For the first time, Mike Schrage addressed his own team and fanbase as a Division I head men’s basketball coach.
He was plenty excited. And confident.
After having been announced Friday as the new coach at Elon, the former Ohio State assistant coach was publicly introduced by athletic director Dave Blank. When it was his turn to address the crowd, and eventually take a few questions, Schrage described his new position in Elon, North Carolina, as a dream come true.
“This isn’t just a good university, it’s a great university,” he said. “It’s a tight-knit community. The best basketball state in the country. Hoop state. We’re going to recruit this state at a very high level.
“I took more pictures this morning (walking around campus) than I did on my wedding day.”
In his opening remarks, Blank said Elon’s biggest challenge was in finding “the right person that had the interest in our program and understood Elon.” He reached out to his network, he said, and began vetting a number of candidates only to find Schrage’s name continually popping to the surface.
“Words commonly used to describe Mike (include), honest, genuine, energetic, a family man, an eye for talent and a developer of young players,” Blank said. “A great game planner with a great feel for the game and a tireless, great, successful recruiter. I’m convinced Mike will find the right people for our program. I believe with that background, Mike Schrage will win and will win in the right way.”
Schrage cited his ties to the region, pointing out that him and his wife were married in North Carolina. Last Wednesday, he said, was his daughter’s birthday. Although she loved her time in Columbus, he said, her wish was to move to North Carolina.
After joining Chris Holtmann’s staff at Butler, Schrage worked there for one season before following him to Ohio State, where he has been for the last two seasons. The two came to work together when, after 8 years at Stanford, Schrage and the coaching staff suddenly found themselves out of a job.
“I was searching for what’s next,” Schrage said. “It can be stressful, and a man, Chris Holtmann, gave me an opportunity. We did not know each other. I remember telling my family, ‘We’re going to be at Butler a long time. Ohio State came calling, we had to go, but I’m a better coach and a better man so much for him. There’s no way I am here in front of you if he did not give me that opportunity.”
Echoing some of Holtmann’s words upon coming to Ohio State, Schrage told former Phoenix players that “this is your program” and pledged to reach out to as many of them as possible. He promised to bring “unconditional energy” to the job, and said he will preach a mantra of “tough and together” to those players.
Blank described Schrage as a coach who is a proven recruiter and one who will develop players once on campus. He cited a motto he learned at Stanford from the Cardinal’s then-football coach Jim Harbaugh, although he didn’t mention him by name.
“I’m not going to say who I got this phrase from, because I was at Buckeye Nation and it would upset them, but there was a big banner in the stadium and it said, ‘You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. You never stay the same.’ ”
Holtmann has not yet made a hire to replace Schrage. He is known to be looking for a candidate with multiple years of experience both coaching and recruiting at the Division I level, and it’s unclear if he would look to promote from within or make an outside hire. It also remains to be seen if any other assistants might leave for other head coaching jobs.
Schrage said he hopes to have some staff announcements by the end of the week.
On the evening of the national championship game between Virginia and Texas Tech, Schrage offered a prediction – 64-60 in favor of the Red Raiders – but also another on his former team.
“I’m going to miss the guys at Ohio State in a big way,” he said. “We were so close. I’m confident Ohio State’s going to have a chance to be in those moments really soon. I’m excited to watch.”