OAK HILL — Simply put, for 43 years, Norm Persin was the Frank Sinatra of Ohio high school boys basketball coaches.
For so long, and with so much success, Persin —who recently retired as Oak Hill’s bench boss — did it all his way.
And bear witness, even if you already have for many many years, you —and the entire Buckeye State — will likely never see this kind of longevity, combined with this level of winning, ever again.
Persin, following 46 years of coaching including the last 43 as a head coach and his final 14 in his second stint at Oak Hill, officially announced in January that the 2019-20 season would be his last.
He concludes his career, which will always be remembered for the Oaks capturing the 2009 Division IV state championship — ranked third all-time on the state’s boys basketball coaching career wins list with 766 (341 at Oak Hill).
Perhaps more amazingly, and you can do the math, but he only has 214 losses over those 43 years.
For those into counting, that’s an all-time winning percentage of 78-percent — which is also third in Ohio high school history.
He trails only Richard Kortokrax of Kalida, whom he defeated 48-43 in double overtime in that state championship bout, and Joe Petrocelli of Kettering Alter in all-time wins.
Kortokrax, who also coached at Fort Jennings and Ottoville, and Petrocelli won 890 and 831 games respectively.
Persin had been the winningest active coach in the state —up until the Oaks’ final game on Feb. 22.
It was the end — Persin re-stated — of an illustrious and incredible Hall of Fame career, as he has already been inducted into two Ohio basketball Halls of Fame (Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association in 2015 and Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016), and four others (Ohio Athletic Directors Hall of Fame, Warren Harding High School of Fame, Chesapeake High School Hall of Fame and Warren Ohio Distinguished Hall of Fame).
Only six high school coaches are members of the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame, as he also won the OHSBCA’s prestigious Paul Walker Award in 2002 — which is the highest award from the association for a current head coach.
Persin, who gained the nickname ‘Stormin Norman’ for his old-school style and bluntness and animated shear scolding of players for on-court lack of execution, had the support of numerous administrators —which he credits his success to.
“When you look into coaching, you have to know exactly how you want to go about it. I’ve always said that I want to coach my way. I wasn’t going to let anybody interfere with saying that ‘you have to do it this way or you have to do that way’. Some people will say ‘he is very hard on the players’. That’s not the case. I am demanding on the players. But I demand more out of myself than I demand out of my players. I’ve always said I’ve been my biggest critic,” said Persin. “Pat Riley (former NBA head coach) said one time that the losses hurt more than the wins feel good. Fortunately for me, I’ve haven’t had a whole lot of losses. I’ve had tremendous success only because I’ve had tremendous backing by my administration, no matter where I was at. My administrators were always there for me. You don’t get the backing by administration on coaches like you used to, and that’s why coaches are only going to be in the game for 10 to 12 years max and it’s time for them to get out.”
In an in-depth interview on Tuesday, Persin told The Portsmouth Daily Times about his decision to step away — at this particular point in time.
He is 69 years of age, won the state championship when he was 58, and turns 70 in September.
“Everybody you talk to says you (Persin) will be back. I talked to somebody and he said ‘I guarantee you will be back in June’. I said I won’t. This is why I did it when I announced it in January,” he said. “Usually at the end of the year, I sit back and wait a month and see how I feel. Then I’ll say I am coming back. I felt this is the time I wanted to do it (retire) because I am going to be 70, I want to start doing other things on my own, and spend more time with my grand-kids because they are all involved in athletics. It’s going to be difficult because it’s in my blood. Coaching basketball is all I’ve ever done. I do it 12 months out of the year. I love the competitiveness, I love taking a kid and they become better, I love taking a team that becomes better. I’m going to miss that, but somewhere along the line, you have to move on and call it quits. They all do. It’s going to be tough on me, but I’m in good enough health and spirits right now I can enjoy other things.”
Prior to his second stint at Oak Hill, he coached the Oaks for six years before leaving for Wilmington for two —then the next 21 at Chesapeake, as the court there was named “Norm Persin Court” one year before his return to the Oaks.
He was seven times selected state Coach of the Year, won two Associated Press Division III statewide poll championships at Chesapeake, and accumulated a 76-game home winning streak and 48-game regular-season winning streak with the Panthers — plus 16 Ohio Valley Conference championships in his 21 years there including an astounding 11 consecutive.
That ranks second all-time in consecutive league championships in state history, as Persin —combining his first stint at Oak Hill when the Oaks were members of the OVC —won 19 OVC titles.
He also guided the Oaks to four outright SOC II championships (2009, 2010, 2017 and 2018), and had no fewer than 14 victories in any one season of his second 14 years at Oak Hill.
His Oaks advanced to the district championship bout six times (2007, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2017 and 2018) and the regional tournament five times (all except 2017) —with two of those resulting in runner-up finishes in addition to the 2009 Division IV title.
“A lot of fond memories, man,” said the coach. “And a lot of wins.”
And, a lot of getting the most out of his players.
“There were many teams that we had in which we weren’t the best team in the league and our talent wasn’t all that great. But our Chesapeake and Oak Hill teams were always going to play hard, they are always going to max out their abilities. And the kids knew how to win and wanted to win,” he said. “If we didn’t win the league (Ohio Valley Conference or Southern Ohio Conference Division II) we were always in the league race right down to the very end. That’s because they believe in what you are teaching them, and that makes it very special.”
Persin, who still lived in Oak Hill while coaching at Chesapeake, said his two assistants for the past 14 seasons — Jim Slone and Michael Hale — “brought me back”.
Persin coached Slone in his first stint at Oak Hill, then left for Wilmington before Hale began playing, although he did coach Hale’s brother Doug, who is the longtime and highly-successful Lady Oaks’ head coach and the OHHS boys head coach before that.
Fast forward to 2006, the Oaks’ program had won just one game in the 2004-05 campaign, and Persin —although he “had no anticipation of leaving Chesapeake” —said the one-hour one-way daily commute to Chesapeake along curvy and cell service-deprived Ohio Route 93 “was working on me quite hard”.
“That drive I was doing to Chesapeake was getting to me as I was getting a little older. But Jimmy (Slone) and Michael (Hale) approached me about coming back to Oak Hill because their sons (Jesse Slone and Weston Hale) were coming up and Mitchell (Hale) at a later date. We sat and we talked and I made the decision to come back,” he said. “And the decision was great. Either way, if I stayed at Chesapeake or came back to Oak Hill, it was going to be a great decision. But coming back here, it was refreshing to a certain point. You start all over again, you take a program that really struggled before I got here, and the kids basically just turned it around. They wanted to win, and once they got a feeling of what winning was about, it stuck with them and the program took off.”
Did it ever.
The Oaks, after a 10-10 regular season in 2006-07, amassed an amazing tournament run —and advanced to the regionals for the first time in school and Jackson County boys basketball history.
“It was a tough 10 wins that we got that year, then we just got hot in the tournament,” said Persin. “We made a run and it was very gratifying, not only for the players but the entire community. The boys basketball program was just struggling at that time.”
The next season’s squad competed in Division IV, and returned to the regional round, where it upset top-ranked Harvest Prep in the semifinals inside the Fairgrounds Coliseum in Columbus.
“The Harvest Prep win was one of our greatest wins ever,” said Persin. “I had scouted them four or five times. They were phenomenal, were ranked number-one in the state, but I can remember the last time I scouted them I thought to myself we had a shot. We had to do things our way, but we did. We lost to Worthington Christian in the regional final, but I remember our kids saying that day that we got a taste of it. They were that far away from getting to the state tournament. Our kids said the next year (2009) we would be in Columbus, and we were.”
The Oaks not only made it three straight district crowns in 2009, but also brought home the regional championship trophy after defeating Newark Catholic.
Persin, after 32 years, had finally reached the coveted state tournament —and WON it on his first AND only attempt.
The coach said he always fondly looks back upon that state championship.
“It will never go away. People just don’t understand how difficult it is to win a state championship. I knocked on the door a lot of times to get there. Our players still say that Newark Catholic was the best team we played when we beat them in the regionals,” said Persin. “And it’s just so difficult where we are located, and then you run into the private schools at the regional and state level. You can do it, but you have to be lucky. Be lucky to win and catch a couple of breaks and we did.”
Since then, the Oaks under Persin have remained as one of the top programs in all of Southeastern Ohio.
Heath McKinniss has served as an assistant to Persin for the past seven seasons, and is expected to be named the new Oak Hill head coach in the near future.
“From day one, Norm has always treated me as an equal, and I’ll always be grateful for that. His consistency in developing players and the players playing in a system that creates consistent winning is the thing that you see the most,” said McKinniss. “His patience, simplicity and consistency in teaching the basics of the game are without question the reason his success has been sustained over multiple decades. The state of Ohio will never again see someone with the success Norm Persin has had.”
Persin’s teams at Oak Hill won with lockdown man-to-man defense that often limited opponents to under 40 points, and executed his open-post four-corners offense to near perfection with wide-open layups or excellent attempts from three-point range.
“Our kids, all the way up the system, knew what we wanted. The program has got to be a system you have to be confident with. Our kids always improved from year-to-year. If they stick in it and if they work through the system, they are going to get better. It takes a lot of effort and determination to do the things we ask them to do,” he said. “Basketball is not a four or five-month game. It is 12 months, because there is so much skill involved. We’ve always tried to tell our kids that you either have to be a great athlete or a good basketball player. Sometimes we don’t have great athletes, but we have some kids that put work in for skill and they become better players. I think that’s the way it has to be. We’ve had a lot of success because of that. We’ve had good players, and it’s never an easy ride anywhere you go. The tournament trail is always tough and trying to win the Southern Ohio Conference is always tough.”
In addition to his coaching at Chesapeake and Oak Hill, Persin has also coached in several of the most elite events throughout the country, including the 2007 Jordan Brand All-American Classic in Madison Square Garden in New York City; the 2010 McDonald’s All-American Game in Value City Arena in Columbus; and the first-ever Team Ohio Elite Rising Juniors to an undefeated National Federation Tournament championship in Indianapolis in July 2013.
Throughout the midwest, in addition to serving for 20 years on the State Association of Basketball Coaches, he has coached in the OHSBCA North-South All-Star Game, the four-state Wendy’s Classic, the Ohio-West Virginia Game in which he helped coordinate for four years and the Ohio-Kentucky All-Star Classic in which he remains an organizer.
He has also worked several Elite Nike Camps, including the LeBron James Skills Academy for six years, the Nike All-American Camp for 10 years, the Nike Hoop Jamboree for seven years, and the Nike Position Skill Academy for College Players for two years.
Persin has been a Commissioner for the Michael Jordan Flight School in Santa Barbara, Calif., and a co-director of the LeBron James Kings Academy.
As a result, he got to know Jordan, James and the late Kobe Bryant —three of the greatest NBA superstars of all-time — quite well.
One of his highest honors, if not THE highest honor, was him being named the 2009 National Federation of State High School Associations Coach of the Year.
“When you get National Coach of the Year, you just say ‘Wow’, because that just doesn’t come around,” said Persin, with a smile. “You are talking about 50 states and one coach. It’s not just because you win a state championship or how many wins that you have. It’s about what you have done for the game of basketball. Working camps, being on certain committees, doing the things that help promote the game. Working to making the game of basketball better for the kids. I was very fortunate to be able to do those things for so many years.”
But what Persin did best, for four-and-a-half decades, was win high school boys basketball games in the state of Ohio — his way.
“It’s been a great run at Chesapeake and it’s been a great run here (Oak Hill),” he said. “I was very fortunate we were able to adjust to the personnel and athletes that we had and they bought into the system.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved