At a press conference to announce the firing of former men’s basketball head coach Thad Matta on June 2, Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith said that all three assistant coaches – Chris Jent, Greg Paulus and Dave Dickerson – were on staff and would still be doing their jobs unless they found new opportunities.
Ten days later, the Buckeyes announced that Butler’s three assistant coaches – Terry Johnson, Ryan Pedon and Mike Schrage – would be joining their recently-departed boss, Ohio State men’s basketball head coach Chris Holtmann, in Columbus.
None of the three assistants have spent more than three years coaching with Holtmann, but each brings at least nine seasons of experience coaching at the collegiate level to Ohio State.
Pedon, a native of Columbus, grew up a 10-15 minute drive from Ohio State’s campus. Since then, Pedon said, he had become less connected to the area due to his professional life taking him out of the city. But since he grew up in the shadows of Ohio State, Pedon said his familiarity remains strong.
The new Buckeyes assistant said no Ohio State coach had defined regions in which to recruit, but he noted that since he has roots in Ohio, he believes it is ultimately important to keep local prospects in the state.
“I think you have to look at when this program was at its best, different time periods throughout the past 30, 40, 50 years, why was it? And the common denominator is that kids from this state have been Buckeyes,” Pedon said.
Pedon, who played college basketball at the College of Wooster, began his coaching career as an assistant at Miami (Ohio) in 2005. He stayed until 2010, then headed north to be an assistant coach and work as the recruiting coordinator at Toledo. After winning just four games in Pedon’s first season, the Rockets took off in year two, winning 19 games.
After his third year in Toledo, the charismatic Pedon departed for Illinois, where he was assistant to the head coach. Then in 2015, Pedon was hired by Holtmann as an assistant coach at Butler where he spent the past two years.
When he learned of Ohio State’s interest in Holtmann, he had just one thought swimming through his mind.
“I hope he takes the damn job. I hope he takes the job because it’s a hell of a job, to be honest with you,” Pedon said.
Since he decided to join Holtmann in Columbus, Pedon hasn’t focused on any long-term goals. He said he’s just focused on the process and improving each day.
“We’re not necessarily focused on the prize that awaits us two weeks from now or three weeks from now or five months from now, we’re more focused on the day-to-day,” Pedon said. “And we just feel like if you stack enough good days upon each other over and over and over and over, you do the right thing over and over and over and over, we believe great things will happen.”
He learned that philosophy from three-time Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Walsh’s book, ‘The Score Takes Care of Itself,’ which former Butler coach Brad Stevens introduced to him.
For the first time in over a decade, Johnson was forced to picked his family up and moved out of Indiana.
Johnson also worked at Butler as director of basketball operations from 2004-2006. He left to continue his coaching career as an assistant coach at Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he spent one season before returning to Butler.
The former longest-tenured member of Butler’s coaching staff began his stint as an assistant in Indianapolis, in 2007 when now-Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens hired him. After Stevens left for the NBA in 2013, Johnson remained on the staff when Brandon Miller was hired as the replacement and stayed when Holtmann replaced Miller a year later.
“My time at Butler was great. Couldn’t nothing replace those memories,” Johnson said Thursday while meeting with the media for the first time since his hiring. “I was there, like you said, for a decade. My wife is a Butler graduate. I lost my last high school game at Butler. The morning of my wedding, I was hooping at Butler. My twins took my first few steps on Hinkle (Fieldhouse). There’s so much there at Hinkle that nothing could replace that.”
But when Holtmann presented Johnson with the opportunity to coach at Ohio State, the longtime Butler assistant knew the moment had come to leave.
“The opportunity just presented itself to me,” Johnson said. “I really never know what’s in store for me, but some feeling inside of me was like, ‘it was time.’ Wherever it came from, I believe in my faith, and I just kind of followed it.”
Johnson served as the defensive coordinator at Butler, but said he and the staff don’t have defined coaching role yet. Before the staff looks toward the fall, it will be working tirelessly on the recruiting trails, a point Johnson reiterated constantly.
Some coaches are lucky enough to learn their craft from a living legend. Schrage worked with a pair: Indiana’s Bob Knight and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who he called two of the best, if not the best.
Schrage spent four seasons – from 1994-98 – working as a student manager for the Hoosiers, then was Duke’s academic and recruiting coordinator from 1999-2002 and director of basketball operations from 2002-08.
“I learned a lot of basketball from coach Knight. For that to be my foundation, who I thought was an encyclopedia of X and Os and basketball, I took in so much,” Schrage said. “Then nine years of (Krzyzewski), you learn so much about basketball. But communication with players, teambuilding, he is so good along those lines.”
Though it’s almost unfair to level this type of comparison on a Holtmann who was leading Gardner-Webb just four years ago, Schrage believes Holtmann compares favorably to Krzyzewski.
“His ability to communicate, connect with guys remind me of (Krzyzewski). It reminds me of coach K who I worked for at Duke,” said Schrage, who mentioned he would’ve followed Holtmann anywhere.
Schrage continued, praising Holtmann’s ability to get every player, from star to walk-on, to buy into the team vision.