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Ed Cooley showered in boos in emotional homecoming to Providence

Updated: Jan 29

The prodigal son of his hometown could’ve been revered in Rhode Island forever.  But Saturday, the Friar Faithful declared him Public Enemy #1. PIC: Will Tondo

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Ed Cooley was open about how much being hired as the head coach of Providence College in 2011 meant to him.  A true success story in the state of Rhode Island, Cooley had no shortage of challenges to overcome.  He was one of nine children raised by a single mother in a poverty-stricken South Providence household, supported primarily by welfare.  He spoke up for help, and was taken in by neighbors Gloria & Eddie Searight, who lived nearby on Sassafras Street.  The love and support he received in return had impactful yields; at Providence’s Central High School, he stood out on the hardwood, picking up Rhode Island Player of the Year honors twice.  He continued playing basketball at nearby Stonehill College, taught history at Bridgewater-Raynham High School, and was an assistant at Rhode Island, Boston College, and other nearby schools.  

No account of Ed Cooley’s rise to prominence in his hometown is better than the words of Andy Katz for ESPN in 2011: “You can scour the country and find plenty of hometown stories of coaches coming back to their alma maters or the places where they grew up. But there will be few that can match the authenticity of Cooley and Providence.”

Simply put, when Providence asked him to be their new head coach, it was a no-brainer. A match made in heaven may not even have done it justice; Ed Cooley was made to build his career at Providence College.   There’s an argument to be made that Cooley was - at one point - one of the more unifying leaders in Rhode Island’s history.  Aside from URI fans and alumni, the Ocean State rallied around his leadership, especially on the big stages of March Madness and primetime games. Some even called for him to run for public office.

But on Saturday, January 27th, 2024, the scene inside the Amica Mutual Pavilion was the total opposite of anything unifying.  And there’s only one person to blame: Ed Cooley.


The circumstances around Cooley’s departure from his dream job are still a bit nebulous. Providence played Georgetown to an 88-68 win at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. on February 26, 2023.  That would be the final game Providence won in the 2022-23 season; they went on to lose a barnburner to #19 Xavier on March 1st, and were blown out on Senior Day at the hands of unranked Seton Hall, 82-58.  Both games were at home.

The Friars played UConn close during the Big East Tournament, but ultimately were eliminated in the first round.  Their sharp departure had many wondering if Providence’s resume was worthy of the NCAA Tournament at all, let alone lucking out with a play-in-game in Dayton.  Ultimately the committee chose #6 Kentucky as the Friars’ adversary, and #11 Providence lost its fourth consecutive game.

The hot stove grew to steaming during the first week of the NCAA Tournament. Many Providence-area sports writers had speculated that Cooley could be chatting with Georgetown.  On March 20 - just three days after Providence lost its opening round March Madness game - a house went up for sale in East Greenwich.  An all-too-familiar pool that Cooley had jumped in to celebrate big moments in the summer and a framed & signed jersey of Kris Dunn blew his cover; Ed Cooley was selling his house.

Brendan McGair of the Woonsocket Call scooped a document with Cooley’s signature of his intention to sell his property; it was signed and dated on March 3, just a week after their trip to Georgetown. 

Naturally, social media went into a frenzy of speculation. Questions surfaced, and rightfully so: did Cooley meet with Georgetown brass during their game just a week prior? Was he being strong-armed by others?  But most importantly, and most tough to swallow: was this really what he wanted?

Morey Hershgordon - who at the time, was the Sports Director at WPRI - had an exclusive interview with both Cooley and Providence’s new Athletic Director Steve Napolillo live on television that evening.  In many ways, it was an unprecedented interview; the press having a live discussion with a coach that was rumored to be leaving the program that he played a large role in elevating for its in-conference foe, and (separately) an Athletic Director that was essentially trying to defend the school’s reputation. While we still don’t have answers to when and how it all went down, Ed Cooley followed through on his intention to become the first intra-conference coaching transfer in the rich history of the mighty Big East Conference.


On Saturday, Ed Cooley walked on to the hardwood at the AMP.  It was a walk that Cooley had done for 12 seasons beforehand: out the tunnel and to center court to meet the opposing coaches.  But it looked different on Saturday.  Donning his Jordan brand navy blue quarter-zip with the Georgetown logo on the left breast, he was led by a four-person detail of police officers and security representatives.  Boos and jeers rained down from all corners and crevices of the arena.  

PIC: Will Tondo

The Providence fans finally had their moment.  The coach that was once-revered amidst their walls was now declared Public Enemy Number One - and there he was, in the flesh.

Cooley was stoic as he walked into the arena.  He walked slowly, making a sharp left past the media contingent waiting to capture the moment on video.  After exchanging pleasantries with Friars’ head coach Kim English and the Providence coaching staff, he shook the hands of few on press row, and forced a smile to embrace two or three of Providence’s longtime season ticket holders on the baseline.  Any words they exchanged were unintelligible, as a chorus of boos drowned out any noise.  The environment was chill-inducing.  “F*** Ed Cooley” rained down in unison from the sellout crowd.  Many held signs.  Many wore shirts depicting Cooley with a clown nose.  Many just watched and filmed; others were relentless in their heckling.  

Cooley lined up on the free-throw-line-extended with the rest of the Georgetown Hoyas.  His heart over his hand, he sang a few verses of the Star Spangled Banner before yielding the vocals to the Providence student section.  Public address announcer Frank Carpano quickly ran through the Georgetown starting lineup, before finishing with his closing line for visitor intros: “And the head coach of the Georgetown Hoyas is…Ed Cooley.”  The reaction was deafening. Cooley, although forcing a smile, was clearly unsettled.  

There were no tributes, acknowledgements, or ceremonies before the game.  Maybe those will come one day, and maybe they won’t.  But at present, there certainly is no love lost between the Providence faithful and their once-heralded leader.

Georgetown and Providence traded blows all game, but ultimately Providence used a Devin Carter windmill dunk to put home the contest in favor of the Friars. Cooley - again, as stoic as possible - conceded to Kim English with a hug, and offered the same greeting for others that he recruited to play in the 401 (among them, Devin Carter, Jayden Pierre, and Corey Floyd). 


I don’t think anyone could’ve imagined Ed Cooley on another team’s bench, let alone a Big East foe that transcends eras of college basketball.  Many will speculate about the true intentions behind this decision, and this piece doesn’t aim to do that.  Instead, it tries to tell the story of what Providence fans have considered “betrayal,” and what the broader college basketball community is baffled on. 

After all, when Cooley was hired at Providence, he made it clear it was his dream job. “I'm not looking to win and go someplace else,” he said.  “I'm happy where I'm at. I'm home.”

But today - and onwards - Providence is no longer a home for Ed Cooley. It’s now merely a reminder of fractured allegiances and a lingering echo chamber of disillusionment.

Whether time will heal these wounds or if a bridge of understanding will ever be built remains uncertain. But it leaves the legacy of Ed Cooley's tumultuous homecoming etched in the annals of Rhode Island sports history.


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