Minutes before announcing his retirement as head volleyball coach at Ohio State, Pete Hanson strode up to make casual conversation with a few young reporters, at least one of which he’d never met.
The three-time national champion and four-time national coach of the year talked with them about their careers and daily happenings, before answering a few off-hand questions they had about retired life.
Thursday could have been all about Hanson, his accomplishments, his tenure, his legacy. Instead, he showed what created that legacy: humility and a genuine appreciation for others.
“From the day I walked onto campus 35, 36 years ago, everyone that I ran into made sure to send the message that ‘you’re an individual, you’re a special person at Ohio State, you’re not just a number,’” Hanson said after thanking the administration, coaches, players and university. “The way they treated me, I tried to make sure our players and the families that we recruited understood that message.”
That message reads loud and clear to the players he’s coached.
Senior setter Sanil Thomas entered Ohio State a walk-on that Hanson gave a shot, becoming first-team All-MIVA this past season.
Thomas stated that Hanson’s ability to put others first and make them feel important allowed him to obtain athletic achievements that once seemed unlikely.
“Coach Hanson embodies what the perfect leader should be,” Thomas said. “You talk about servant leaders, and I think coach Hanson is the epitome of that.”
Thirty-five years is a long time to coach. Those playing for Hanson this season were over a decade younger than his Ohio State tenure.
The driving force keeping him around for such an extended duration was the players filling similar shoes as his.
“A lot of it, for me, was about providing opportunities for guys like me,” Hanson said.
Hanson played collegiate volleyball at Kellogg Community College and Ball State as a non-scholarship athlete. In his early days coaching for the Buckeyes, the team wasn’t able to offer players scholarships.
The attraction was the ability to continue playing volleyball at a varsity level. Hanson wanted to give players that chance.
“That’s literally what drove me to keep going,” Hanson said. “The satisfaction that I saw in those young men’s faces, that, ‘Hey, I put on an Ohio State uniform. I played in St. John Arena. I represented a great university while I was doing my sport.’”
Father time is the great equalizer, though. Hanson’s body is beginning to battle him like a second opponent on the floor.
He said the physical toll became too much to handle, and while he says the games, crowds and contests are still electrifying, Hanson can no longer give the effort he expects his athletes to give back to him.
“It was probably on one of those long bus rides home,” Hanson said. “When you’re sleeping in a seat and you try to get comfortable, and you roll into the parking lot at maybe four in the morning, it certainly isn’t easy for an 18-year-old. But it’s a lot harder for a 62-year-old.”
Thomas believes that reasoning reflects back on the selflessness Hanson instilled as a coach.
“‘I am not doing this because I can’t give it my all anymore,’” Thomas said, paraphrasing Hanson. “He’s basically saying that we deserve better. He wants the best that the players can get, and that’s why he’s taking a seat down. That’s just amazing to me.”
Even in Hanson’s opening statements, he elaborated little about himself. He thanked the players, the staff, the administration and the university. He talked about his favorite stories, the fans, the people that made it possible for him to achieve what he did at Ohio State.
“It’s never about him. It’s always about the athletes, the staff, the people that got him in this direction,” Thomas said. “Takes zero credit for everything that’s happening.”
What does Hanson plan to do now that he’s retired? Work on his golf game, vacation and spend time with his family.
He’s looking forward to spending time exploring the country with his wife, Marianne. As he told the group of young reporters just ahead of the press conference, it’s time to focus on the other things he loves in life.
“I’ve seen a lot of the same places for 35 years on bus trips, and I’d like to see some different places,” Hanson said.