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Thad Matta makes unexpected exit at Ohio State

There was a surprising announcement that came out of Columbus on Monday afternoon as Gene Smith and Thad Matta held a joint press conference to announce that Matta would be leaving his position as head men’s basketball coach immediately. This obviously came as a shock to many former players and people around the university and led to an outpouring of support for the 13-year head coach of the Buckeyes. Notable former players such as Evan Turner, Mike Conley, David Lighty, Aaron Craft, and Jared Sullinger took to twitter to thank their former coach.

Matta’s Accomplishments
Thad Matta will leave as probably the most accomplished coach in the history of Buckeyes’ basketball. His overall record was 337-123, and he made the NCAA Tournament nine times. His teams won the Big Ten’s regular season title five times and the Big Ten tournament four times. He led the Buckeyes to two Final Four appearances including a runner-up showing in 2007. According to ESPN, Matta’s .740 winning percentage is the best of all-time for a Big Ten coach with a minimum of 10 seasons. He put many players into the NBA including Grizzlies’ star Mike Conley and the injury-prone Greg Oden. Matta made the Buckeyes’ basketball team relevant again and had them competing for the top of the Big Ten almost every season. Matta’s head coaching career has also included short stops at Butler and Xavier.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Matta’s program seems to have fallen off in recent years as he has failed to make the NCAA Tournament for two consecutive seasons now. This past year was also the first season in which he was unable to win at least 20 games since joining the Buckeyes. Matta has not been able to land the big-time recruits that he was able to in the past, and he has been dealing with health issues for the last several years including back surgery and a lingering issues with his foot. When coaching at the Ohio State University, it mostly comes down to wins and losses, and Matta has not been able to win enough games or show enough improvement to convince the Athletic Director that the program is headed in the right direction.

Poor Timing and Execution
The most curious part of this decision is the fact that it came at the beginning of June. That is obviously not the best time to make a coaching change. If a program is going to make a switch it is normally done soon after the conclusion of the season, so the team can get the best available coach and start recruiting and getting his program running before the next season. Waiting until June may have cost the Buckeyes a chance at getting one of the hottest coaches in college basketball. Archie Miller, who some thought may eventually take over Matta’s program, left Dayton after the season to become heach coach at Indiana.

Matta has given so much to this program and made it relevant again. He really infused life into the program from the moment he got there. I understand that his winning percentage and tournament success have waned in recent years, and he hasn’t been able to land a big-time recruit since D’Angelo Russell. If they were going to move on from him, they should have done it at the end of the year and not waited for a few months while he continued to recruit and pour into the program. He also didn’t deserve to have to sit up there with Gene Smith and basically listen to how he wasn’t getting the job done anymore, and they wanted to bring in someone else. For someone who gave so much to the university, he deserved to go out in a more respectful way.

Who Will Replace Matta?
There are a lot of coaches out there that would love to join the Buckeyes because of their national recognition, large athletic budget, and recruiting advantages., but again, now is not a great time to be looking for a coach. Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and Xavier’s Chris Mack are obvious candidate’s because of their in-state success and ability to recruit the area well. They may also be looking for the next step of coaching at the state’s most prestigious athletic program. Chris Holtmann is another interesting name because he has continued Butler’s relevance in the three seasons since Brad Stevens left for the NBA. Butler has a 70-31 record with him at the helm, and they were a four seed in last season’s NCAA tournament.

The Buckeyes could also reach out to former Indiana coach Tom Crean who had quite a bit of success at Indiana and again is familiar with recruiting the area. Indiana won the Big Ten twice under his leadership, and he made a trip to the Final Four with Marquette. Finally, they could throw up a hail mary and try to lure Oklahoma City Thunder head coach, Billy Donovan, back to the college ranks. His job is not as lucrative anymore since Kevin Durant left to join the Warriors, and he could reunite with his former buddy from Florida, Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes would really have Florida fans upset if they ended up with two of their former championship coaches.

Hopefully whoever the Buckeyes bring in to replace Matta will help invigorate the program the way he did when he took over. They chose to replace him at a bad time, but maybe they can find a great coaching candidate to take his place. No matter what happens, fans across the buckeye state should be eternally grateful for what Matta did to improve the men’s basketball program.

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