Syracuse, N.Y. — On May 27, Greg Paulus got married.
Less than two weeks after tying the knot with his girlfriend, the former Megan Case, Paulus learned that his boss, Thad Matta, was no longer the head coach at Ohio State University. In a stunning development, Ohio State officials came to an agreement with Matta that the 49-year-old, who had been experiencing back and foot issues, should step down.
Matta’s departure left Paulus, 31 and newly married, without a job. Paulus had been an assistant on Matta’s coaching staff since 2011. While the Buckeyes had gone 17-15 in the 2016-17 season, the Ohio State program had been successful under Matta, including runs to the Final Four in 2007 and 2012.
“It was unexpected,” Paulus said in a recent telephone interview, “but when situations like that happen, you can only try to control what you can control and make the best out of the situation.”
So unemployed on the verge of the summer recruiting circuit, Paulus left his bride behind and hit the road. He went to high school events, including Chris Paul’s CP3 Rising Stars camp in Greensboro, N.C., which Paulus worked as a counselor/coach. He visited with friends in the college game, visiting campuses all over the country. He went to the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas.
“I did a lot of traveling,” Paulus said. “I went to between 40 and 50 college and NBA camps. I drove to recruiting events to stay involved.”
In one 8-day period in September, Paulus went to Wright State, Akron, Kent State, Northern Kentucky, Santa Clara and Stanford with a day at the Golden State Warriors’ practice facility thrown in there as well. In October, Paulus was on the road again, hitting Michigan, Syracuse, Youngstown State, the Detroit Pistons and Michigan State.
Paulus’ road-trips had two purposes. One was job-related. He wanted to stay involved in the game, be seen, connect with potential employers. The other reason had to do with his own development. At each stop, he watched other coaches and after practice ended, he would pick their brains for coaching advice.
“As a college basketball coach, you don’t get a chance to travel around and see what other coaches do on a day-to-day basis,” Paulus said. “While I had the time, I wanted to observe other coaches and see what they on the court and how they build a culture off the court.”
Paulus figured he would spend the 2017-18 season doing more of the same. Perhaps do some scouting for an NBA team. There were preliminary talks about doing some television work.
Then the FBI’s investigation into illegal recruiting activities resulted in the arrests of four prominent assistant coaches and also ensnared the basketball programs at Louisville and Miami. In Louisville’s case, an Adidas representative had worked out a deal with a Louisville assistant to pay a recruit $100,000 to go to Louisville. The resulting fallout from the case eventually cost Louisville head coach Rick Pitino his job. Two assistants were also relieved of their duties.
David Padgett, a 32-year-old assistant, was named Louisville’s interim head coach.
Paulus knew Padgett in the way that many young assistants know each other. Paulus’ playing career at Duke had coincided with Padgett’s at Louisville. The two had met on the recruiting trails in gyms from Georgia to California.
Knowing that Padgett would need to put together a staff and fast, Paulus reached out to him.
“I don’t remember the exact date, but he got back in touch with me,” Paulus said. “Things moved on very quickly from there.”
On Oct. 19, Paulus was introduced as an assistant coach at Louisville, joining Padgett in an attempt to lead a team that’s ranked in the Top 25, but enters the season amid chaos and controversy.
“David’s vision for this team and how he wants to proceed was exciting,” Paulus said. “The chance to be a part of it was something I wanted to jump on.”
Paulus said he talked with both Matta and Mike Krzyzewski, his former coach at Duke, before taking the job at Louisville.
“That’s not uncommon,” Paulus said. “Ever since I got through playing for Coach K, he’s always been there for me. Whenever opportunities came up, I’d talk with him. The same with Coach Matta. They’re both lifelong mentors.”
Paulus had no time to settle into his new job. Louisville’s Nov. 12 season-opener against George Mason was no less than three weeks away. The first thing he had to do was get to know the players he would be coaching.
“They’ve been terrific in embracing and welcoming me,” Paulus said. “In terms of being coachable and working hard, they’ve been great. I’m trying to build relationships with them, but that takes time.”
Pitino, a Hall of Famer who had taken Louisville to the 2012 Final Four and the 2013 NCAA championship, may be gone, but the aura of the Louisville program remains. Paulus got a taste of that when Louisville held its annual dinner for former players and coaches. Over 70 players showed up, as did Louisville coaching legend Denny Crum.
“You begin to understand how special it is,” Paulus said “You look back over the years, there’s a lot of great pride in the program. To coach here is unique.”
The long-term status for the current Louisville coaching staff is uncertain. For now, Padgett remains the interim head coach, which means that Paulus and Trent Johnson are on board for just the 2017-18 season.
But that doesn’t bother Paulus. In fact, he sees the Louisville situation as a rare chance to do something different.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Paulus said. “The opportunity to do something when times are tough is an opportunity to have a tremendously positive impact.”