11 years and two days ago, the world lost a great teacher. He also happened to be a heck of a college basketball coach. No doubt he would want them listed in that order: teacher first, coach second.
His name was George Edward Prosser, but everyone called him Skip. He joined Xavier as an assistant coach under Pete Gillen way back when I was in school there, and later went on to become head coach at Loyola of Maryland, Xavier, and Wake Forest. He took all three teams to the NCAA tournament, and had a top five recruiting class coming in when he died of a heart attack on July 26, 2007, after jogging around the Wake Forest campus.
An avid reader and lifelong student, Skip was just as likely to wax rhapsodic about Thoreau or James Joyce as he was to talk about a full-court press. He was always humble, but he did pride himself on passing along life lessons to his student-athletes. His favorite quote was from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“Our chief want in life is someone who shall make us do what we can.”
As Skip said, “I thought that was a powerful statement that we need to be around people who challenge us to be as good as we can be.”
On the day Skip returned to Cincinnati to take over as head coach at Xavier, I was dropping off a friend at the airport and saw Skip in the terminal. I went up to him, introduced myself as a Xavier alum, and said “welcome back to Cincinnati.” He replied, “thanks, it’s good to be back.”
This is what he said about returning to Xavier in 1994 to replace Gillen after serving as head coach for one year at Loyola (Md.): “I felt like I was coming home. Xavier wasn’t just a job for me. It was my first opportunity to coach at a collegiate level. I loved the city. Bellarmine was my parish. It was my church, my school. It was a town I considered my home. The minute I left Loyola, I felt great about being back at X.” (Source: this Cincinnati Enquirer article)
A year later, I started working at the ad agency that handled the Xavier b-ball account, and went to a kickoff meeting with Xavier’s associate AD and Skip. He was kind, gracious, humble, funny, totally unassuming and completely engaged. His AD at Loyola, Joe Boylan, said Prosser was “a renaissance man coaching basketball” and that’s a great description.
Skip left this world too soon, but his lessons are still with us.
From this 2017 article:
On July 26, 2007, George Edward “Skip” Prosser, head basketball coach of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, passed away. Only 56 years old, Prosser’s death shook college basketball and the sports world in general. Widely revered in coaching circles, he was one of those individuals about whom you never heard a bad word spoken.
Fully living up to the reputation of a teacher on and away from the court, Prosser was beloved by the players he coached. During an interview with The Seth Davis Show, Chris Paul, who played for Prosser from 2003-05, discussed the immense impact his college coach had on his daily life.
“For me, it’s funny. You think about some people that you’ve known your whole life and they don’t necessarily make an imprint on your life,” Paul told Davis. “I knew coach for all of four years, and I think about the imprint that he had on my life.”
Diving deeper, Paul offered up a couple maxims that he learned from his late coach.
“The words that he said. He used to say, ‘Never delay gratitude.’ That was one of his favorite sayings. ‘If you can’t be on time, be early.’ Aside from what he taught me about the game of basketball, he taught me about life and about being a man.”
“Someone asked me as I was leaving, what do I want people to remember?” Prosser said. “It would make me happy if they thought I stood for what Xavier stands for. That was my challenge and my charge all the time, to stand for what Xavier stands for.”
“Coaching isn’t wins and losses,” Prosser said. “It’s teaching. That’s the reason I got into coaching and the reason I’ve stayed in coaching. I hope that I remain in the business of education.”