On Monday afternoon, in a hastily called together press conference, Thad Matta and his athletic director, Gene Smith, announced that they had come an agreement that the former would no longer be the head coach at Ohio State.
The decision came, according to Smith, after Matta’s program had started to fall apart. It’s been four years since the team finished better than fifth in the Big Ten standings. The Buckeyes went two just two NCAA tournaments in that span, winning just a single game, and finished last season with a 17-15 record. Throw in JaQuan Lyle’s transfer, Trevor Thompson’s decision to go pro and a decommitment from a four-star prospect in the Class of 2018, and the two had decided enough was enough.
Matta wasn’t going to get this thing turned around any time soon, and with the constant health issues he’s had regarding his back and his foot, it was time.
That means that, as of June 5th, one of college basketball’s 15 best jobs is now on the market, which is a shame for Buckeye fans. It was one of the worst kept secrets in college basketball circles that Archie Miller, the new Indiana head coach and former Dayton head man, wanted the Buckeye job, and by waiting until June 5th to part ways with Matta — instead of, say, in mid-March, when he issued Matta a vote of confidence — Smith cost himself a shot at Archie.
Is that something that he will come to regret in the next five-to-ten years?
And who, now, will Ohio State hire as a replacement for Matta?
Chris Jent, Ohio State assistant coach: The big question now is whether or not the Buckeyes are going to hire an interim head coach for the 2017-18 season and take their time trying to find a coach to hire or jumping head-first into a June coaching search. If it’s the latter, it’s hard to imagine Jent, a well-respected and longtime assistant for Matta, will be able to beat out some of the names that you’ll see listed below.
Ohio State is a great job, one that some will tell you is the best in the Big Ten. They have money, they have facilities, they have a recruiting base, they have a winning tradition and they don’t have the pressure that comes with being a ‘basketball school’.
But if the Buckeyes do opt to go with an interim coach, Jent is the guy that would be expected to earn the chance to audition his way into the job a la Greg Gard at Wisconsin. For what it’s worth, Smith made it sound awful unlikely that this would be the direction he would be willing to go in.
A current NBA head coach?: Billy Donovan’s name is already being bandied about. The like of Fred Hoiberg and potentially even Brad Stevens, former college coaches that are now running NBA organizations, will also be mentioned. It seems unlikely that any of the three would actively make the decision to return to the collegiate ranks.
Sean Miller (Arizona), Archie Miller (Indiana), Tony Bennett (Virginia), Jay Wright (Villanova): Don’t hold your breath, although that likely would have been different had this change happened in April, before Archie accepted the Indiana job.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State: You cannot have a coaching search at a high-major program without mentioning Marshall’s name. It makes sense. Marshall is one of the top ten coaches in college basketball and may very well be the best coach currently outside of the Power 5 conferences. That said, he gets paid mountains of money — more than $3 million annually — at a school that will never fire him and that just jumped from the Missouri Valley into the AAC for the 2017-18 season. With the Koch Brothers providing the funding for the Shocker program and a top ten program for the upcoming season, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Marshall makes the leap. But Smith needs to make Marshall say no. This is the kind of job that he would take.
Shaka Smart, Texas: Smart is a native of the midwest that began his coaching career in Ohio. After a tough first two seasons with the Longhorns, there was some speculation that Smart was unsettled in Austin and was considering heading to Georgetown. But that was before Mo Bamba committed and Andrew Jones returned to school, giving the Longhorns a tournament caliber team. Ohio State checks the boxes for Smart — winning basketball program at a football school — but it doesn’t seem like the job he leaves for.
Chris Mack, Xavier: This is where is starts to get interesting. Mack is a Cincinnati native and a Xavier graduate that has spent the last eight years steering the Musketeers to the point that they are routinely getting ranked in the preseason top 20. He’s also just 47 years old and one of the nation’s best coaches, and there is always going to be speculation that he’s looking to move on to bigger and better things. Mack would be a good fit — he clearly knows how to recruit Ohio and the Midwest, and the Big Ten is a step up from the Big East — the question is whether or not this is the job he would want to leave home for.
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati: Cronin, like Mack, has spent a long time coaching in the state of Ohio, having spent the last 11 seasons building Cincinnati back into a top 25 program in the sport. But there also is something of a ceiling with the Bearcats — they’re arguably the best program in the AAC, but Cronin has only been out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament once, back in 2012. Cronin can recruit the area, and flirted with leaving Cincinnati for UNLV after Dave Rice was fired.
Chris Holtmann, Butler: Holtmann is one of the hottest names in coaching after the year that he had with Butler in 2016-17. He took a Bulldog team that was projected to finish in the bottom half of the Big East and turned them into a top 15 team in the country. In three seasons as Butler’s head coach, he’s never finished worse than fourth in the Big East — he finished second in the league twice — and has won a game in all three NCAA tournaments, including getting to the Sweet 16 this past season. That was enough to earn him a raise and an extension with a handful of high-major programs sniffing around back in April, but is it enough to keep Holtmann at home if the Buckeyes come knocking?
Ed Cooley, Providence: Cooley, like Mack, would have to be convinced to leave his hometown program, but he’s also one of the most underrated coaches in the country. He’s led the Friars to four straight top four finishes in the Big East and four straight NCAA tournaments, and the expectation is that that streak will continue in 2018. If he can do all that while recruiting to Providence, what can he do when he is able to recruit to a program like Ohio State?
Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech: Buzz would be an expensive hire, and given his Texas and Oklahoma roots, the assumption has been that his next move will send him to the Big 12; if Oklahoma State wasn’t pinching pennies after the Travis Ford debacle, he may have been hired by the Pokes in either of the last two springs. That said, Williams built Marquette into a Big East power and took Virginia Tech to the NCAA tournament last season. It would be interesting to see what he could do in a place like Ohio State.
Tom Crean: How ironic would it be if the man Indiana fired to hire Archie Miller was the guy Ohio State hired at the end of the day? That might be enough to keep it from happening, to say nothing of the fact that Ohio State and Indiana are Big Ten rivals, but Crean is probably the best coach currently out of work.