Now a Boilermaker, Terry Johnson prepares to coach against previous team Ohio State

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

Terry Johnson has lived out this chapter before.

After a 10-year career as an assistant coach at Butler, Johnson and the rest of Chris Holtmann’s staff joined him in making the move to Ohio State during the summer of 2017. The move wasn’t made without significant emotion, but Holtmann, Johnson, Ryan Pedon and Mike Schrage all took the opportunity to join the Big Ten and inherit a Buckeyes team reeling from a season that ended without even an NIT invite.

That team went to Portland, Oregon, to participate in the PK80 Invitational. So did Butler, and when both teams split their first two games of the tournament they drew a Sunday showdown against each other that was more than a little awkward for all sides.

That was seven games into the Holtmann era, one that saw Johnson remain on staff for four years. But last spring, with an opportunity to switch his focus from the defensive end of the court to offense with an intraconference move, Johnson left the Buckeyes to join Purdue coach Matt Painter’s staff.

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On Sunday, No. 16 Ohio State and No. 6 Purdue will meet in their lone regular-season game of the season. And again, there will be Johnson on the sidelines, working to defeat the program he recently called home.

It’ll be a little weird, but Johnson said he’s prepared for it after what he went through against Butler in 2017.

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“That was like, in the warmup lines, you look down and see all those guys,” Johnson said. “My best friend is the head coach. One of my position players is an assistant coach. Then you’ve got all the guys on your team. My wife was bawling before the ball was even tipped up.

“I don’t think (this) will be to that extent. I’m sure some emotion will be involved, but not to that extent. It’s going to be fun.”

After joining the Boilermakers, Johnson said it took some time to build relationships with his new team and grow accustomed to how Painter runs his program. The Boilermakers put more of an emphasis on team workouts as opposed to individual ones, Johnson said, which limited some opportunities to build up sweat equity during the early months.

During the summer, Painter had each of his coaches give presentations to the team. Johnson’s was simple: give players your honest feedback by telling them what your scouting reports on them looked like at Ohio State. It generated plenty of discussion, Johnson said, and some tough truths for a few players.

“I was like, ‘They’re not gonna like me when I say it,’ ” Johnson said he told Painter. “I started my presentation like, ‘Hey fellas, this is not personal. This is what we were thinking of going into the game and what we thought of you.’ It ended up helping us coach them.”

In particular, Johnson showed the clip of Jaden Ivey, now a Big Ten player of the year candidate, beating the Buckeyes at Value City Arena last season on a 3-pointer with five seconds remaining and explained Ohio State’s reasoning on the play.

“I was like, ‘We’re gonna live with that (as Ohio State coaches),” Johnson said. “You shot 23% from 3. You just tip your hat off to you. At the end of the day, we shouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place.”

The chance to help work with Purdue’s offense has helped Johnson add to his repertoire with the hopes of eventually being a head coach. Purdue has the nation’s top-ranked offense according to, one that is averaging a Big Ten-best 84.7 points per game and outscoring opponents by a league-best 17.0 points per game.

Moving from offense to defense has added a few years to his life, Johnson said with a laugh.

“If you notice defensively, I was in every action, I had bad body language,” he said. “Offensively, I’m not that in tune. I’ve got to be thinking about the next play instead of what just happened defensively. I’m trying to figure out what to run next. And it comes so fast. That takes some getting used to. I’ve got a pretty good grasp of it now.”

The ties to the Ohio State roster remain real, both for Johnson and his family. Thursday night, Johnson said he texted Holtmann to congratulate him on his 100th win at Ohio State and E.J. Liddell on his 1,000th career point. Monday, Johnson was back in Columbus for a final orthodontic appointment and stopped at the Schottenstein Center, where he met with a couple of guys in the parking lot. His three sons recently spent time with the children of Ohio State’s coaching staff who remain some of their closest friends.

Sunday, all those loyalties will be divided for about two hours. Ohio State and Purdue won’t finish the game tied.

“When it comes to the game, they want everybody to win but I keep telling my boys, ‘Everybody ain’t gonna win. You enjoy the atmosphere. You just enjoy the atmosphere and have fun,’ ” Johnson said.