Rebuilding Camelot


Ed Cooley understood why he was ready to leave the literal comforts of home. The easy choice, the obvious choice, was to stay at Providence, in the town where he was raised and amid a community in which he was beloved. He had done the hard part, got the program rolling into an established Big East contender and NCAA Tournament regular, and, on top of that, established an identifiable culture and brand. The Friars, like their coach, had heart, grit, toughness, and an insatiable desire to prove people wrong. Stay, and you have what most people crave - status, stability, and success.

That, however, is not how Cooley is wired. He always knew that intuitively, but three years ago, he learned it emphatically. At the urging of a colleague in the coaching profession, Cooley partnered with Profile, stuffing away his initial skepticism about the behavioral assessment system and opening his mind to see where it took him. It took him to clarity - about his staff, his players, and above all else, himself. Profile doubled down on what Cooley knew about himself - that he is a man who loves good humor and helping people - sometimes to a fault - but he is, first and foremost, a man who loves a challenge.

Rejuvenating Georgetown basketball is a challenge, and Cooley simply couldn’t say no. There is, however, a wide chasm between accepting the challenge and realizing it. The to-do list is endless. Meet and greets. Fundraise. Recruit. Practice plan. Game plan. Learn the city. Learn the campus. Discover strengths and fortify them. Unveil weaknesses and repair them. Beneath it all, though, runs a common denominator: understand people.

“Who are they? What are they? Where are their strengths and blind spots? How will they help me? How can I help them? Are they wired to work with me?” Cooley says. Critical questions with answers that build the foundation of success. Finding those answers, Cooley says, became incredibly clear because of his work with Profile. “It helped me get to the soul of Georgetown University, to the soul of our coaches, our support staff, and ultimately the players. Man, it is really powerful.’’ Cooley is an all-in convert to Profile now. He was not initially. Coaches are inherently creatures of habit, especially when their habits create success. By the time a fellow coach started talking to him about Profile, Cooley had built a pretty successful career trusting his own gut: a winner at Fairfield, he parlayed that into the program turnaround at Providence. It’s not that he thought he was above a little help; he just worried that it might disrupt an approach that already worked quite well.

But over dinner, his colleague explained that Profile would make him a better coach. It would not give him the solution for designing a better out-of-bounds play, but it would help him understand his personnel more, which, in return, would make the out-of-bounds play run more effectively.

He did his homework, researched what Profile had done elsewhere, and when he first met with Chad Brown, the CEO of Profile, Cooley purposefully went into the conversation determined to be open and transparent. What he found in Brown was not just a leader, but also a listener. “Coaches,’’ Cooley says simply, “need coaches.’’ Profile first allowed Cooley to explore who he was and pushed him to consider the uncomfortable things no one really wants to confront: Where did he need to grow? What were his warts?

Cooley is a big personality. He fills a room with his energy and practically exudes positivity, but he, like most in his profession, is demanding and can be exacting. Not everyone behaves like him or thinks like him. He needed to learn to meet people where they were, especially his athletes. Instead of getting frustrated and wondering why a player didn’t understand a drill, a play, or made a mistake, Profile allowed him to flip the entire scenario around. He started pausing instead of venting and asking himself questions. “How do they learn? What do they see?” he says. “Do I approach them with love? With anger? With directness? It helped me learn how to coach the mental wellness and health of an individual, who they are, not who I needed them to be.’’

Twenty years ago - maybe even ten - Cooley admits he never would have considered such conversations. Coaches were dictators, and teams were hardly a democracy. However, the much-needed advent of player advocacy and mental health awareness has changed the dynamic. Cooley jokes that back then, a coach walked into a room like an emperor, and his minions (or, in this case, his players) catered to him. They sacrificed their true selves and instead bent to how they perceived their coach wanted them to behave.

Now, athletes aren’t afraid to question things and truly demand answers; they are more comfortable showing their vulnerability and expect the same from their coaches in return. Because he asks his athletes and staff to take the Profile assessments, Cooley has a handle on who they are and can help them understand it themselves. “They come out and talk about how they feel paralyzed, and they don’t know why. Why am I stuck?” Cooley says. “I can now sit down and say, ‘Ok, here are your core values. This is you. Let’s talk about it, how you perform at your best and what you need out of me.’’

Cooley came to all of this rather quickly after signing on with Profile, but he has found the tools even more invaluable since switching to Georgetown. He is an admitted fish out of water, a New Englander dropped in the mid-Atlantic. Geographically, that might not seem like a big switch, but professionally, it certainly is. Cooley is familiar with the Big East but came to the league with an underdog status, with Providence on the climb. At one point, Georgetown served as the very definition of the conference, if not its entire personification. His charge there is not merely to win basketball games but to restore that persona and brand. The only way Cooley knew to do that was to build a culture first. It’s a word that gets tossed around in sports often, but success usually follows when culture truly exists. Throughout his career, Cooley has found that culture really boils down to people good people and the right people. Using Profile at Providence reinforced that notion, but now he had to start over. Cooley took the job at Georgetown because he believed in the connection with the administration. He felt they shared values and goals, as well as a vision for the basketball program.

To execute all of that, however, he needed athletes. Changes in NCAA rules, allowing players to transfer immediately without having to sit out a season, makes for instant roster reconstitution. It does not, however, mean the roster will work.

Cooley learned a long time ago that the metrics that many people use to measure success - specifically, in this case, recruiting rankings - do not necessarily translate into actual success. Not every player responds to every coach; not every coach can find a symbiotic relationship with every player. Ordinarily, coaches have time to build up relationships with recruits - know them, their families, and their inner circles. They can watch games and look for talent, body language, and temperament to get a real feel for if a player suits them.

The portal does not allow for such luxury. In Profile, Cooley has found an invaluable tool to help navigate a sped-up timeline. He asks recruits - those in high school and those looking to transfer - to take the assessment. He explains that he has, as well as his staff, and that the result sharing is a two-way street. Athletes will be able to better understand him as much as he is able to understand them.

At times, the assessment reaffirms what he knows about a person, but it also helps him see more clearly on occasion. The person who likes to help people to a fault jokes that he can be like Father Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town, who tried to help troubled boys in the early 1900s. His personality is such that he believes he can save people - or at least fix them.

Profile, with the aid of a lifetime of experience, has shown him otherwise. It’s also allowed him to seek out traits that matter to him purposefully and that he needs to be an effective leader. Toughness, vulnerability, sacrifice, and gratification are important to Cooley, and he needs players who also value those attributes. “There’s only going to be one national champion every year,’’ Cooley says. “That team is going to have great players, but everyone has great players, and there are some unbelievable players who can never play at Georgetown or for me. So it comes down to, ‘who fits me?’ Take the rankings away. Do we suit each other? That’s how you win the lottery, and to me, Profile is the lottery ticket.”