Ed Cooley signed a multi-year contract extension with Fairfield last Friday.

Ed Cooley signed a multi-year contract extension with Fairfield last Friday.

Nothing is certain but death and taxes.

Unless, of course, you’re a college student. Then, throw in a hellacious finals week sure to be chuck full of term papers, endless nights at the library, and, ultimately, a happy ride home for the holiday season.

But what about those that don’t have a  place to go home to?

What about someone who just lost his father in a sudden tragedy? Or someone who suffered greatly this past year and, in many respects, believe that  Fairfield has become his only home?

Or a man that didn’t know what family meant until the love and trust of a neighbor changed his life?
Allow me to set the scene and elaborate.

Rewind to about 30 years ago: it is cold, damp, and nearing the holiday season in downtown Providence. Jane Cooley’s family of nine – head coach Ed Cooley was her eighth – is desperately struggling to survive.
Forget Christmas presents; food wasn’t even a daily guarantee.

“It wasn’t that my ma didn’t care, it wasn’t that she didn’t worry, it was just that she was overwhelmed with eight kids at a young age,” Cooley told The Hartford Courant in an intimate interview in 2006. “That’s a lot of babies.”

Then, in a moment of grace, Cooley’s life changed for the better. Eddie Searight, a Little League friend, encouraged Cooley to stay the night at the family’s nearby home.

He never left.

“That was an exciting time for me because I began to know what family was,” Cooley said. “When I met the Searights, they helped me build a foundation.”

Now fast-forward to about a week ago: Derek Needham was lost. So much so that head coach Ed Cooley turned to his side, tabbed backup point guard Lyndon Jordan, and pulled his prized recruit out of the game like, well, the typical freshman that falls victim to one too many missed shots and malicious mistakes.

Cooley, though, didn’t ignore the guard and his first deer in the headlights moment, and as Needham retreated to the far end of the bench, Cooley huddled with his point guard and offered some paternal wisdom.

“I told him to calm down,” Cooley said. “Just relax and trust what we’re doing.’ I think he was trying to do much on his own.

“Just trust what you’re doing because it works,” he added.

Trust is a word seldom used in sports these days, even on the collegiate level.

Some of our nation’s top amateur athletes, unfortunately, often enter college with a personal agenda and fall victim to the self-interest and greed.

Coaches are just as much to blame for this sad state of affairs as their recruits and players. Former LSU head coach Nick Saban walked away from dozens of recruits and even more promises once Miami Dolphins’ owner Wayne Huizenga recommended a more tropical climate and the scenes of South Beach. Former USC standout O.J. Mayo may have accepted thousands of dollars worth of illegal contributions and gifts, but I’d venture to guess that coaches, recruiters, and Matt Leinart’s entire offensive line probably knew that something was amiss.

In summation, there are a lot of Kelvin Sampson’s and Rick Pitino’s out there. Then there is Ed Cooley, who recently received a three-year contract extension from Fairfield athletic director Gene Doris. That move comes despite the fact that Cooley boasts a sub-.500 record in over three years as head coach, and the Stags have never finished higher than fourth in the standings during his brief tenure.

Despite all this, the move is a slam-dunk. And I can sum up why in one word: trust.

Cooley has yet to build a championship roster or a dynasty, but he’s developed something much more profound: a family.

And for many players on the team, it’s the most important family they have.

This past week, junior Jamal Turner was forced to take a leave of absence after the passing of his father. After the team’s win against Marist, it was Cooley that mentioned that, as much as he loves his current lineup, he can’t wait for Turner to come back home.

The same applies for senior forward Anthony Johnson, whom Cooley labeled as “Fairfield’s kid” after Fairfield’s early-season victory over Fordham, Johnson’s return to the court since his junior season was cut short by a life-threatening heart condition.

Back then, it was Cooley that stayed at the hospital for hours on end during Johnson’s most dire moments a season ago. Likewise, it was Cooley that leapt like a fool during last week’s win over Marist when Johnson drew the first charge of his Fairfield career.

By his side, for better or for worse. Just like a family.

Some of that stems from a genuine love of coaching. More of it comes from Cooley’s own childhood experiences. His loneliness, His struggle, and, most importantly, his appreciation for the Searights’ gift.

Back then, the Searights took Cooley in and embraced him as one of their own. Not much unlike Cooley embraces his players over a holiday break at his family’s home in Milford – a tradition that began early in his first season behind the bench – or at the end of the bench after a difficult freshman outing.

So when finals week finally ends and you walk in your front door, embrace the moment and your family. Take comfort in knowing that you’re loved, you’re respected, and you’re in good hands.

The same goes for your men’s basketball team.

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