Wellman remembers Skip Prosser

A.D. reflects on his strength and values

Athletics director Ron Wellman reflected on the life of men’s basketball coach Skip Prosser during a news conference Thursday night. “It has been a long day for those of us associated with Wake Forest University, and in particular, our basketball program,” Wellman said shortly after 9 p.m. at Bridger Field House. “We are deeply saddened by Skip’s untimely death.”

“It has been a long day for those of us associated with Wake Forest University, and in particular, our basketball program. We are deeply saddened by Skip’s untimely death.”
Wake Forest Athletics Director Ron Wellman

Prosser, 56, was in Las Vegas earlier in the week and then had attended an AAU basketball tournament in Orlando, Fla. He returned to Winston-Salem early Thursday morning, catching a 6 a.m. flight from Orlando. After going for a late-morning jog on the Kentner Stadium track, he went to his office in the nearby Manchester Athletic Center about 12:40 p.m. A few minutes later, a member of the basketball staff found him unresponsive and summoned help from Student Health Services and Emergency Medical Services.

Prosser was taken to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:41 p.m. “Almost certainly Coach Prosser had a massive heart attack,” said William Applegate, dean of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, at the news conference.

“Skip Prosser was much more than a coach,” said Wellman, who lured Prosser away from Xavier in 2001. “Skip was a friend, he was a mentor, and he was a man of tremendous values, and he lived those values. Those of us who were privileged to interact with him on a daily basis cannot begin to express the impact that he’s had on us, the impact that he’s had on the Winston-Salem community, and the impact he’s had on the University, on the athletic program and on the basketball program.”

Wellman and University Chaplain Tim Auman met with members of the basketball team who were in town on Thursday late in the day. The players spent most of the afternoon “sequestered” off-campus with their cell phones turned off and away from televisions and radios as news began circulating that Prosser had been rushed to the hospital.

“Obviously they knew something was going on. The longer it went, probably they realized it was a critical situation,” said Wellman. “All of them are in shock. They reacted as you would expect 18- and 20-year-olds who loved their coach would… I told the team, I don’t think I’ve ever known a stronger man, a man who believed in what he believed and lived what he believed.”

Wellman said the University delayed official confirmation of Prosser’s death until Thursday night because Prosser’s wife, Nancy, could not be located. Nancy Prosser left Winston-Salem Thursday morning to drive to Cincinnati, where the Prossers lived for more than 15 years, to visit family and friends.

Despite attempts to reach her by cell phone and efforts by the West Virginia highway patrol to locate her car, she wasn’t notified until arriving in Cincinnati about 7:30 Thursday night. Wellman said he had not had a chance to speak with her, but had spoken to friends who were with her. Prosser is also survived by two sons, Scott, 28, and Mark, 27.

George Edward Prosser III was born in 1950 in Carnegie, Pa. He graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 1972 and earned a master’s degree at West Virginia University in 1980. His path to becoming head basketball coach in one of the nation’s toughest conferences began in Wheeling, West Virginia, as a high-school history teacher who was roped into coaching the boy’s ninth-grade basketball team.

He spent 13 years as a high school coach in West Virginia before breaking into the college ranks as an assistant coach at Xavier in 1984. He left Xavier in 1993 to become head coach at Loyola (Md.), but returned to Xavier as head coach a year later. He was named head coach at Wake Forest in 2001 and compiled a 126-68 record in six seasons.

He built a strong rapport with the “Screamin’ Demons” and other fans, while building the “tie-dye nation” at Joel Coliseum. Wellman said Prosser loved people and always had time for everyone who wanted to speak with him. “It didn’t make any difference if you were the CEO of a Fortune 100 company or if you were the guy picking up (trash) in the bleachers.”

Prosser was well known for his wide-ranging vocabulary-that often sent reporters and others scurrying for their dictionaries-and his witty one-liners and colorful post-game quotes. “He belonged to the word-a-day club,” Wellman said. “He used a vocabulary that was unlike any other basketball coach I’ve ever heard. He considered himself a teacher. He always talked about teaching, not just about coaching. The first meeting I had with him, he talked about ABC: academics, basketball and character.”

Prosser led the Deacons to the ACC regular season championship in 2003-when he was named ACC coach of the year-and a number one national ranking in 2004, but the program fell from national prominence the last two seasons, while Prosser fielded one of the youngest teams in the country. “As you know we have had some difficult seasons, but I have never doubted him,” Wellman said Thursday night. “He has been a picture of strength during those times. Even in the most dire of circumstances I was proud to have him as our coach.”

With strong recruiting classes expected to enroll in the next two years, Prosser was laying the foundation for a strong future. But Wellman said the time to discuss who will succeed Prosser will come later. “We are about the business of honoring Skip right now… We are determined to make Nancy, Scott and Mark as comfortable as possible. Those other issues are on the horizon.”

Wellman said that he and the players are taking comfort in the strength that Prosser always displayed, even in the face of “devastating losses” on the court. “I would go and talk with Skip and know that we’re going to be okay, we’re going to be fine, because Skip’s our coach. The strength that he embodied and embraced and taught his players, it’s up to us to carry on with that foundation and that strength in honor of him. It’s a devastating loss to our community and to the University and to the athletic program and to the basketball program and the players in particular. Because of his strength we’ll be able to go on eventually. We’re not right now. We’re all suffering right now.”

Categories: Athletics, For Alumni, For Parents