Coles knows the meaning of ‘heart’

“To have heart.” Ever hear that? Of course you have. The phrase is uttered at least once on every sports telecast, regardless of the sport.

There’s a cliché that gets tossed around the sports world rather frequently, its meaning now dulled almost completely.

“To have heart.”

Ever hear that?

Of course you have. The phrase is uttered at least once on every sports telecast, regardless of the sport. And it’s certainly not absent from the print media either, writers applauding the least bit of courage.

The running back who plows his way for a first down “has heart.” The center fielder who stretches out to snare a baseball “has heart.” The ice hockey player skating through the playoffs on a bum knee “has heart.”

It’s almost fair to say “having heart” is a requirement for a player to get off the sidelines.
Funny, because that’s exactly where one finds Charlie Coles, who, if anyone, “has heart.”
Quite literally, too.

Coles is the coach of the Miami (Ohio) basketball team that the men’s team faces tomorrow night in its home opener. The 66-year-old had to travel more than 500 miles to get to Philly, but Coles has traversed much more during the last eight months.

On March 1, Coles was preparing the RedHawks for a game against Ohio but didn’t feel quite right. He checked himself into McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital in Oxford, Ohio, where he was then airlifted to Mercy Hospital in nearby Fairfield.

There, Coles underwent several days of testing. The doctors ultimately determined Coles’ heart needed quadruple bypass surgery.

Coles underwent the 14-hour surgery on the day his team left Miami for Cleveland, the site of the Mid-American Conference Tournament. Before leaving, the players paid a visit to the coach who guided them to the 2007 NCAA Tournament.

There, Coles gave them – and himself – a pep talk, advising toughness on both Cleveland and life’s hardwoods.

The RedHawks eventually advanced to the College Basketball Invitational, a new third postseason tournament the NCAA implemented last season. Coles eventually advanced to where he felt he could coach again, though his progression was full of trials.

Following his operation, Coles spent a month in the hospital recovering from both his surgery and a bleeding ulcer. He began spending limited time in his office but returned to the hospital in late May to have his gall bladder removed.

Coles capped his comeback by winning his 300th career game on Opening Night, as the RedHawks downed Weber State at the 2K Sports Classic in Los Angeles. He now needs just eight wins to become Miami’s all-time winningest coach.

That alone is quite a story. But that’s really only the second half of it.

The real story began in 1986, Coles’ first season coaching Central Michigan, when he suffered a heart attack and underwent triple bypass surgery. Coles returned to the sidelines only to have his heart problems flare up again 12 years later – in much more dramatic fashion.

The RedHawks were competing at Western Michigan in the 1998 MAC Tournament when Coles collapsed during a timeout, his heart under cardiac arrest. Working on the sidelines, medical personnel resuscitated Coles and rushed him to a hospital in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Coles was told he had arrhythmia – an irregular heartbeat – and a defibrillator was inserted into his heart.

Coles battled back to take the RedHawks to the Sweet 16 the following season, the furthest the team has ever advanced in the NCAA Tournament.

Having again made a comeback, Coles’ RedHawks look poised for another potentially memorable season, having been picked to finish second in the MAC East Division.

“You see me and a bear fighting, help the bear,” Coles told the Hamilton (Ohio) Journal-News before this season. “Don’t help me. In fact, pour honey on me.”

Now, there’s an individual who deserves the label of “having heart.”

John Kopp can be reached at

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