Dienhart: Thad Matta, Ohio State split isn't a shock
The page is being turned at Ohio State, as Thad Matta is stepping down after 13 seasons as one of the most successful coaches in Big Ten history.
Matta is the all-time Ohio State leader in wins (337) and games coached (460). His teams won at least 20 games in 12 consecutive seasons (2005-2016), also an Ohio State record. Now, it’s over.
“We came to a mutual understanding, and it was time for a change in the basketball program,” Ohio State A.D. Gene Smith said. “This may be a surprise to me. I think it’s the right thing for our program at the right time.”
The news isn’t a shock. Matta had dealt with some health issues for years. He endured a botched back surgery that has caused problems with his right foot as well as on-going back issues.
It’s impossible not to notice the limp that Matta walks with. He will turn 50 in July but often moves like a much older man. And, he looks advanced than his age, too. Matta has long stated the health issues don’t impact his ability to coach, but there is no denying that other schools have routinely used it against him in recruiting. In fact, Matta says one time a recruit was told that Matta was dying.
Smith says the school will conduct a national search for Matta’s replacement. This is one of the top jobs in the nation, as Ohio State is endowed with a list of resources few programs can match. There is history, fan support, facilities, money … it’s all there for wild success for a school with 20 Big Ten regular-season titles that rank behind only Purdue (23) and Indiana (22).
There is no denying that Matta has been one of the most successful coaches in Ohio State annals. He arrived in Columbus in 2004-05 off a successful three-year run at Xavier, inheriting an OSU program on NCAA probation from the Jim O’Brien era. Matta proceeded to go 337-123 in the past 13 years coaching the Buckeyes with a 150-78 Big Ten record. He won five Big Ten regular-season titles, four league tourney championships and advanced to the Final Four in 2007 and 2012, the former ending the national final. Matta also took home Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 2006, 2007 and 2010.
“This has been probably the greatest 13 years of my life,” Matta said.
The Hoopeston, Illinois, native enjoyed his best year in 2006-07, when the Buckeyes went 35-4 overall and 15-1 in the Big Ten, losing to Florida in the national championship game with a squad led by No. 1 overall draft pick Greg Oden and guard Mike Conley, the No. 4 pick in the 2007 draft.
But in recent years, Ohio State has fallen from the Big Ten elite. The program has missed the last two NCAA tourneys after notching seven bids in a row. The Buckeyes last missed the Big Dance two years in a row during a three-year absence from 2003-05.
Ohio State’s 7-11 Big Ten mark last season was the program’s first sub-.500 league finish since a 6-10 record in 2003-04 under O’Brien.
Personnel instability has been a huge issue of late. Ohio State has just nine scholarship players for the coming season while it can have as many as 13. JaQuan Lyle left the team, David Bell transferred to Jacksonville and Trevor Thompson left for the pros. Kam Williams tested the NBA waters but opted to return to campus. And this tumult comes a year after four Buckeyes transferred.
In addition to Williams, OSU can build around players like Jae’Sean Tate, C.J. Jackson, Micah Potter and Keita Bates-Diop, among others, from a 17-15 team that finished 10th in the Big Ten and played in no postseason tourney. The last time OSU saw no postseason action was in Matta’s maiden voyage, when the program was ineligible.
Who could be the next man up in Columbus? No doubt, Dayton coach Archie Miller would have been a top target, but he was hired by Indiana in the offseason to replace Tom Crean. Names the Buckeye brass could look at include Xavier’s Chris Mack, Butler’s Chris Holtmann, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, Illinois State’s Dan Muller, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and Buckeye assistant Chris Jent, among others.