If the Fairfield Stags needed to win some games at any point this season, it was now.
It was a frustrating time in Fairfield. Ed Cooley’s first season as a head coach - in any capacity - was not immune to growing pains. The Stags had just 3 wins at this point; a 46-43 rock fight against Central Arkansas, an overtime win over St. Francis Brooklyn, and a convincing 75-64 win over MAAC opponent Canisius.
But just six days before January 12, turmoil set in.
On Saturday, January 6, 2007, Ed Cooley and the Fairfield Stags got on a bus to take on Manhattan at the Draddy Gymnasium. Having been on a two-game skid and playing to a 3-12 record, morale was low.
And sure enough, the Stags walked out of the Bronx with their 13th loss of the year…with lots of season left to play.
“I didn’t feel my team was connected,” Cooley told us on the Beers, Business, and Balls podcast a few weeks ago. “I thought our team was complaining and not appreciating the opportunity.”
What happened after the game was a true sign of what was to come; cornerstones for a long, successful, and fruitful career in coaching.
“I told them, get a toothbrush, get a pillow, and everybody came and slept at my house,” said Cooley. “I said that we will not leave here until we know each other’s full name, we will not leave here until we know parents’ names, brothers, sisters…we’re gonna learn to appreciate one another for who we are.”
And sure enough, everyone from top scorer Michael Van Schaick to benchwarmer Roi Buchbinder bought in. They packed their things, carpooled to the Cooley family’s house just a few minutes away from campus, and they bonded.
“ I think that changed the whole trajectory of our time at Fairfield.”
Ed Cooley's first head coaching job was leading the Fairfield Stags, a position he held from 2006 to 2011, spanning five seasons and an appearance in the NIT. PIC: Brian Pounds, Connecticut Post
It definitely was a turning point for the Stags. While they lost the next two, they started to buy into the message of how the consummate team should behave, perform, and come together to win…on the court, and in life. And Friday, January 12th, 2007 was the day the team really started to buy into the message - that was the day MAAC pundits would point to as the last day Fairfield lost for nearly four consecutive weeks.
Fairfield went on a tear; a seven-game win-streak, to be exact. Sure, they were thin margins; two games went to overtime, only one was a double-digit win, and the rest were close. But the point had been heard, loud and clear: the Fairfield Stags were playing team-oriented basketball.
After their 3-15 start, Fairfield went 10-3 in their last thirteen games to finish 13-18 overall. They were bounced by Loyola in the first round of the 2007 MAAC Tournament at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport. But the goal was never to turn heads in year one…it was to lay the foundation.
Cooley spent five seasons at Fairfield; his first two were the only sub-500 campaigns, before he led the Stags to three straight; 17-15 in 2008-09, 23-11 in 2009-10, and a whopping 25-8 in 2010-11. The Stags never won a MAAC Championship, but they proved to be a ferocious competitor for all conference opponents in their path.
The concept of a true team is now part of Cooley’s identity. He just eclipsed his 300th win at Providence College; and to what did he owe the credit, you ask?
“Our worst day is somebody’s dream when you’re in college basketball,” Cooley told us.
It’s something he lives by every day. And - surely - he looks back to January 12, 2007 as a turning point to realizing how grateful he must be.