Ohio State’s Ryan Pedon named Illinois State head coach
Sunday’s regular-season finale won’t just be the final home game for Ohio State’s senior class.
Ryan Pedon, coach Chris Holtmann’s longest-tenured assistant, will also be on the bench at Value City Arena for the final time. The Bexley graduate whose family had season tickets at St. John Arena during his childhood has been named the new head coach at Illinois State.
An official announcement is forthcoming. Illinois State lost in its conference tournament today to close its season.
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Pedon will finish his fifth season with the Buckeyes before fully taking the reins for the Redbirds.
“It’s a great feeling,” Pedon said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to be a head coach. It’s sort of the final piece to the puzzle that I haven’t experienced. I feel like I’ve stepped on every rung of the ladder in this profession, and that’s the final one I hadn’t stepped to.
“I feel a real sense of satisfaction because I was very disciplined in what jobs I pursued and I feel like there was an element of fate here that led me to this job. I believe in my heart it’s a job that fits me at the highest level.”
He replaces Dan Muller, who spent 10 seasons with the program but was fired Feb. 13 and replaced by interim coach Brian Jones. Illinois State is poised to finish with its third straight losing season for the first time since 1950. The Redbirds won the 2017 Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title. They last reached the NCAA Tournament in 1998.
Pedon said he was approached by a search firm last week, had a Zoom interview Saturday and met with Illinois State athletic director Kyle Brennen and deputy director of athletics Mark Muhlhauser on Wednesday after they took in Tuesday night’s Ohio State loss to Nebraska.
The hiring process took five days.
“From afar, I’ve always thought that this was a great job,” Pedon said. “The more I dug on it, I realized it’s a great campus, it’s a tremendous community, it has a great location. It checked all my boxes in terms of what I’m looking for and I think it’s a place we can recruit and attract the caliber of players we want to build a program with.”
The move to a head coaching position has been on the table for Pedon for several seasons. After following Holtmann to Ohio State in 2017, he turned down opportunities immediately following that first season with the Buckeyes and in subsequent years. When Cincinnati fired John Brannen following the 2020-21 season, Pedon was a finalist for the job before the Bearcats hired Wes Miller after he had spent the last 10 seasons at UNC Greensboro.
While at Ohio State, Pedon has primarily overseen the team’s offense and served as a primary recruiter, particularly within Ohio. The Buckeyes have been a top-25 national team in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com in four of the five seasons of the Holtmann era and are currently No. 11 this year. Pedon was the lead recruiter for first-team all-Big Ten junior forward E.J. Liddell, freshman of the year candidate Malaki Branham and current NBA player Duane Washington Jr., among others.
The next few weeks will be busy as he both devotes himself to the new program while also remaining invested to Ohio State’s success.
“I’m going to give everything I possibly have to two programs, and I’m going to have to balance that,” Pedon said. “When one is over, then everything’s going to go to the other one but for now I’m going to do both, and I’m going to do both the best that I can.”
After graduating from Wooster, Pedon worked his way through the ranks with jobs at Miami (Ohio), Kent State, Toledo and Illinois before being hired by Holtmann as a full-time assistant coach at Butler for the 2015-16 season. When Holtmann was hired to Ohio State, Pedon and the entire coaching staff came with him.
“Ryan’s fantastic,” Holtmann said following a Feb. 24 win at No. 15 Illinois. “I think he’s one of the terrific young up-and-coming assistant coaches that’s going to be a head coach real soon. He’s turned down a couple coaching jobs and I’m forever grateful for what Ryan’s done, but unfortunately I don’t think I can hang onto him much longer.”
After working together for seven years, Pedon said the conversation with Holtmann was emotional.
“He’s been my boss, but he’s been one of my closest friends for the last seven years,” Pedon said. “It’s been so bittersweet for me because of my belief in him and my belief in what we’re doing here at Ohio State and how we go about our business. I feel strongly that this program is in great hands with him and I think he is one of the elite head coaches in college basketball. It’s been a privilege to work for him and learn from him and now hopefully go and put what he’s taught me into use.
“Even though we knew this was the right one, that conversation was still really hard for me.”
Pedon is the second member of that staff to earn his own head coaching job. After the Buckeyes reached the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, assistant Mike Schrage accepted the head job at Elon, where he is in his third season with the Phoenix. He is also the second assistant to leave in as many years after Terry Johnson took an assistant coaching job at Purdue following the 2020-21 season and was replaced by Tony Skinn.
Pedon’s departure makes Jake Diebler, currently in his third season, Holtmann’s longest-tenured assistant.
“The people that know me as a person, they know that this has been an absolute dream come true, to be able to coach here and fulfill a boyhood dream to coach here at Ohio State,” Pedon said. “I’ve given everything I possibly could to this job and my family and I have loved every second of being here, being a part of the Buckeyes. But now it’s time for me to chase another boyhood dream and that’s being a head coach at a place that I think fits me really well.”