A basketball coach yelling at his team on the court.

GriefSPEAK: Grieving PC Coach Ed Cooley: “Friars for life” – Dr. Mari Nardolillo Dias

By: Dr. Mari Nardolillo, Dias, contributing writer

Photo: Providence College

Friars for life! Students, parents, faculty, athletes. Coaches. For some that spirit stays with you for life – for Providence College is a special place, and special to all Rhode Islanders.  For students, and alums, instead of waning we find it grows even stronger and builds into a sense of pride – of love, if you will. To love that strongly, “for life”, we are naturally vulnerable to shattering experiences. This week such an experience came seemingly out of nowhere and while losing a beloved coach is sad, this sadness, this anger, has been surprising and unique. It’s left us stung, both from the deed and the process.

This week we asked Mari Dias to write about loss, this rather unique grief. And here is her column: (Publisher, PC Alum)

It’s acceptable to grieve a public figure whether from a death or non-death loss. According to Rebecca Soffer, “Perhaps when we think of that person and what they’ve created or achieved, we remember a time in our life that feels that way [may have been a while ago]. Maybe we remember watching a famous [coach]… When we lose a public figure connected to memories, it can hit us hard and makes us feel as though we are losing [precious memories].” Moreover, Dr. Julia Breut adds that “it may be a one-sided, non-reciprocal relationship, where one person extends emotional energy, interest, and time – whereas the ‘celebrity’ may be completely unaware of the [individual fan’s existence.]”

Celebrity grief is “normal” and expected and it has a name- “parasocial relationship”.  Celebrity grief may be devastating depending on how we related to the celebrity (Hagan, Psychology Today, 2020). This celebrity grief of a parasocial relationship mimics all the cognitive, emotional and behavioral symptoms of grief through death. Anger, denial, hurt, fear, pride, warmth, disappointment, and deception are alive and well in this grieving process. Sound familiar?

The responses to Ed Cooley’s resignation have all the markings of grief. Read any Twitter feed that mentions #CoachCooley and you will find a range of responses. “Upset, Devastated. “Cooley took Providence to 7 NCAA tournaments in 12 years, including a Sweet 16 a year ago” (Jeff Goodman).  

Fans seemed particularly connected to Cooley as he was “home grown” and provided us with a great deal of pride that a Rhode Islander came back to bring Providence College to glory. Many are extremely angry about the “how”.

“It’s not about that he left, it’s how he went about it as many found out through social media. “I heard his home was up for sale before I heard any rumors of him leaving PC (Personal Interview 1, 2023), prior to Cooley informing his players.

“He is a fraud, a deceptor, the way he treated the young men on this team is despicable.”

“A snake”, “loves money”, “a traitor to his own city”.

“Is leaving on a bad note: staying in conference. Played in the dance with all the chatter – didn’t see him like this – bad karma”, “poorly handled exit.”

These comments reflect those made by grievers who respond to a traumatic loss. The suddenness of it all, the shock for many, and the disbelief that part of our life story has been rewritten. Deceived that life would not continue on as we know it.

“Students sobbed, broke stuff and raged” (personal interview 2, 2023).

Others were sad, grieving the memories of the games: the excitement with friends, family, fellow students – and the victories, oh the victories. He was one of us “Friars for Life” (personal interview 3, 2023). 

In my mind’s eye the Rashomon effect is alive and well. This effect includes the concept of “ways of remembering.” Many will, with time, remember Coach Cooley as a legacy: a great coach.

Others will decry his legacy. “What’s the big deal, he wasn’t that good anyway”. Another way of coping with loss.

And still others will remember it differently, a time in their lives filled with excitement, special lifelong friends, parties, and celebrations.

We can all experience the same event, like Coach’s leaving our beloved state, city. and college, and remember it in very different ways. With time, the grief of a celebrity, which Ed Cooley is – famous and in some memories infamous, will morph. We will create new memories, good or bad (depending on the success of the team) with Coach English. He has big shoes to fill.

I invite you to recognize your emotions as grief of a loss. The loss of a man who for a period of time brought us national attention and acclaim, and for many, broke our collective hearts with his goodbye.


Dr. Mari Nardolillo Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief. Dias is a Certified death doula, and has a Certificate in Psychological Autopsy.

She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI.  For more information, go to:


  1. Janice Emma Alessi on March 24, 2023 at 10:29 am

    No time to grieve in the world of sports. It’s bye bye Cooley. Kim English will fill those shoes and more. My opinion better all around coach. Welcome Kim English! Let’s Go!