Coles attended Wheeling High School where he was named the state high school basketball player of the year by the Morgantown Touchdown Club. As a freshman at WVU, Rick tied with frosh teammate Jerome Anderson in the assist department with 45. He also finished in a three-way tie as the second leading scorer with a 14.0 average. Coles also led the freshman team in free throws made, attempted and percentage—68-of-95 for a 71.6 percentage. It was believed that he would score in a game because of his ability to draw the foul and then take advantage of the situation. He paced the frosh quintet in wins over Wesley Junior College, Penn State and Pitt as the leading scorer.

Going into his sophomore year, Coles was considered the quickest man on the squad and one of the top guard candidates. However, Coles was hampered considerably by a broken leg in preseason practice and did not fully recover. The injury deprived him of giving the team his best two attributes, quickness and speed. Despite the handicap, Coles participated in 22 games and started three times. He finished as the number seven man in total minutes played, just one minute behind Mark Catlett. He finished the season with a 3.0 scoring average while grabbing 44 rebounds and was credited with 29 assists. Returning for his junior year, the coaching staff was counting on his quickness. They considered Rick to be most effective in the pressing game and had a "nose" for the ball.