Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann advocates for assistant Terry Johnson as head coach

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State men's basketball assistant coach Terry Johnson speaks to the media during media day at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio on September 28, 2017.  [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Chris Holtmann had no shortage of talking points Thursday night, but there was one he wanted to be sure came across.

Moments earlier, No. 7 Ohio State had completed a comeback win against No. 8 Iowa that moved the Buckeyes one big step closer to a shot at a potential Big Ten title. As his press conference was approaching the final questions of the night, he picked one he wanted to talk about.

Before the game, the Buckeyes warmed up in black T-shirts that read “THIS GAME IS NO SECRET” on the front and “ERACISM” on the back. They were part of an awareness program put forth by the National Association of Black Coaches that paid tribute to a John McLendon, a Black coach who while at what was then known as the North Carolina College for Negroes played a secret game against a team of Duke medical students.

That game took place in 1944 and its existence, including the fact that McLendon’s all-Black team doubled up its white counterparts, remained a secret for years.

Holtmann addressed the story and the reason for wearing the shirts before giving a speed on behalf of Terry Johnson, a Black assistant coach who is in his eighth year of working with Holtmann.

“I have a man on our staff, Terry Johnson, who I just believe in at a really high level,” Holtmann said. “I believe he deserves an opportunity (to be a head coach).”

Johnson spent 10 years at Butler and was on staff when Holtmann joined the Bulldogs as an assistant for the 2013-14 season. Holtmann was named interim coach the following year when head coach Brandon Miller left the program in October, and Johnson remained on his staff when Holtmann was named Miller’s full-time replacement.

He interviewed for the Butler job when Holtmann accepted the Ohio State position during the summer of 2017 and, when he didn’t get it, came with him to coach the Buckeyes, where he has primarily worked with Ohio State’s big men and helped oversee the team’s defense.

“He’s been a part of every team we’ve had,” Holtmann said. “He’s been a part of every team that we’ve had that’s wen to the NCAA Tournament. He’s got an unbelievable relationship with guys. Part of the reason that I feel compelled to work so hard in this job is to help guys have opportunities. I really believe that he deserves an opportunity.”

It’s not the first public action Holtmann has taken to try and address racial inequality in hiring college basketball coaches. He is part of a six-member board of coaches that is part of the Collegiate Coaching Diversity Pledge, an initiative started by his agent, Jason Belzer, that urges athletic directors to commit to fair consideration for candidates of all backgrounds.

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Only eight of the 65 head men’s basketball coaches at Power 5 schools, and just one in the Big Ten (Michigan’s Juwan Howard), are Black.

“Part of what we’re doing with this particular game and John McClendon is bringing awareness to hopefully increased opportunities for African-American coaches in our profession,” Holtmann said. “Particularly, I think Terry Johnson is very deserving of one. He’s not a self-promoter, and sometimes in this business if you’re not, it gets you.

“He is a guy who is an excellent basketball coach. Anybody who’s played for Terry Johnson or coached with him feels the same way.”