By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
It’s hardly ever good when the boss wants to see you in the middle of the afternoon. It’s what gripped TJ Ferrick for an instant as he walked to Penn Charter head of school Darryl J. Ford’s office in May of 2018.
Each step and the turn of the office doorknob came with trepidation. Ferrick had been at his alma mater Penn Charter for eight years and was just about to turn 30. He taught 10th and 12th grade English and served as the junior varsity basketball coach. “What could this be about,” he thought to himself, “was I in some kind of trouble?”
Ford asked him a simple question, “What’s the next 30 years look like for you,” which struck an epiphany cord: “I just want to coach basketball,” Ferrick replied.
It’s the first time Ferrick had ever said that.
This coming season at Shipley School, Ferrick, a 2006 Penn Charter grad who recently turned 35, will get his chance as a first-time head coach in charge of the Gators’ boys’ basketball team.
Former Swarthmore men's assistant T.J. Ferrick was recently named the head boys basketball coach at Shipley School. (Photo Courtesy Swarthmore Athletics)
Ferrick takes over a program that finished 13-14 overall last season and returns four rising seniors in 6-1 guard Matt Lange, 6-foot guard Will Littles Jr., 5-10 guard Gyasi Miller and 6-foot guard Braelin Hardy. The Gators went 3-6 in the rough Friends Schools League, which also has powerhouses like George School and Westtown.
His full commitment to coaching had been waffling for years until that meeting with Ford. Ferrick played at Penn Charter as “a program kid,” then went on to start at Division III Earlham College, in Richmond, Ind., where he graduated with a degree in philosophy and a minor in African-American studies. After graduating, he taught English in Thailand for a year and then came back home, getting a teaching job at Penn Charter at 23.
“After college, I was a little burnt out on basketball,” he admitted.
Penn Charter initially hired Ferrick as a part-time teacher, with his other responsibilities filled with coaching middle school soccer in the fall, junior varsity basketball in the winter and as a varsity assistant under Lynard Stewart in his first year as head coach. He was with Stewart (now at Gratz) for four years, then Jim Phillips, who Ferrick played under at Penn Charter, for three and John Owens for a year, before making the transition to Swarthmore College in September 2019 as an assistant under Landry Kosmalski.
It’s been an interesting odyssey that took some twists and turns to reach this destination.
Originally, Ferrick wanted to be a philosophy professor, before winding up as an English teacher. He thought it was a great opportunity to learn on the fly as a teacher, thinking he wanted to pursue teaching as a career. Throughout his 20s, coaching was a seasonal thing, a fun job that he liked for some extra dollars every November to February. He was committed. He coached to win. Once the season was done, he was done. The clipboard and whistle were put away until the following season. No more. No less.
Then the meeting with Ford occurred. He had been a great mentor to Ferrick.
Let’s just say he gave Ferrick a gentle nudge towards a direction.
“It was an important moment and I remember thinking I was in trouble (laughs), when (Ford) told me I was about to turn 30 and he asked me what the next 30 years looked like,” Ferrick recalled. “That’s when I told him, and it’s the first time I really came out and said that I wanted to coach basketball. It’s when (Ford) said, ‘Then, we have to get you out of here.’ It wasn’t said in a harmful way, but in a helpful way. I was still a full-time teacher at Penn Charter and he said I had to get out in the world and look around.”
T.J. Ferrick sits on the bench during a PSB Philly basketball game. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
A more subtle bump came just before the 2017-18 school year. In August 2017, Ferrick attended a small scouting class held in Northern Liberties by current Los Angeles Lakers’ scout Elan Vinokurov, who used to run an independent scouting service.
The knowledge Ferrick absorbed forced him to reinvent himself.
“Elan made me look at the game and look at players differently,” said Ferrick, whose father, Tom Ferrick Jr., was a longtime columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and paternal grandfather, Tom Ferrick, pitched for the New York Yankees, won Game 3 of the 1950 World Series against the Phillies and once threw batting practice to Babe Ruth. “I came to the realization that I thought I knew stuff about developing players and skill development. I found out I didn’t really know anything. I wiped the slate clean in Dec. 2017 into Jan. 2018 and I wanted to do things differently. I was thinking, ‘I’ve been doing this wrong the whole time.’ I was a junior varsity coach and I just wanted to win games. That’s all I really cared about.
“I approached Jim Phillips that season, and he was very supportive of what I wanted to try. He gave me the freedom to make mistakes. I was willing to learn.”
By the spring of 2018, Ferrick was a human basketball sponge, seeking any way he could to increase his basketball acumen. He sought out wisdom through social media, connecting with experienced basketball people and, after talking to Ford, making a critical move: He attended area college practices, getting input from area coaches.
Then, one night in 2018, he went to a Swarthmore game.
Kosmalski widened his eyes.
“I wanted to see Swarthmore practice, and after that, I thought (Kosmalski) was the best guy I saw in the area,” Ferrick said. “I wanted to learn under him — period. He was the best. It was just time to leave Penn Charter (in June 2022) and take the next step. I had to leave to find out what was out there. It was an amicable split, which I wouldn’t even call a split. It was difficult to leave my Penn Charter colleagues. I had a tribe of mentors there. Penn Charter is always going to be family to me, and they let me know that they would always be there for me.”
In the fall of 2019, Ferrick joined Kosmalski’s staff. He served as an assistant coach from 2019-2023, the first three years still teaching at Penn Charter during the day and attending Swarthmore practices and games at night.
“I took so much away from the experience,” said Ferrick, City of Basketball Love's director of camps since August 2022 and General Manager of Pro Skills Basketball Philadelphia since 2021. “I think Landry is one of the best in the country. My message has changed from being around him. It’s not even calculable how much of a better coach I am because of him. I remember the first time I saw him address his team and I thought this is the way I want to talk to my players and teams. He’s changed the way I think about the game and preparation. Being around him has been life changing.”
Ferrick wants to take many of the principles he learned under Kosmalski and other coaches he was under. He plans on the Gators playing fast, playing smart and playing disciplined.
On Monday morning, May 15, Shipley athletic director Justin Cooper called Ferrick to let him know Shipley was going to offer him the position.
“The best wakeup call I ever got,” Ferrick said. “My first text was to Landry. It’s funny, because he called me back immediately and reprimanded me (laughs), ‘This is not texting news, this is calling news.’”
*Editor's note: T.J. Ferrick worked as CoBL's camp director beginning in August 2022 and is currently continuing to serve in that role as we look for someone to fill the position.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.