Local News

WFU Coach Skip Prosser Dies of Apparent Heart Attack at 56

Posted July 26, 2007 9:59 p.m. EDT
Updated July 27, 2007 8:26 a.m. EDT

— Skip Prosser, who led Wake Forest to its first basketball No. 1 ranking three seasons ago, died Thursday of an apparent heart attack, the university said. He was 56.

Mike Muse, director of basketball operations, found Prosser slumped on his office couch and unresponsive shortly after Prosser had returned 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."

Dr. William Applegate, the dean of the university medical school, said the events were "typical of a sudden massive heart attack."

"This kind of attack, when it's not witnessed by someone next to the person and CPR is not started within seconds, then the outcome is often not good," Applegate said.

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.

Prosser led the Demon Deacons for six seasons, winning an Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title in 2003 and reaching the NCAA tournament in each of his first four seasons. Wake Forest went to No. 1 for the first time during the 2004-05 season.

Chris Paul, who went on to play in the NBA, was the point guard on that team.

"His passing is a tremendous loss for the entire Wake Forest community," Paul said in a statement. "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."

Before arriving in Winston-Salem, Prosser was head coach at Xavier for seven seasons and at Loyola of Maryland for one.

Prosser had a career record of 291-146 as a head coach, including 126-68 with Wake Forest. While there, he coached future NBA stars Paul and Josh Howard, and was the ACC coach of the year in 2003. He is the only coach to take three schools to the NCAA tournament in his first season at each.

University of Miami coach Frank Haith, a former Wake Forest assistant, said he was "stunned." He had been in Las Vegas with Prosser watching recruits on Wednesday, he said.

"It's just a terrible tragedy," Haith told WRAL. "I'm shocked. I just saw Skip (Wednesday). We sat together in Vegas and watched some games."

Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who replaced Prosser at Xavier in 2001, called him "one of the all-time great people in coaching."

North Carolina State coach Sidney Lowe said it was "a tremendous loss for our conference and for college basketball, while 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."

George Edward "Skip" Prosser was born Nov. 3, 1950, in Pittsburgh. A 1972 graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Prosser earned a 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 averaged nearly 24 wins in his first four seasons at Wake Forest – including a school-record 27 in 2005 – with his up-tempo offense. But after Paul left for the NBA after his sophomore year, Prosser's last two teams struggled to a combined 32-33 record, including 8-24 in the ACC, with youth-laden teams.

But Prosser was excited about recent commitments from several highly regarded recruits, said Pete Gillen, who hired Prosser as an assistant at Xavier and 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 is survived by his wife, Nancy, and sons, Scott and Mark. Mark Prosser is an assistant coach at Bucknell.

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."


AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard in Raleigh and Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.