LUCASVILLE — For Norm Persin, it indeed was a short-lived retirement.
That’s because Persin, the legendary Ohio high school boys basketball coach of 43 years, is already right back to being just that.
On Thursday night, Persin was officially hired by the Valley Local Schools Board of Education as the Indians’ next boys basketball head coach — and thus returns to coaching after a retirement of less than three months.
He takes over the Indians’ program for two-year mentor Eric Horton, who was informed in late March that his supplemental coaching contract would be non-renewed.
Persin — in a telephone interview on Friday with The Portsmouth Daily Times — admitted that while Valley officials approached him about the coaching position, he himself had become “bored to death” because of Ohio’s ‘Stay-At-Home’ order associated with the coronavirus threat.
He said he has been “sitting at home watching TV” as he awaits upcoming surgery for a torn meniscus on his knee.
“A lot of things went into this. I was set on retirement. I really was. But Valley called me and approached me about the job. They were persistent and encouraging about it. The more I thought about it, it was a tremendous situation, and I’ve been bored just sitting here with this whole virus thing,” said Persin, on Friday. “This late in my life, I can’t make a bad decision. It needs to be a good decision. If I thought this was a bad decision, I wouldn’t be making it.”
Speaking of decisions, he initially made up his mind about retirement —or so it seemed.
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 will always be remembered for the Oaks capturing the 2009 Division IV state championship — and ranks third all-time on the state’s boys basketball coaching career wins list with 766, including 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.
At the time, it appeared to be the end — Persin re-stated in mid-March— 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) plus 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.
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 (Southern Ohio Conference) 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.
Persin was a Social Studies instructor in the Oak Hill Union Local School District, and was also the district’s athletic director for those 14 years.
He will remain retired from teaching, as longtime Valley High School head football coach Darren Crabtree remains as the Indians’ athletic director.
In addition to his good friend Crabtree as his AD, he was recommended for the position by Valley Local Schools Superintendent Scott Rolfe —the former Indians’ coach who coached against Persin and Oak Hill.
Persin was also Chesapeake’s athletic director for 17 years, but said that only coaching clears his schedule — and his mind.
In fact, he already has three trips scheduled this fall for University of Notre Dame football games.
He is 69 years of age, won the state championship when he was 58, and turns 70 in September.
“I’ve got plans for Notre Dame games and I will keep those. But by not teaching and only coaching this time, it will be better for me not only for time but better on my mind. I won’t have my mind on so many things. It’s not that way when you are coaching and teaching and doing your athletic director duties,” said Persin. “This will be refreshing for me to not have to teach or be AD. I am retired from teaching. I only HAVE to be there for basketball. A lot of Valley’s kids play football or soccer in the fall. I can and will help Darren (Crabtree) if he needs me, but this will be something new.”
He also has a new group of players to develop.
He said he stayed through last season, in part, because Oak Hill had seven seniors —and was quite close to them.
Many pundits predicted Persin would ride off into the sunset following the state championship, but he remained at Oak Hill another decade — and reached career victories 600 and 700 along the way.
“You still have to do what’s best for you as a coach. I’ve taken it one year at a time for several years now. I had a great relationship with those seniors at Oak Hill last year. They were great kids from super families and I wanted to stay another year for them,” he said. “Once the season was over, I had no intentions (to returning to coaching for 2020-21 season). But Valley started calling and kept calling and coming at me. We talked and now we’re at this point. Whether it’s for two, three or four years, this is a good situation for me.”
The Indians only graduated two seniors, and were heavy with freshmen and sophomores on the roster.
Valley started slow last season after upsetting Eastern Brown in the sectional championship the year before, but did play better basketball before the Division IV tournament tipped off.
Horton had led the Indians to records of 9-16 and 9-15 in his two campaigns.
“They were young last year. But if you’re young, you grow into the system. The best thing sometimes is freshmen become sophomores and sophomores become juniors. Their incoming freshmen were very competitive at the lower levels, from what I followed of them at Oak Hill,” said Persin, of Valley. “It’s going to take some time and it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. Hopefully, these kids accept our system and continue to develop and improve.”
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.
Conversely at Chesapeake, “we ran up-and-down the floor like crazy and pressed in-your-face man-to-man almost the entire game,” he said.
“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, during an interview in March with The Portsmouth Daily Times. “Every drill that we do in practice has a purpose. I can’t do a drill if it’s not going to be part of our defense or offense.”
This summer, though, could be a challenge for Persin to implement his philosophies.
With the Ohio High School Athletic Association under a mandatory no-contact period thru May 31, and with an Ohio Department of Health order which has closed the state’s schools facilities through June 30, he may only have the month of July with his new players —prior to fall sports season.
However, the OHSAA could ultimately extend its dead period until Aug. 1.
“That’s a difficult situation, but being a new coach with new players makes it even tougher. Summer is a very important time with players as far as getting to know them and what they can do. They know me, but I don’t know them yet. And a lot of the primary athletes at Valley play football or soccer. I won’t have them in the fall unless it is an open gym on say Saturdays, ” said Persin. “We don’t know yet, but I may only have them for two weeks the entire summer this year.”
But when Persin can conduct organized workouts, expect him to get the most out of his Indians — just like he did out of his Oaks and Panthers prior to now.
As for his coaching retirement, it will now wait until after he officially turns 70.
“I am excited about it because I believe it is a tremendous situation,” he said. “Valley was persistent about it, and hopefully for however long it lasts we will make it work.”
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