HARTFORD, Conn. — Florida State had just beaten Vermont 76–69 when Phil Cofer got a call from his mom. His father, Mike Cofer, had died. In a matter of seconds, Phil went from the euphoria of winning a NCAA tournament game to breaking down in debilitating tears. His teammates sprung into action and helped him walk to a different part of the locker room to get privacy. His mom had called him during the open locker room period, and there were reporters and cameras everywhere.
“Just to hear him cry like that ... I’ve never seen Phil cry,” said senior PJ Savoy, whose locker is next to Cofer’s.
The news obviously came as a shock. Mike Cofer, a former Pro Bowl linebacker for the Detroit Lions, had been battling a rare disease that affects organs and tissue. He was only 58. Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton described the illness as an “unbelievably challenging, debilitating disease that mentally and emotionally was draining in itself” and took a physical toll on his body. And consequently, those who loved him.
“He never complained,” Hamilton said of Mike. “He always faced it every day with the heart of a lion, with a tremendous amount of courage, and he passed that same mental and emotional aspect over to his son, Phil.”
Cofer may possess strength and toughness, but nothing prepares you for losing a parent. He will need his teammates more than ever these next few days. None of Cofer’s family is in Hartford for the NCAA tournament, and Hamilton said Cofer will remain with the team through their second round game against Murray State on Saturday before going home to his family in Fayetteville, Ga. Thankfully for Cofer, his teammates are ready to help him through such a difficult time.
“You never want to see something like that, you never want to go through something like that, especially in a time like this,” said senior guard Terance Mann. “But we’re going to stick together and be strong for him. Whatever he needs, we got it. We really don’t know what’s next. We just know we’ve got a game and we gotta try to win it for him.”
The whole team piled into Cofer’s hotel room Thursday night after he received the tragic news. There wasn’t much talking. They watched basketball together, ate together and cried together. It was hard.
“You never really know how challenging going through that experience would be on the individual,” Hamilton said. “But because of our culture and the love that these guys have for each other, they feel the same level of pain. They also have the same love and compassion and care for him that they are going to do everything they can [for him]. He’s going to know that his brothers are there with him.
“And prior to the news that he got, we had already dedicated the season and our play to his father. That meant a lot to Phil.”
Cofer, who didn’t play against Vermont due to a foot injury, hung back at the team hotel Friday with a few managers instead of going to practice and media availability. Hamilton confirmed he would be on the bench Saturday. It will definitely be another emotional day, and players admitted it’s hard to focus on basketball in a time like this. Hamilton, however, is confident his players can simultaneously comfort Cofer while preparing to play NCAA tournament darling Ja Morant and Murray State in Saturday’s second round.
“He still wants us to play,” Savoy said. “He’s hurting. But he wants the season to still be special. We’ll give it all we have.”