Thad Matta is out at Ohio State. It’s a combination of disappointing recruiting and chronic back trouble that makes it difficult for Matta to lead the rigorous life of a Big Ten basketball coach.
In early March, I told you in this space that the returns of Matta and Indiana coach Tom Crean were big questions in my mind. The other one I wondered about was Chris Collins. But Northwestern stepped up with a great contract extension, and none of the traditional powers tried to swoop in.
While Collins is a great fit in Evanston, Crean just seemed to be a bad fit in Bloomington.
With Matta, it just came down to a bad back. Honestly, I’m surprised he was able to hang in there this long, based on what I know about backs in general, and what I had heard about his back for years.
Also, Ohio State doesn’t mess around. Two straight NCAA tournament misses, and recruiting shortfalls were enough for athletic director Gene Smith.
Possible replacements include Xavier’s Chris Mack, Arizona’s Sean Miller, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, Butler’s Chris Holtmann, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Billy Donovan.
In other words, Ohio State will get a really good new coach—one who is healthy and eager to put the Buckeyes back on the college basketball map.
Best wishes to Matta, who is a true gentleman as well as an accomplished coach.
When Illinois hired Bruce Weber, he was on my short list.
Not only had the guy done great work at Butler and Xavier. He was from Hoopeston, Illinois, right near Champaign. He’d even been born in Champaign.
I had no problem with the hiring of Weber. He had a strong resume, and the solid Big Ten roots that Matta lacked. Matta would have been the bigger reach at Illinois at that point.
But when Ohio State hired Matta a year after Weber took over the Illini, you couldn’t help but wonder what might have been.
Nobody, not even his predecessor, Bill Self, could have done more than Weber did in his early seasons at Illinois.
But Matta had a talent for recruiting that Weber could not match. For one thing, he was already plugged into Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr., who turned the Buckeyes into a national power. Matta built on that foundation with excellent sustained recruiting until the pipeline went dry recently.
I’ve always wondered how that would have played out if Matta had been at Illinois. I think it would have gone better. As good a coach and as good a man as Bruce Weber is, Matta was better at the all-important recruiting aspect at that point.
Here’s hoping Thad can resolve his health problems.
He’s a gentleman who lacks the ego and control-freak manias that are common among big-time basketball coaches.
And good luck to the rest of the Big Ten. A league that’s very strong in the coaching department is likely to get even stronger when the new man arrives in Columbus.
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