When John Peckinpaugh committed to play basketball for IPFW coach Dane Fife six years ago, it was to do so for a guy who had gotten his first head position at the tender age of 25. So you'll have to forgive Peckinpaugh if he doesn't think becoming a head college coach at 24 years of age is completely out of the ordinary.
Peckinpaugh was named to lead the Indiana Tech men's basketball program Thursday, and his enthusiasm for the task was almost palpable through a phone interview.
“It's a strange feeling,” Peckinpaugh said of being called “head coach,” “but it sounds good.”
Peckinpaugh returns to the Warrior program, where he served as an assistant to former coach Al Grushkin during the 2012-13 season. When Grushkin announced his resignation late last month, the Indiana Tech leadership wasted no time in reaching out to Peckinpaugh.
“I really started thinking about this (position), the day that coach Grushkin stepped down,” Peckinpaugh explained. “I thought that I could do a good job if they gave me a chance. They actually reached out to me that day that he stepped down, and I said 'Of course I'd be interested.'”
Peckinpaugh spent this season as a graduate assistant with the Mastodons, where he contributed to their best season in program history (24-10 and they will be playing in the upcoming CollegeInsider.com Tournament). One would think that leaving his alma mater would be a difficult decision for Peckinpaugh, which it was to a degree. But coming back to Indiana Tech also appealed to Peckinpaugh.
“Leading this program was something that I wanted to do since I've been at Tech,” Peckinpaugh said. “I really enjoyed it here. Being my first year of coaching, I learned a lot from coach Grushkin. He did a great job here.”
The former coach raised the standards on and off of the court for Indiana Tech, as the Warriors were annually ranked among the nation's best at the NAIA Division II level, and academically, the team's grade point averages improved under Grushkin, as well.
Peckinpaugh delivered great praise for Grushkin, as well as Fife and current Mastodon coach Tony Jasick. All have influenced the young coach significantly.
“I felt like I had to take the opportunity to come back to may alma mater, it being (NCAA) Division I,” Peckinpaugh said. “I think so highly of coach Jasick and I really learned a lot from him.”
As a player, Peckinpaugh never was a guy that could find playing time based on his athleticism. Fife once told the story about recruiting Peckinpaugh and said “He wasn't athletic, but his team (in scrimmages) won every time.”
That work ethic and toughness are going to be common characteristics under Peckinpaugh according to the new coach.
“I expect our teams to out-work and out-hustle every team we play,” Peckinpaugh said. “We’ll be a team that is not only exciting to watch, but one that Indiana Tech and the Fort Wayne community can be proud of on and off the court.”
The former Muncie Central High School graduate developed coaching connections throughout Indiana during his year with the Warriors and he feels that the players of this state will be a priority for him as he continues to add to what coach Grushkin built.
“My recruiting contacts are in the Midwest,” Peckinpaugh said. “That's where I'm going to look first. I'm going to try and get some Indiana kids, and get the local Fort Wayne talent that can play at this level to stay here and play at Indiana Tech.
“With that, I think that we can be very successful. If we can get those kids to stay in Fort Wayne, and the Indiana kids to stay in Indiana.”