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Questions still surround Coger's death: Medical examiner says heart condition was cause of death

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Brad Underwood and Mike Holder

Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood (left) and Athletic Director Mike Holder (right) at the news conference discussing Tyrek Coger's death.

Oklahoma State officials don’t have many answers to the questions regarding the death of men’s basketball player Tyrek Coger after team workouts Thursday evening.

Friday morning, OSU held a news conference led by Director of Communications Gary Shutt, Athletic Director Mike Holder and basketball coach Brad Underwood.

Shutt began the conference by announcing the events surrounding Coger’s death. The team, which is allowed eight hours a week for workouts according to the NCAA, two hours for practice and six for strength and conditioning, was running steps at Boone Pickens Stadium for a 40–minute workout Thursday.

All but one player attended the workout. 

Shutt said Coger did not appear to be struggling during the workout. He said Coger sat down after the workout and members of the team and training staff saw he was having issues.

The Stillwater Fire Department was notified at 5:04 p.m. and arrived at the stadium at 5:08. Lifenet arrived at the stadium at 5:11 and Coger arrived at Stillwater Medical Center 30 minutes later.

Coger was pronounced dead at 6:23 p.m.

Shutt was unable to answer whether a medical condition might have attributed to the cause of death.

“We go through a thorough series of tests which includes blood work, complete family history and any concerns that would prevent an athlete from going through these workouts,” Shutt said. “All of that was followed in this case.”

Shutt also said any questions about a heart condition, which is common in cases like Coger’s, were answered in the medical test when Coger arrived on campus.

However, later Friday afternoon, KFOR first reported the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner's Office said Coger died from a heart problem. The Medical Examiner said he had an enlarged heart. This was later confirmed by the O'Colly.

Underwood was in Las Vegas on a recruiting trip Thursday when he got the news. Throughout his 30 years as a coach, Underwood said he’s always done outside workouts and has never encountered a tragedy similar to Coger’s death.

After he got the call, Underwood notified Coger’s family before getting on a plane back to Stillwater.

“There’s no worse feeling than getting a call about one of your players that is like this,” Underwood said. “… That young man was fired up to be a Cowboy. He said that so often on his visit, it made it just right.

"This is the hardest couple of days I’ve ever experienced in my coaching life. You say goodbye to players when they graduate and that’s one thing.  Making that phone call to a mother -- there’s no words.”

Coger, a transfer from Cape Fear Community College, had been on campus for 17 days and yet Underwood said all the players loved him already.

Underwood said he had complete faith in the training staff on hand during the workouts. Holder was adamant and said he didn’t have any answers on the circumstances surrounding the death but would be looking into it in the future.

Holder said he couldn’t adequately address the questions about why the team practiced in the heat. The only answer he had regarding the workout conditions was that the team usually practiced outside to condition themselves and “push the envelope.”

Holder was also asked about the athletic department’s policy regarding workout conditions and said he didn't have a definite answer, stating it was more of a policy stemming from the strength and conditioning program.

Holder also did not have much to say regarding the certifications of trainers on staff who oversaw the workouts. Shutt said he believes that all the staff members are certified to deal with incidents such as Coger’s.

The two staff members overseeing the workouts were strength and conditioning coach Jake Manzelmann and athletic trainer Steve Condon

“Our staff goes through those tests and certifications,” Shutt said. “They wouldn’t be out there if they weren’t certified.”

Although the official autopsy report on Coger will begin Friday, it won’t be released for a couple of weeks, Shutt said. Until then, Holder said the staff will look into what happened as well as ways to prevent incidents such as this in the future. At the moment, the university is still searching for answers.

“This young man came in and blessed us with his talents, his hopes, his dreams and aspirations,” Holder said. “Our job was to work with him, coach him, cajole him and do everything in our power to help these dreams come true and send him off into the world. He could have been a husband, a father. It’s not going to happen for Tyrek.

“Dreams are supposed to begin here, they’re not supposed to end. Unfortunately in this case, there’s not a happy ending.”