“If someone hasn’t thanked you today, you haven’t done anything to help.” Providence College Basketball coach Ed Cooley used those words to close out an inspiring speech at Park View Middle School last Wednesday.
Cooley, who’s been making stops all over the state, spoke to the entire eighth grade class at the middle school about learning from past experiences and always being motivated to be the best that they can be.
“I wanted to be different, not the norm,” said Cooley, who was hired as PC's new coach earlier this year. “You have to want to be different.”
Cooley's background could have sent him down an all-too-familiar path.
Brought up in South Providence, Cooley is one of nine children. A sister and a brother have struggled with drug problems. Another brother has been in prison. Cooley also has a late sister he never met. In overcoming adversity, Cooley lives every day with no regrets or doubts about the person that he has become.
“I wake up every day and feel blessed with the life that I live and the person that I am,” said Cooley.
Cooley did not speak much about basketball at first; instead, he spoke about the journey that got him to this point in his life.
Cooley graduated from Central High School, where he was a two-time player of the year and two-time state champion. He was influenced by a teacher at Central who made it clear that he would not pass simply because he was an athlete. These days, he has the utmost respect for all educators, and he praised the teachers in the audience at Park View.
“Respect your teachers and everything they do,” said Cooley. “Teachers are the most under-appreciated, underpaid professionals and their salaries should be doubled.”
Cooley's next stop after Central was supposed to be New Hampton School in New Hampshire. However, with insufficient grades and a lack of money to pay for tuition, he was not allowed admission into the school. He received the same news from a second prep school and decided that he needed to make the opportunity for himself.
“I asked my girlfriend at the time for a ride and went right up to the admissions officer at New Hampton," Cooley said. "I said ‘No disrespect to you, but who is your boss? I need to speak to your boss.' I then went and asked to be allowed into the school. I asked what I could do to pay off my tuition. I told him ‘Give me a chance, I will not let you down.’”
Cooley then went on to earn his tuition by working various jobs around campus, from washing dishes after breakfast and dinner to shoveling snow. After a successful career at New Hampton, he moved on to Stonehill College in Easton, Mass.
Before he got there, he hit another obstacle.
The first two times Cooley took the SAT, his score was not high enough to meet NCAA requirements, so in order to play basketball in college, he needed to take the test a third time. Cooley scored over a 900 on his third test and qualified, but he was accused of lying and cheating on the test and was flagged by the NCAA.
Because of this, he was forced to take the SAT one more time. This time, he needed to take it in front of a room full of people who would make sure that he didn’t cheat.
He scored a 1390.
At Stonehill, he proceeded to become a team captain for three of his four years at the school.
“Success doesn’t have a color or a price tag,” said Cooley, “You have to be motivated to succeed.”
The 41-year-old Cooley has now become an accomplished Division I basketball coach. After one year as an assistant coach at UMass-Dartmouth, he spent one year at his alma mater, the next year at the University of Rhode Island, and then nine seasons with Al Skinner at Boston College.
His success at Boston College earned him the head coaching job at Fairfield University, where he coached from 2006-2011.
Now he takes over at Providence College, and he's telling anyone who will listen that he plans on doing much more than just turning around a struggling program.
“I hate losing. It’s just gross,” said Cooley, “What we’re going to do at PC will go down as one of the best college basketball programs ever. I didn’t come here to lose. We’ll probably be picked last, but I doubt we’ll finish there because we will be determined, resilient, and proud to be in that uniform.”