Wednesday, March 4, 1997
Coles should listen to his heart

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Charlie Coles
It is too soon to say about Charlie Coles. His condition is still described as ''serious,'' and his occupation continues to be hazardous to one's health.

The question is whether the recuperating coach of Miami University will take the hint conveyed by his heart attack, and leave college basketball for something less stressful. For example: almost anything.

''I would hope Charlie Coles never coaches another basketball game,'' Fred Stabley said Tuesday. ''Because I want to play golf with him again. I would hope for his sake and his family's sake that he would say, 'Life's more important than coaching basketball.' ''

Anyone who coaches college basketball is courting a coronary. The coach who persists after cardiac arrest might be asking for martyrdom. Yet predicting Charlie Coles' path at this point is perilous. He might be one of those men whose happiness is not compatible with his health.

Stabley is the sports information director at Central Michigan University, where Coles suffered his first heart attack in 1985. It was Coles' first season in command of the Chippewas, a season he began with triple bypass surgery.

He has been pressing his luck ever since.

''Every day since I woke up from that operation, I've been a ball of fire,'' Coles said in a 1996 interview. ''And I'm serious about that . . . I think that's why my energy level is so high. It could have been over, or somebody could have said I can't coach anymore. It's really been a blessing in disguise.''

Wants to talk

If Charlie Coles has located the silver lining to his little setback Saturday in Kalamazoo, he has yet to make it public. Not that he hasn't tried. Doctors' efforts to discourage Coles from speaking are inherently fruitless, like a colony of beavers trying to dam the Mississippi.

''He spoke with (former guard) Jermaine Henderson on the phone the other day,'' Miami spokesman John Estes said, ''and Jermaine said he sounded like he was in the office. He couldn't believe he was in the hospital.''

That's the good news. Still unclear is Coles' long-term prognosis, how much strain he can handle, and how that will influence his decision to resume coaching or retire.

''I don't know a lot about the details of his heart attack,'' said Dr. Gregory Clarke, a cardiologist with the Ohio Heart Health Center. ''But my take on it is he had a pretty serious event. If there was only mild damage, it's certainly possible he could come back. You damage enough of it, though, and you might have a situation with congestive heart failure.''

Charlie Coles has been around long enough to understand a scouting report. The longer he lasts, however, the harder it gets to let go.

''For me, not to be able to do this, I don't know if I could have made it,'' Coles said in 1996. ''I like to get excited. I like to coach and work with young people . . . Life's been fair to me. My payback has been to say 'Ok, I've been given a second chance, let me put everything into it.' And I can honestly say that I do.''

Learn to enjoy life

Bo Schembechler, a Miami man of another era, had his first heart attack a few hours before he was to coach the 1970 Rose Bowl game for Michigan. He was still clutching the playsheets when the doctors started to sedate him.

Schembechler missed that game, but would coach 20 more seasons of Wolverine football. There is hope here for Charlie Coles.

''What have I learned from my troubled heart?'' Schembechler wrote in his 1989 memoir, Bo. ''Well, I figure it's God's way of keeping me in check . . . Without that, I might just coach myself into oblivion, let little things depress me, never have a good laugh or shoot the breeze with players. But because of all the times I've been in that damn hospital wondering if I'd ever get out, I've really come to enjoy life, as crazy as it is.''

Schembechler says the sweetest words he ever heard were when the surgeon told him he would be able to coach again. The hope here is that Charlie Coles may hear the same message but, whatever the words, that he listens.

Coles keeps improving