To many, the announcement that Ohio State head basketball coach Thad Matta would not be returning seemed to strike an odd tone. After all, who parts ways with their coach in June, after the coaching carousel has, for the most part, wound grind to a halt. Clearly athletic director Gene Smith and Matta, agreeing to mutually split, aren’t interested in timelines.
So, as Matta focuses on his well-being, a gaping hole is now left at an Ohio State program that has just come off a lackluster 17-15 season and an early-round exit in the Big Ten Tournament at the hands of Rutgers. And while there’s a possibility that associate head coach (and former Tulane head coach) Dave Dickerson will take over for Matta on an interim basis, you can already see the rumor mill churning.
No sooner did the Matta departure become public than the pundits started dusting off their keyboards and start speculating on a replacement. Dickerson will likely be considered, as will fellow assistant Chris Jent (unless he decides to go back to the NBA, which is possible). Former Buckeye assistant Jeff Boals’ name has also made the rounds, though he only has one 18-14 year of head coaching experience with Stony Brook to his name.
Understandably, a wish list of absurd candidates has already made the rounds. Naturally, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan and Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens have already been sucked into the punditry vortex. But given both of their collective situations, it seems unlikely that either, particularly Stevens, would even think about heading back to the college ranks.
Donovan may have a stronger case to bail on Oklahoma City, but it may still be a hard sell for him. Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg’s name has also been kicked around as well.
And no, Mike Brown isn’t the answer, either, not matter who thinks it is.
The Buckeyes thought the search may be over before it really even began. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported that OSU offered the job to long-time Creighton head coach Greg McDermott after meeting with school officials on Wednesday night. However, McDermott has opted to stay in Nebraska.
With McDermott out, Ohio State may already be on Plan B in the works, as CBS’s Gary Parrish has reported that OSU is finalizing a deal with Chris Holtmann, the currently head coach at Butler, ironically Matta’s alma mater and former coaching stop.
With all the speculation about who will ultimately replace Matta permanently, there still is a question of whether or not the Ohio State job is the most coveted in the nation. Conventional wisdom would tell you that it is.
Part of what makes it a prime coaching job is, as real estate agents stress, location, location, location. Any Big Ten opening would garner a cornucopia of worthy candidates. And in OSU’s case, that thought is bolstered by a string of prior success in the conference, not to mention a pair of Final Four appearances in the last 10 years.
At the same time, the rebuilding process, especially after a down year, may also give some candidates pause. According the Verbal Commits, the Buckeyes only have 10 players coming back on scholarship. And in spite of the fact that Ohio State has recently produced NBA-caliber talent, most recently D’Angelo Russell of the Los Angeles Lakers, there has been a steady stream of players leaving the program.
Despite the recent downturn, which is magnified by the success of the football program, OSU can still hang its hat of years among the upper echelon of the college basketball ranks. And as has been proven in recent years, one huge recruiting class can make all the difference. Considering Ohio State’s ability to produce such a class, the prospects seem rather bright that the right coach can put the Buckeyes back on top.
And that is likely enough to convince a Holtmann, Hoiberg, Mick Cronin, Chris Mack or even Billy Donovan to take a good look at traveling to Columbus.
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