Deacons' Prosser dies of apparent heart attack at 56
Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser died Thursday of an apparent heart attack. He was 56.
Prosser was found slumped on his office couch and unresponsive by director of basketball operations Mike Muse shortly after returning from his noon jog, athletics director Ron Wellman said. Medical personnel performed CPR and used a defibrillator on Prosser, who was taken to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and pronounced dead at 1:41 p.m.
Wellman said he was unaware of any previous health issues for Prosser, calling his death "a devastating loss" during a news conference Thursday night.
"Because of his strength, we'll be able to go on and we'll be just fine eventually," Wellman said. "We're not right now. We're all suffering right now."
Prosser had been in Orlando, Fla., earlier this week for an AAU national tournament and had lunch Wednesday with South Carolina coach Dave Odom, his predecessor at Wake Forest.
Mark Prosser, Skip Prosser's son and a Bucknell assistant coach, received a phone call at about 2:40 p.m. ET this afternoon while watching games at the Milkhouse in Orlando. He left the gym immediately.
Prosser took over at Wake Forest in 2001 after coaching at Xavier for seven seasons, including five straight NCAA Tournament bids. He coached for one season at Loyola (Md.) in 1993-94.
New Orleans Hornets forward David West, who played at Xavier from 1999-2003, expressed his feelings of loss at the news of Prosser's death.
"Coach Prosser gave me a chance at Xavier when I came out of high school, he saw what other coaches didn't and I will forever owe him," West said in a statement. "He never let me slack and taught me to look at the big picture, but to do the little things to improve every aspect of your life. He was a great coach, leader and friend to me and will be deeply missed."
Prosser's career record was 291-146 (.666). Prosser was 126-68 in six seasons at Wake Forest. He also led Wake Forest to the program's first No. 1 national ranking during the 2004-05 season. While there, he coached future NBA stars Chris Paul and Josh Howard, and was the ACC coach of the year in 2003.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Coach Prosser's family and Wake Forest University," North Carolina State coach Sidney Lowe said. "I have gained a lot of respect for Coach Prosser both as a person and as a coach. It is a tremendous loss for our conference and for college basketball."
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he was "absolutely shocked and deeply saddened" by Prosser's death.
"Over these last four seasons there have been several occasions on which he was the first coach to call and offer his heartfelt congratulations," Williams said in a statement. "Skip was someone who will be measured in terms of his actions, not just words. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. The world has lost a great person and great family man."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement that Prosser was "ultimately respected for his coaching ability, his quick humor and, most importantly, for being a quality person. We lost him far too soon."
Last season, Wake Forest was 15-16 and lost to Virginia Tech in the second round of the ACC Tournament. In 2006, the Demon Deacons lost in the first round of the NIT.
In 2005, Wake Forest was a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but lost to West Virginia 111-105 in double overtime. It was Paul's final game at Wake Forest.
"I am devastated to hear the news about Coach Prosser," Paul said in a statement. "His passing is a tremendous loss for the entire Wake Forest community. He played a very significant role in my life and his influence extended well beyond the game of basketball. He taught me many valuable life lessons and was someone I admired with the utmost respect. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Nancy, and the entire Prosser family."
The 2004 team reached the East Region semifinals, losing to St. Joseph's. The year before, Wake lost to Auburn in the second round of the NCAA Tournament after winning the ACC regular-season title.
He was the only coach in NCAA Tournament history to lead three different schools to the tournament in his first season at the school.
South Carolina coach Dave Odom, who coached Wake Forest from 1989-2001, built a friendship with Prosser over the years as the men adjusted to their new jobs. Odom met Prosser soon after the changes in 2001 and urged him to retain Odom's administrative assistant, Lynne Heflin.
Prosser did and not too long ago, Odom said, the Wake Forest coach told his South Carolina colleague it "was the best advice you gave me."
Odom stayed out of things during Prosser's first season at Wake Forest to give the new coach time to adjust.
"I know he appreciated that," Odom said.
And Odom appreciated Prosser's class and kind words. Odom remembered how whenever Prosser talked about his early teams he made sure to point out how the previous coach had done a stellar job.
In time, the two would call each other for advice -- Odom often briefed Prosser on Demon Deacon alumni or personnel -- and comfort.
"If either of us would go through some bad stretches," Odom said, "I'd call him or he'd call me to say, 'Hey, keep your head up. Things will get better.'
"He was such a nice man. He was one of those Northern guys who had a lot of good quips."
Former Virginia coach Pete Gillen, who hired Prosser as an assistant at Xavier, coached against Prosser while at Virginia.
"He was a lot smarter than me at Xavier and he was twice as smart at Wake," said Gillen, who lost five of eight ACC meetings with Prosser. "I felt bad when he beat me. I felt bad when I beat him. It was a lose-lose."
Prosser was born Nov. 3, 1950, in Pittsburgh. A 1972 graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Prosser earned his master's degree in secondary education from West Virginia in 1980 while he was a high school coach. He joined the Xavier staff as an assistant before the 1985-86 season, spending eight years on the bench there.
Prosser is survived by his wife, Nancy, and two sons: Scott and Mark, both in their 20s.
"Skip was a great friend and colleague who always had a ready smile," ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. "I always thought of him as a renaissance man, he had such varied interests in life. He was truly a teacher, never forgetting the fact that he rose out of the high school ranks to become one of college basketball's best coaches and leaders. He represented all that is good in college sports and his loss is a very deep one. We will all miss him immensely. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Nancy, and his sons, Scott and Mark."
Jon Terry, a Bucknell team spokesman, said Mark Prosser had been on the road recruiting but was heading to North Carolina on Thursday afternoon.
"Everybody here has gotten to know Skip real well," Terry said. "Obviously it's tragic news for all of us up here, as well."