments.
When Cooley got the head coaching job at Fairfield University in Connecticut, Jackson was quick to parade the clip around to show that he once coached him. And why not? Cooley coached the Stags to a 92-69 record in five seasons, posting a school-record 25 wins last season and being named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's coach of the year after a regular-season title.
"I have a picture of him at a new playground that we put in," Jackson said. "I always show that picture to people, even before he became the coach at Fairfield. He's a product of being here. I'm extremely proud of him."
Now he's the head coach at Providence College.
"I love coming here," Cooley said to Murphy. "I always feel like I'm home."
"You're home now," Murphy said.
When PC fired Keno Davis, Cooley was the only choice. Providence needed to find someone to rebuild the image of Friars basketball. Davis wasn't a bad guy. He was just more of a dud. He didn't connect with the fan base and lasted only three seasons. So PC had to hit a home run with someone who was extroverted and who could really sell Providence.
It was Cooley's time to come home.
"I'm not looking to win and go someplace else," the 41-year-old said. "I'm happy where I'm at. I'm home."
Cooley's wife, Nurys, is a former Providence police officer. Their two children, Olivia and Isaiah, are now closer to family. Nurys said they are home, truly home, where they can live near extended family.
And for Cooley that means more than just his biological relatives.
Read Gloria Searight's obituary. She didn't distinguish between her children. Ed Cooley is mentioned with her sons Corey and Eddie and her daughters Rita and Cynthia. Gloria never officially adopted Cooley, but he was her son. She helped raise him.
Gloria died on Aug. 2, 2010, after a long battle with heart disease. Ed was with her the day before she died. He had come off the road recruiting after she called him home. She told Ed she wasn't right. He had to be by her side, so he raced to her. She was fading when he told her that he was going home to Milford, Conn., to get some clothes. He wasn't halfway out of Providence before he got a phone call saying he had to turn back.
Cooley can't talk about Gloria's death without pausing, trying to gather himself. He wouldn't be here, certainly not as the coach of Providence, without her -- without so many others, too.
"She was a special lady," Cooley said while standing in front of the Searight home. "It wasn't just myself that she took in. My brothers and sisters ate here, too. We had friends here. This was a stopping ground for everyone. We would be here on the weekend and put chairs up and Eddie and I would pitch right here, play stickball or football."
"It was the good days," Eddie Searight said.
"Better days will come, they will," Cooley replied.
"Everything is good, I know," Eddie said. "The only thing I wish is for her to see you at Providence College."
That would have made Gloria Searight so proud. But she was already proud of Cooley. He made it. And she had to know she was a reason why.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.