Florida State will play its second-round NCAA Tournament game with a heavy heart on Saturday after the death of forward Phil Cofer’s father.
Mike Cofer, a former Detroit Lions linebacker, died Thursday after a long illness. He was 58. Phil Cofer received a phone call with the devastating news moments after the fourth-seeded Seminoles beat Vermont in the first round.
Coach Leonard Hamilton and his players were fulfilling media obligations Thursday when Cofer got the call. PJ Savoy was sitting next to him.
“It was tough,” Savoy said Friday. “Just to hear him cry like that. You never see Phil cry. We didn’t think it would come this fast. We at least thought Phil would be able to go home and see him.”
Cofer sat out the Vermont game with a foot injury, but he attended Friday’s media session and practice. Hamilton said Cofer planned to remain with the team through Saturday’s game against Murray State, but it was unclear whether the senior starter would try to play. A victory would send the Seminoles to the West Regional semifinal next week in Anaheim, California.
“We’re just being there for him as a team,” guard David Nichols said. “I think everybody is going to have that on their mind and use that as motivation — just kind of doing that for our brother who can’t do that for himself. We definitely want to win this one for him.”
Mike Cofer was diagnosed in 2007 with amyloidosis, a rare disease in which proteins become insoluble and disrupt function of the kidneys and other organs. Florida State officials said they knew the elder Cofer’s condition was deteriorating.
Phil Cofer’s teammates took turns consoling him Thursday at the team hotel.
“(Mike Cofer) faced this challenge with a tremendous amount of courage and fight and will,” Hamilton said. “He passed that same level of toughness and will and desire along to his son Phil. Even though Phil has had some injuries and things he had to overcome, he’s like his father. His father never complained about anything. He faced the challenge every day of his life with the heart of lion. And Phil has done nothing but exhibit that same character.”
Associate head coach Stan Jones, in his 17th season with Hamilton at FSU, said the players are helping each other through their grief.
“Life is very fragile,” Jones said. “I remember when I was their age. Unless you’ve lost somebody in life, if you haven’t seen it, it can be very shocking to you. You’ve never seen somebody react to that kind of anguish. It was a different life experience for those guys. We have to help them learn it is life and help them get through it.”