Ohio State announced on Monday Thad Matta “will no longer be the head men’s basketball coach.”
Matta, who has been at Ohio State for 13 seasons, has won 337 games with the Buckeyes. He has a career 439–154 coaching record, including stints at Xavier and Butler.
“This has been the greatest 13 years of my life,” Matta said through tears at a press conference on Monday. “I completely understand it. We mutually agreed to do this.”
When asked if he was finished coaching, Matta said, “Never say never. But honestly my whole focus right now is trying to get healthy.”
Gene Smith, Ohio State’s athletic director, said during the press conference that after the season, the plan was to bring Matta back for the 2017-18 season, but due to some losses on the recruiting trail, Smith did not think that the Buckeyes were recruiting well enough to turn this around. The Buckeyes had their top recruit in the Class of 2018 decommit from the program in April.
“It was time,” Smith said.
Over the course of the last decade, Matta has dealt with the complications of a botched back surgery in the summer of 2007 that left him with “drop foot”, a condition that requires him to wear a brace because nerve damage has left the muscles and tendons in his foot are too weak to hold the foot up on their own. The back pain the surgery was supposed to correct hasn’t dissipated, either; he still needs help doing things as simple as putting on his shoes.
When asked if he would still be coaching Ohio State if he was 100 percent healthy, Matta said, “yeah, probably.”
Matta has had a tremendously successful tenure as the head coach of the Buckeyes, although he’s run into hard times in recent seasons. From 2006-2012, Matta won at least a share of five of the seven Big Ten regular season titles, reaching the 2007 national title game with a team composed of Greg Oden and Mike Conley and the Final Four in 2012. From 2010-2013, the Buckeyes never won fewer than 29 games and made it to at least the Sweet 16 all four seasons.
The last four years, however, have been a different story. Ohio State has missed the last two NCAA tournaments and, in 2014 and 2015, failed to make it out of the first weekend. They did not finish better than fifth in the Big Ten during that stretch, getting progressively worse with each passing season. It culminated in a 17-15 year in 2016-17 and, since the season has ended, the Buckeyes have lost JaQuan Lyle to a transfer, Trevor Thompson to the professional ranks and saw their prized 2018 recruit, Darius Bazley, decommit.
“Ohio State, they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year,” Bazley said at the time. “They didn’t even make the NIT, which is unfortunate, but I looked into the recruits they have coming into next year, they didn’t look too good for the future.”
“So I felt like when my class came in, yeah, we would’ve been OK, but good enough to make the tournament? I don’t know. I just felt as if I was to de-commit, actually take my time, figure everything out it would just be a lot better.”
Earlier this spring, prior to the start of the Big Ten tournament, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith released a statement giving a vote of confidence to Matta.
“While we are not currently where we aspire to be with our performance on the court,” the statement read. “Thad understands better than anyone that component has to improve. I am confident in his leadership to return the program to the winning ways that we have all enjoyed during his 13-year tenure.”
“I think it’s ridiculous that we have to do stuff like that. Gene and I met a couple weeks ago. It’s amazing what people do nowadays. This is a very fickle business that we’re in,” Matta said in March after Ohio State lost to Rutgers in the Big Ten tournament. “Unless you’re intimately involved on a day-to-day basis, people choose the negative side of things. It’s what they do.”
“Obviously, gas is poured on the fire,” he added. “It’s sad that sports has come to where you got to do stuff like that.”
Ohio State is considered one of the best coaching jobs in not only the Big Ten, but nationally as well. As with programs like Florida and Texas, the Ohio State is an athletic department with all the money you can ask for, a fertile recruiting ground and the proven ability to win with a fan base that doesn’t really pay all that much attention until college football comes to an end. In other words, you get paid and you fly private without having an entire state coming for your head if you lose a game or two in November and December.
As such, don’t be surprised to hear big names get linked with the job. Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and Xavier’s Chris Mack are probably the two biggest names out there now that Archie Miller is at Indiana and Shaka Smart has things trending in the right direction at Texas. Throw in Butler’s Chris Holtmann and Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, and there likely won’t be a shortage of big names with an eye on that gig.