After stepping away from 13-year head coach Thad Matta at a very inopportune time last week, the Buckeyes seem to have found their man to replace him. They supposedly offered the position to Creighton’s Greg McDermott, but he chose to stay with the Blue Jays. I believe that’s all for the best because I was unsure of his abilities to rebuild the program. Instead, the Buckeyes will have a press conference Monday to introduce former Butler coach, Chris Holtmann, as the new leader of their program.
After a very successful run at Ohio State, Matta’s teams have fallen off in recent years both on the court and on the recruiting trail. Matta has failed to compete in the upper-echelon of the Big Ten the past few years, and he failed to make the NCAA tournament in the last two seasons. He has failed to bring in the upper-level talent that the program was accustomed to him signing, and there has also been a lot of transfers leaving the program which has left the cupboard pretty bare.
If there is anyone around who can seamlessly transition into the program in June, it is probably Holtmann. Holtmann started out as the head coach at Gardner-Webb before joining Brandon Miller’s staff at Butler in the wake of Brad Stevens’ bolt to the NBA. After a season and a half under Miller, Holtmann took over at Butler when Miller had to leave because of health problems, and the Bulldogs never missed a beat. Holtmann had a 70-31 record as the leading guy at Butler and lead them to their highest seed ever in the NCAA tournament this past season (4).
Butler has cranked out a lot of top coaching talent including Holtmann’s predecessor at Ohio State, Matta. He was able to help Butler retain its national relevance through several seasons, and that is tough to do at a lower-tier school when it loses a high-profile leader like Stevens. He was able to keep bringing in and developing the talent that kept the team performing at a very high level for being such a small school. The program now has brand recognition with the younger generation of hoopers and should be able to continue to produce competitive teams in the NCAA Tournament field.
Now Holtmann’s challenge is to take his success at Butler to the next level at a top-tier university in Columbus. There will be a lot higher expectations placed on him to produce quickly at a school with traditional success and one of the highest athletic budgets in the country. Coaches in the two biggest college sports (football and men’s basketball) are expected to win and win immediately at The Ohio State University. Holtmann will be expected to show immediate improvement because Gene Smith showed his lack of patience in ousting highly decorated coach after a only a few subpar seasons.
Holtmann didn’t bring in the top-level talent at Butler, but he had a much smaller platform. He also showed that he can develop his players and compete on the national stage without five-star recruits. He has a big rebuilding job to do in Columbus, and I imagine he will try to flip some of his Butler commits to get started. If he can show some progress with the program, it should lead to bigger dominos falling his way in future years.
Ohio State has a lot more national recognition than Butler, so it should work to his benefit as he tries to bring the program back to national relevance and produce players that will be great NBA prospects. I have a lot of confidence in Holtmann, and I think he has the confidence and energy to turn the program around quickly and have the Buckeyes competing against top competition for recruits and victories very soon.