A 1994 graduate of Stonehill College where he was a three-time captain, Cooley has guided the Friars into the NCAA basketball tournament for the first time in a decade and won the Big East championship last Saturday over Creighton.
BY JIM FENTON
Cooley received the Outstanding Alumnus Award from Stonehill last August.
PROVIDENCE – He graduated from Stonehill College 20 years ago this spring, but the memories of life on the Easton campus remain fresh.
"Stonehill was great,'' said Ed Cooley, a former three-year captain of the basketball team. "I always say it gave me the opportunity to change. Going to Stonehill, I didn't realize the people that I would meet that would change my life.
"I really appreciate Stonehill for that. Stonehill was a great experience for me.''
He arrived at the school in the fall of 1989 following a one-year stint at New Hampton Prep after graduating from Central High School in Providence.
Cooley entered Stonehill as a teenager and left prepared for life as an adult, and he knew exactly what the future held.
"I definitely knew I was going to coach,'' said Cooley, who played for the late Ray Pepin at Stonehill. "I didn't know if it was high school, college, but I feel I was born to coach. I was born to lead.
"I was born to coach. Seriously. I was born to do something with people.''
Two decades after leaving Stonehill, Cooley has reached new heights in his life as a basketball coach.
Now in his third season running the Providence College program, Cooley has guided the Friars to the NCAA men's basketball tournament for the first time since 2004. They will face North Carolina on Friday night in San Antonio (7:20, TV: TNT).
Cooley was a three year captain for Stonehill and finished his career with 795 points and 594 rebounds.
The hometown guy has revived PC basketball in a short time, winning the Big East Tournament championship for the first time since 1994 last Saturday night over Creighton.
Cooley was watching the Friars win the Big East 20 years ago in his room at Stonehill, but he had a front-row seat last weekend at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
It was a long way from the early days of Cooley's coaching career when he spent the 1994-95 season as an assistant coach at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and the 1995-96 season as an assistant to Dave DeCiantis at Stonehill.
Before getting into coaching, Cooley played 107 games for Stonehill, scoring 795 points to go with 594 rebounds.
After his one year coaching at Stonehill, Cooley went to work for Al Skinner at the University of Rhode Island, and after one season, they moved to Boston College for nine years.
During that time at BC, Cooley applied for the head coaching job at Stonehill in 2000, but the school hired Kevin O'Brien and Cooley remained at The Heights until 2006 when a Division 1 opportunity came his way.
"I still think one of the best things that ever happened was not getting that job (at Stonehill),'' said Cooley before a practice this week at Alumni Hall where PC legend Ernie DiGregorio was on hand. "The best jobs sometimes are the ones you don't get and I didn't get that job and it turned my life around.
"I really appreciate them for not giving me that job. That's the truth. At the time I was (disappointed), but I get it. I understood it. It brought us to greener pastures.''
Cooley took full advantage of his chance at Fairfield University, going 92-69 in five seasons and winning the program's first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season title in 2011.
Cooley is in his third season at Providence, leading the Friars to the Big East Championship and an NCAA Tournament bid. (PHOTO COURTESY Providence College Athletics.)
That paved the way for Cooley to have a homecoming and he was hired by PC three years ago this week. The Friars were 15-17 in his first season, 19-15 last season and are 23-11 with a Big East crown heading into the NCAAs.
"It's wonderful playing for coach Cooley,'' said standout guard Bryce Cotton. "It's great playing for a coach who has the same vision as you. He believes in us and he pushes us to be the best players we can be.''
Said forward Kadeem Batts: "Coach Cooley is a great coach. He's a great motivator. He's just a great leader. He gets us to go out there and give it our all and we've been playing great for him all year.''
Stonehill baseball coach and former two-sport athlete Patrick Boen hosted Cooley on his recruiting trip more than two decades ago. The two became close friends and Cooley was in Boen's wedding party.
"I'm not surprised at all with what he's done,'' said Boen. "It's about getting players and with his personality, that's something he's going to be able to do. I'd want to play for him.
"I always knew he wanted to work with kids, maybe in some kind of community service. But once he got into coaching, you could see he loved it.''
When he was working as an assistant coach at UMass-Dartmouth and Stonehill, Cooley spent two years as a social studies teacher at Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School.
"Teachers influenced my life and I saw how teachers gave back and that was something I wanted to do,'' said Cooley, who red-shirted his junior year at Stonehill due to back surgery. "It was good. I met some great people there. I'm still really friendly with some of the people I worked with. Danny Buron (the athletics director and football coach), I actually did my student-teaching with Danny.''
Cooley was back at Stonehill two years ago as the speaker at the Senior Awards ceremony and last August, he was in Easton to receive the school's Outstanding Alumnus Award.
There are plenty of memories and relationships from his time at Stonehill that Cooley enjoys.
"I'm still very good friends with Dave (DeCiantis),'' said Cooley. "Dave is like a big brother to me. I think about coach Pepin (who died in 1995) a lot. I thought about him on Saturday night (after winning the Big East title). I see Mrs. Pepin. She comes to games, and (former Stonehill assistant) coach (Dave) Kenney is a season ticket-holder at PC.
"My time at Stonehill, it seems like yesterday.''
Jim Fenton may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JFenton_ent.