One of life’s harsh truths is that news travels fast and bad news travels even faster. Still, the reminders of that are not fun to deal with.
Such was the case last night and into this morning, when a mix of communities —- University of Virginia athletics, college lacrosse, ACC football and sports information directors, as well sportswriters who happen to have a connection with any of those subjects —- intersected with a flurry of calls, e-mails and texts about a simply dreadful subject.
Longtime Virginia lacrosse SID Michael Colley died of an apparent heart attack while on vacation Saturday at age 46.
Virginia has the nuts and bolts here, and it certainly covers quite a bit. He was a proud lifelong resident of Charlottesville, and he possessed both a far-reaching perspective and a dry-as-the-Sahara sense of humor that served him well in his work.
Colley was, to be sure, a big-time lacrosse guy, and that’s where our paths crossed more often than not over the last seven years. It was never much of a secret how much he enjoyed the sport, having learned so much from the late Doyle Smith (a legend in his own right). And it was equally clear he savored his behind-the-scenes role in looking out for the players and coaches he worked with.
That part of the job suited Colley just fine, especially when it came to lacrosse. There was moderate media attention, but for the most part the folks who covered Dom Starsia‘s team had substantial interest in the sport and weren’t just there simply because they had to be.
Of course, that didn’t mean there were never any adventures with Colley around.
He was (and I write this with a ton of respect intended) endearingly ornery, a blunt and plainspoken fellow with a bit of a southern drawl who did not suffer fools well. There was something comforting about his consistent day-in, day-out approach, which occasionally gave way to a sort of humorous irascibility that suited the man perfectly.
Put together, it led to some hilarious exchanges whenever someone’s lack of common sense happened to get in the way of the proceedings of the day.
No one was entirely immune from the occasional skewering, as I rediscovered on occasion —- notably the day after the Kansas-Memphis basketball title game a little more than 15 months ago.
Typically, I’ll cover the Final Four, then get one of the first flights out of town that I can the ensuing Tuesday, get home, write a follow story about the national champion, take a nap, make a call for a lacrosse story for later in the week and attend a spring football practice in College Park —- not necessarily in that order.
I called Colley around 4:30 or so that afternoon, which is fairly late in the week for a request for a phone interview for a couple players. Typically, Colley liked to have those set up as early as possible for planning purposes, which was understandable (and a lesson emphatically learned while doing my first Virginia lacrosse story in 2003).
So I got through to him and explained that I’d been in San Antonio until that morning (without stating the obvious, which was that lacrosse was not anywhere near the front of my mind on the day of the basketball title game).
“Well they’ve got phones down there, too, don’t they?” he grumbled.
To which I had to concede that, yes, Alexander Graham Bell‘s lasting influence extends into Texas and it wouldn’t have been hard to punch a few numbers into a cell phone a day earlier.
But the saying about actions being louder than words very much applied to Colley. In seven lacrosse seasons, there was never a time a request was turned down, and his knowledge of the history of one of the nation’s finest programs was nothing short of invaluable.
Ultimately, he was a man who loved what he did for a living, something to which everyone who ever had that experience can appreciate. Those who never had that experience can probably appreciate it a little bit more.
I last saw Colley a little more than a month ago when I was in town to work on stories on Virginia’s baseball team and new basketball coach Tony Bennett. He set up a quick stop into Starsia’s office on short notice, which was much appreciated.
Eventually, I wound back to JPJ to try to wait out driving right into a traffic disaster in the D.C. area, and just before leaving I ducked back into the SID office in the arena to thank him for his help.
He was trying to crank out part of the Cavaliers’ football media guide, pretty much the last major thing on his plate for a few months. On my way out, I mentioned it was only another seven weeks until the ACC football kickoff event down in Greensboro.
“I could have done without that reminder,” Colley said wryly.
“I’ll see you down the road,” I replied, certain those seven weeks would fly by.
Instead, the swift-moving news means that won’t be the case, and a lot of folks —- at Virginia, in lacrosse, and in the SID and sportswriting ranks —- are hurting because of it.
Count me among them.
—- Patrick Stevens