basketball Edit

Thad Matta and Ohio State -- right decision at the wrong time

Thad Matta
Thad Matta

After 13 seasons, Thad Matta is no longer the head coach at Ohio State, the school announced Monday.

After winning five Big Ten titles and appearing in Final Fours during the 2007 and 2012 seasons, the Ohio State program has been steadily declining under Matta's direction and the Buckeyes have missed the last two NCAA Tournaments. After taking some time to digest the decision to replace Matta, three things stand out to me.



Since finishing second in the Big Ten and making the Elite Eight during the 2012-13 season, the Buckeyes have been in a rapid state of decline. Since then they have finished fifth, sixth, seventh and 10th in Conference play.

In addition to declining results on the floor, Matta has been fighting health issues (back problems) for years and those problems may have played a big role. Matta was certainly being recruited against negatively. Not surprisingly, sinking results in recruiting have gone hand in hand with the downward path of the program.

Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith knew all of this back in March and elected to bring Matta back when a firing wouldn't have been inappropriate. Today, Smith essentially admitted -- without being specific -- that the decommitment of 2018 four-star prospect Darius Bazley was the last straw.

Now, Ohio State has to try and find a coach in June and fair or not, Smith looks like a loose cannon to any established coach who might be interested in the job. Also, if recruiting and fears over diminishing results was such a motivating factor in making a move, why on Earth would Smith wait until June to make a move?

There is no doubt in my mind that Archie Miller would be coaching at Ohio State and not Indiana had they made this move in March.

On top of that, much of the recruiting for the class of 2018 has already taken place. Unless the Buckeyes can lure a coach who is already familiar with and involved with the types of recruit Ohio State wants to land, whoever takes the ball will be way behind in recruiting the rising senior class.


Whether it was bad luck, poor recruiting, negative recruiting against Matta and his staff is really immaterial. The fact is that Ohio State is perhaps a top 10 job in College Basketball and there's not really any excuse for the downturn in recruiting.

In the early days the Buckeyes were dominating Midwest recruiting and landing guys like Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jared Sullinger and other high level prospects. Since landing Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas in 2010, Ohio State has only landed two five-star prospects -- DeAngelo Russell (2014) and Jaquan Lyle (2015). Not only was Lyle the Buckeyes last five-star prospect, not a single member of the five-man recruiting class he came in with just two years ago remains on campus.

That simply can't happen at a program with the resources, facilities and talent base that Ohio State has at it's disposal.


Watching Matta and Smith's press conference, I thought that one of the most critical pieces of information to emerge was that Matta will be involved in the coaching search.

I felt that Smith came off as a bit aloof and out of touch during the press conference and if I felt that way sitting at home, I can't imagine what any coach who would consider taking the job must have been thinking. However, that Matta is going to assist in finding a coach should be a huge plus for the Buckeyes in this search.

Like I mentioned earlier, the timing is terrible for a coaching search, but we are still talking about Ohio State. Outside of the bluebloods, there aren't many better jobs and if they call, high-level coaches are going to listen. They are really going to listen if Matta gives them a message that Smith is good to work for and that the resources are there.

We'll see where the job search heads over the next few days and I'm sure that calls will be made to Arizona's Sean Miller, the Oklahoma City Thunder's Billy Donovan and the Boston Celtics Brad Stevens. Those phone calls probably have to be made, but they are likely going to be wastes of time as well.

The first phone call should go to Xavier's Chris Mack. Moving from Xavier to Ohio State would certainly be a promotion, but Mack has had tons of success and is currently recruiting at a better level -- Xavier has a top 10 class in 2017 -- from the same region of players. His knowledge of the Ohio and Midwest recruiting landscapes would allow for a pretty seamless transition and would give the Buckeyes a great chance at landing a good 2018 recruiting class.

Should Mack say no, then the next phone call probably needs to go to Butler's Chris Holtmann who has also proven already to be a pretty high level coach and recruiter.

If both of those guys say no, then things start to get a little dicey but at least Matta should be very much in the know about who would or wouldn't be a good fit in Columbus.