‘The Storm’ that was known as Norm: Hall of Fame basketball coach Norm Persin calling it a career

Published 11:21 pm Friday, March 20, 2020

The many faces of Hall of Fame boys’ basketball coach Norm Persin have been a familiar site to local fans for the past 43 seasons. Persin has decided to retire with a record of 766-214, the third most wins in Ohio high school history and the highest winning percentage of all-time. (Kent Sanborn/Southern Ohio Sports Photos)

Jim Walker

OAK HILL — “The Storm” has subsided.
Norm Persin, the coach known as Stormin’ Norman who unleashed his own kind of lightning and thunder with players and coaches when necessary, is calling it quits after 43 seasons.
And what a storm it has been.
The wins came pouring down during his career. In fact, it was a flood of victories that was the coaching version of the 1937 flood.
Persin’s coaching record is a staggering 766 wins and just 214 losses which ranks third all-time among Ohio coaches and his .786 winning percentage is the best. Only Richard Kortokraz (890-372) and Joe Petrocelli (831-305) have more wins.
“What I want to do right now is take some time off. I’ve got to understand how much I’ll miss it. I just want to take some time off. Right now, I’ve got mixed emotions, but for now it’s my time,” he said.
“I know what I want to do. I want some personal. (My grandson) is almost seven years old and just being able to do the things I want to do with no distractions. Just get up in the morning and have a free day. No stress. No thinking about basketball. Right now, I’m happy with my decision and that’s what I’ve got to go with.
“You’ve got to go with your heart and what you’re thinking of. It’s always been the situation with all these years that at the end of the year I think that this is the year. And then I’d take a month off or two months and I’d still want to come back. You get away from it and relax and then you say I still miss it. That’s why I did it in January to get it off my chest. It gives Oak Hill the chance to get their next head coach in with my assistant Heath McKinnis and we go from there.”
Persin, 69, began his head coaching career at Oak Hill which was a member of the Ohio Valley Conference at the time. Persin won three league titles in six seasons.
He then took the head coaching job at Wilmington for two seasons where he coached guard Greg Nard who went on to play at Maryland.
He returned to the OVC as the head coach of the Chesapeake Panthers and the storm of victories reached near hurricane proportions.
At Chesapeake, Persin won 16 OVC titles in 21 seasons including a record 11 straight. His teams compiled a 76-game home winning streak and a 46-game regular season winning streak.
The Panthers were voted Associated Press poll champions in back-to-back seasons. Persin said the winning wasn’t easy. In fact, he thought it was the toughest period of opposing talent in his career.
“The OVC was pretty good. I’m not taking anything away from it now. Back then, Rock Hill was loaded. They had (Dave) Hopper and (Rick) Scarberry, Fairland was good, Ceredo-Kenova was good and had (Kevin) Wells, South Point had athletes like (William) Page and (Hank) Fletcher. Coal Grove would always come up with something,” said Persin.
With the lake-full of wins, there has been a storm of awards that have come Persin’s way including the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches’ Hall of Fame, the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame and the 2009 National Coach of the Year award.
Persin said there were a lot of coaches who influenced him during his developmental years. There first was his high school coach Jack Gysegem at Warren Harding which had an enrollment of more than 2,0500 students. Persin’s graduating class was 700.
“To this day, I stay in touch with (Gysegem). He’s getting close to 90. He taught me how to deal with players. I remember he called me in his office at the end of my sophomore year and said, ‘Look, I don’t think this is going to work with you. If you don’t get a lot better, you won’t be on the team next year.’ That drove me,” said Persin.
There were no open gyms at that time and players would just play on the playgrounds and travel around to other schools. Persin began to get better to the point Gysegem said, “Your game has improved so much.”
Persin became a starter as a junior and he said “that made an impression on me.”
“I had to learn from coaches who told me don’t do a drill that looks good. I’m not doing a drill that’s not good for my team. Tom Izzo can do a drill that looks good, but I don’t have his type of kids. When I won the state championship, I ran a zone because I had the personnel to run zone. Don’t adjust your game to something that works for somebody else but not for you.”
Persin went on to play at Rio Grande where he had Art Lanham as the head coach and Bob Leith was the junior varsity coach. He was an assistant coach at Gallipolis under Jim Osborne before getting the head coaching job at Oak Hill.
“I got to coach at Rio Grande with Art Lanham and I was around Bob Leith and then I got to coach under Jim Osborne for two years. That was huge. (Osborne) taught me a lot about organization,” said Persin.
“Over the years, I’ve learned to adjust. At Chesapeake, I had athletes who could get up in you and play defense. At Oak Hill, I didn’t have those type of athletes. But one thing my teams always did was play defense.”
Leith said he saw the great qualities of Persin and went to Lanham and asked him to keep Persin on as a student assistant. The move paid off in basketball and baseball.
“When he came down (to Rio Grande), I didn’t know him or what kind of player he would be. His girlfriend came with him from Warren and helped him move in. I had a Collie dog at the time and she liked the dog and she’d want to come over and see the dog. He’d come over and he was kind of shy believe or not,” said Leith.
“He was passionate about basketball. He was like a coach on the floor. We brought back the jayvee team that year and we played prison (teams) and small colleges and he really knew what to do. He could really get the boys up. He was my most valuable player, leading scorer and captain and things like that.”
Leith said Persin liked history and became a good history teacher. Leith went to Lanham and asked him to make Persin a student assistant coach.
“Strangely enough, coach Lanham had back surgery and I had the jayvee team and my own things to do and places to go, and Norm coached them and they won games. I think they only lost one game. (Lanham) came back in a wheelchair. Norm did such a great job and he became well-known. The players liked him, and he became known throughout the student body. They hired Norm as the baseball coach and he went on to win the league. He had some good players, but he studied the game.”
The crowning achievement for Persin came in 2009 when Oak Hill won the Division 4 state championship.
“It’s got to be that. It was such a struggle to get there in the first place. How many teams in Southeast Ohio have won a state championship. Everyone thinks it’s so easy. Look at who you run into,” said Persin.
‘Winning a state championship is remarkable. There’s not that many teams in Southeast Ohio who have got to the state (tournament).”
Persin said another big moment was his first year back at Oak Hill when they won only three games the previous year. The Oaks went 10-10 and got to the regional tournament with the same group of players.
“That’s going to stick out. We’re going to be good down the road. We saw we could win,” said Persin. “I had a meeting with the kids and said ‘your days of losing are over.’”
Before that season, Persin had players out doing conditioning work on the track when it started to rain. The players thought Persin would cut the workout short, especially when he began to walk away.
But the players found out quickly there was a new sheriff in time.
Instead of calling off the conditioning, he got an umbrella from his car and returned to the track. The players knew that they were going to continue running and later told him, “We knew then that things had changed in Oak Hill. This guy is serious.”
Persin said he has always had a good relationship with former Ironton basketball coach Phil Rice and athletic director Mike Burcham. In fact, after guiding Oak Hill to the state championship, Persin said he got a surprise phone call about four or five days later from Burcham.
“(Burcham) said, ‘Unbelievable. You don’t understand what you’ve done. You had to play against those parochial schools and go through them. You don’t understand what you’ve done.’ That meant a lot to me. Those guys at Ironton always meant a lot to me. Rice was a great coach and a good friend,” said Persin.
While fans and players saw the fiery, intense and ultra-competitive side of Persin, his closest friend in coaching is Pete Liptrap who is very aware that Persin actually has a Jekyl and Hyde personality.
Liptrap retired in 2013 after 30 years of coaching. He posted a 406-264 record at Pickerington Central and Pickerington North high schools.
Liptrap met Persin when they were district directors of their respective areas. As a director of the Ohio/Kentucky All-Star Game, Persin had Liptrap named the Ohio boys’ coach and the friendship blossomed.
“We really got to know each other and we went out every night and somehow I always got to pick up the tab and he told everybody,” said Liptrap.
The two went to the NCAA tournament one year when it was in Indianapolis. Persin told Liptrap if he drove that Persin would take care of the room. They arrived at a hotel and Persin said, “I’ve got a reservation.” The clerk told Persin they only had a room with one bed and Persin said, “That’s all we need.’ I proceeded to sleep on the love seat the entire weekend. That’s pretty much become a tradition. Any time we go someplace, he gets the bed and I end up on the love seat.
“If there was ever an Agitators Hall of Fame, Norm would be in that first ballot. When he likes you, he likes to dig you and he’s always digging me.”
But all shenanigans aside, Liptrap had only praise for Persin.
“It didn’t matter where Norm coached. He’d have been successful. It didn’t matter the division, it didn’t matter the area, he’s a rock-solid basketball coach and he’s won wherever he went,” said Liptrap. “As good a basketball coach as he is, he’s an even bigger agitator.”
The late Chesapeake principal Joe Smith once said that Persin was the biggest cut-up around once basketball season was over.
“It’s not even close,” laughed Persin. “The pranks I pull on people, I just go off. I kind of relax. I gave my speech at the Hall of Fame banquet in Columbus and a guy said, ‘You ought to be a stand-up comedian. You’re unbelievable.’ Joe knew that as well. Joe used to say I’d stay up at night thinking of how I was going to mess with people.
“Everybody says they never want to play golf with me because they could be a scratch golfer and by the time they get done playing with me they’ve shot 10 over par. I mess with them the whole time. I just like to have fun. That’s what it’s all about. You just have to let your hair down. People never understand me. They only see one aspect of me.”
Actually, Persin has change throughout the years from when he started. A huge Notre Dame fan who is close friends with Fighting Irish head basketball coach Mike Brey, Persin used to dress in flashy clothes for a game much like then Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps.
One big game at Rock Hill, the late Carl Large was the Redmen head coach and he wore a suit and tie. He said before the game, “I may not win, but this time I’m going to out-dress Persin.”
But neither happened. Oak Hill beat Rock Hill and Persin had one of the flashiest outfits he had ever worn. Large took one look of Persin when he came out of the locker room and uttered a few choice words and told Persin, “Darn you! You out-dressed me again. Where’d you get that outfit? That’s a flashy outfit.”
Over the years, Persin’s coaching didn’t change but he got more conservative in his coaching attire.
“You get a little bit older and you settle down a little bit more,” said Persin said of his gradual transformation. “My whole thing is I always coached the way I wanted to coach. I don’t care how people reacted.
“It’s kind of amazing that you hear back from your ex-players of how much they respect you and how much they learned from you and how they’d go through a wall for you. People would say, ‘he’s really hard on his kids.’ I said ‘no I wasn’t. The whole problem is now you people aren’t hard enough on yourself. That’s the way it is anymore. It’s not everything you do is OK. How can you get players to play up to their potential or even better than your potential. And that’s what our society has become. Our society has become soft and our society has become lazy. It was never going to be that way with me.”
Persin has always had teams that were disciplined, a trait that he believes is missing from most programs in today’s game as well as society.
“I would always tell kids this: Discipline yourself as a player and I don’t have to discipline you. When they understand that it makes the game so much easier to coach. What you don’t have any more is the old-time coaches. You’re just letting everything go,” said Persin.
“And I don’t care what anyone says. Kids want discipline. They respect discipline as long as you’re fair with everyone on your team. You’re harder on your better kids than the other kids. I always told kids when I stop getting on you in practice and I stop being vocal with you, then I don’t care anymore. You’ve lost me because you can’t accept it.
“I can yell and scream at them, but don’t listen to the voice. Listen to what I’m telling you and not how I’m telling you.”
During one game at Chesapeake, the Panthers were playing well and had built a big halftime lead. Persin had a rule that no one was allowed in the locker room at halftime. But Joe Smith had to break the rule.
“I said, ‘you have a problem?’ And he said, ‘I need to talk to you.’ I said, ‘OK, just a second.’ He said, ‘No, I need to talk to you now!’ I said, ‘Oh my God! What did I do?’ He says, ‘Your house is on fire. I told your wife.’ I said, ‘What am I going to do? It’s already burning down. It’s not going to change by the time I get back.’ He just shakes his head and turns away,” said Persin.
So, when Persin went back out for the second half he told C-K coach Carl Ward that his house was burning down and “Hey coach, no disrespect, but I was just told my house is burning down and I’m going to try and get through this game as fast as I can and hope we can hang on to beat you. He said, “Coach, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem the way your kids are playing right now.”
Persin told the officials about the situation but the first five times down the floor they blew their whistles. It was time for Stormin’ Norman.
“I screamed at them, ‘Did you understand what I told you? Quit calling these (bleeping) fouls!’ They looked over at me and go ‘oh yeah. OK.’”
The fire was on Friday night but Persin was back at practice on Saturday morning and the kids realized that this coach was different and it got their attention.
Then-assistant coach Brent Mayo told Persin he didn’t need to be there. Persin said, “This is my team. I’m fine. We’ll take care of everything.”
In Persin’s first stint at Oak Hill, he had players out doing conditioning work on the track when it started to rain. The players thought Persin would cut the workout short, especially when he began to walk away.
Instead of calling off the conditioning, he got an umbrella from his car and returned to the track. The players knew that they were going to continue running and later told him, “We knew then that things had changed in Oak Hill. This guy is serious.”
And Persin proved to be serious about winning for 43 years.
Persin said a lot of things have changed during his career and some have really bothered him in recent years. He said the decision to retire wasn’t easy, but he believes it is the right decision.
At least for now.
“It was just time. Now, if it eats at my blood, who knows. I’ve got to go with my heart right now,” said Persin.
“It’s been a great ride,” said Persin.
And one heck of a storm.

The Norm Persin File

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Norm Persin Resume’
• 43 years as head varsity coach
• 766 – 214 overall coaching record
• Ranked 3rd on Ohio’s all-time victory list (No. 1 active coach)
• Ranked 3rd on Ohio’s all-time winning percentage .786 percent
• 2009 National Coach of the Year (No. 1 Coach in U.S.)
• 2009 State Champion (Division IV)
(Selected Coach of the Year in Ohio on 7 different occasions)
• Accumulated a 76-game home winning streak and 48-game regular season winning streak
• Won 19 Ohio Valley Conference championships at Chesapeake and Oak Hill combined
• Won 16 OVC titles in 21 seasons at Chesapeake including 11 championships in a row
• Voted Associated Press poll champions twice
• Coached McDonald’s All American game 2010
• Coached Jordan All-American Classic 2007
• Has worked several Elite Nike Camps
1) Lebron James Skills Academy (6 years)
2) Nike All-American Camp (10 years)
3) Nike Hoop Jamboree (7 years)
4) Nike Position Skill Academy for College Players (2 years)
• Commissioner of Michael Jordan Flight School
• Co-Director of Lebron James Kings Academy
• Served on State Association of Basketball Coaches (20 years)
• Received Paul Walker Award
(Highest award for a current head coach)
• Elected to the Ohio Athletic Directors Hall of Fame
• Elected to Warren Harding High School Hall of Fame
• Inducted into Ohio Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame 2015
• Inducted into Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame 2016 (only 6 high school coaches are members)
• Elected to Chesapeake High School Hall of Fame (coached 21 years)
• Elected Warren Ohio Distinguished Hall of Fame
• Had Persin Court named for years of service at Chesapeake High School
• Coached first-ever Team Ohio Elite Rising Juniors to undefeated championship in National Federation Tournament in July 2013.
• Coached in North/South All-Star Game
• Coached in Wendy’s Classic (4 State Tournament)
• Coached in Ohio/West Virginia Game
(Helped to co-coordinate the game for 4 years)
• Coached in Ohio/Kentucky All-Star Classic
(Currently boys selection process individual for classic)