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Coach dies after a jog

Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser, who took Loyola to its only NCAA tournament berth, died yesterday afternoon, the university confirmed.

Prosser, 56, collapsed in his office and was rushed to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

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Prosser had been jogging on the Kentner Stadium track adjacent to his office in the Manchester Athletic Center about noon. A staff member found him unresponsive at about 12:45 p.m. A doctor from Student Health Services was summoned and used a defibrillator to try to revive him. He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 1:41 p.m., the university said.

Prosser got his start as a head coach in Baltimore, where he led Loyola to a 17-13 record during the 1993-94 season. It was a significant achievement, given that he inherited a team that finished 2-25 the previous season. It remains the lone season the program has made the NCAA tournament.

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Prosser, a native of Pittsburgh, was a Steelers fan, and would often venture into Baltimore to find a Steelers bar to watch games. While at Loyola, Prosser became friends with Maryland lacrosse coach Dave Cottle, who was also coaching there at the time.

"He was a great human being," Cottle said. "He was a good friend, he was a great coach. Every year he'd send me a note or a text or leave a message. He'd know when a big game was, and he'd call or leave a message. Being at Maryland now, I used to enjoy seeing him when he came up here. He was hilarious."

Maryland coach Gary Williams was recruiting in a New Jersey gym yesterday afternoon when heard the news. Williams said he had just seen Prosser about two weeks ago in Philadelphia, and said Prosser "looked fine."

"He said he was working out, was in shape," Williams said. "It's hard to believe."

Williams' sometimes volatile mannerisms on the sideline were a contrast to Prosser's even-keel style, and some have feared the stress will take its toll on the 62-year-old. Williams said yesterday that Prosser's death "certainly makes you aware a lot of things can happen you can't foresee."

"People see the way I coach, but Skip was one of those guys who internalized a little bit," Williams said. "He's not as demonstrative as I was on the sideline, but there are a lot of theories on that, that if you let it out it's better than keeping everything inside.

"If you talked to Skip, you would never know whether it was three years ago when they won the league, or if he had a tough game or a tough season."

Prosser was well-liked throughout college basketball and earned a reputation for his sense of humor and intellect. After graduating from Carnegie High, Prosser earned a degree in nautical science from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 1972 and went to graduate school at West Virginia, where he got his master's in secondary education.

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"He's so different," Cottle said. "He was just so diverse. He could talk to a lot of different people on a lot of different levels. He'd call me and leave books to read. He was into Robert Ludlum."

Prosser also taught history at Central Catholic High in Wheeling, W.Va., where he led the school to one state title (1982), five regional championships and three conference titles in six years.

Loyola athletic director Joe Boylan, who remained good friends with Prosser, was also a history teacher and said he and Prosser used to exchange textbooks.

"I always described him as a renaissance man coaching college basketball," said Boylan, who had talked to Prosser a week ago and said he was unaware of any health problems. "I think, coming from Pittsburgh, Carnegie was a tough area growing up, and teaching history ... he never forgot all that. I think it really kept him grounded."

Prosser was hired at Wake Forest in 2001 and led the Demon Deacons to the NCAA tournament in each of his first four seasons there, and the 2003 Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship. He was just nine wins shy of 300 entering this season, with a career record of 291-146 (.666).

Wake Forest struggled the past two seasons, though, and did not play in the NCAA tournament.

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During those tough times, Boylan said Prosser fell back on history to help the team.

"Last year, or the year before, when the season was troubling, he pulled out Thomas Paine and read to his players, 'These are the times that try men's souls,'" Boylan said. " ... He just had a way about him."

Dean Buchan, former assistant athletic director for media relations, worked with Prosser for the past six seasons. He said he had exchanged text messages with Prosser about 7:30 a.m. yesterday, and everything was fine.

Buchan, who is working at Georgia Tech, said he heard Bobby Cremins praising Prosser on an Atlanta radio show and sent him a message, joking, "I'm getting ready to call in and dispute him."

"He texted me back, and said, 'I hope you're enjoying Atlanta,'" Buchan said. "Skip was an unbelievably great guy. He treated everybody that was involved with his program - your support staff, your managers, your trainers, etc. - he treated them all like family."

Prosser is survived by his wife, Nancy, and his sons Scott (28) and Mark (27).

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heather.dinich@baltsun.com


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