After all that, after Ohio State fired the best coach in the history of the program, missed on some names you didn’t think that they would miss on and learned the hard way that having a coaching search play out in the middle of June in the public eye can lead to some embarrassment, the Buckeyes got the man that they should have targeted all along.
Chris Holtmann, the new Ohio State head coach, is what Thad Matta was 13 years ago, when he was the new Ohio State head coach.
Holtmann is a little older than Matta was at the time, and Matta had a little more success at Butler and Xavier than Holtmann had at Gardner-Webb and Butler, but they really aren’t all that different. Neither coach has an ego that needs to be stroked. They aren’t attention whores, which is the perfect demeanor for a basketball coach to have on the campus of a football school. Both have a reputation for “doing it the right way”; it’s silly for anyone to out-and-out say that any coach doesn’t cheat, but talk to people in recruiting circles and you’ll have a hard time finding anyone to tell you that either Matta or Holtmann are doling out Ricky Roe duffel bags to every recruit that visits campus.
But the most important part here is that both Matta and Holtmann are terrific coaches. Matta never got the credit he deserved for being great at his job. Before arriving at Ohio State, he went to four NCAA tournaments — winning at least a game every year — and won his league three times in the four years that he was a head coach. The only year he didn’t win his league was when he went to the Elite 8 with Xavier in 2003. From 2006-2012 at Ohio State, he won five regular season titles, four tournament titles and reached two Final Fours and one national title game.
Holtmann hasn’t won a league title yet, but he did turn Gardner-Webb around, taking them from the Big South basement to a second-place finish in his third season. His time at Butler, however, should not in anyway be underestimated. Remember, for a second, where the Bulldogs were four years ago, when Holtmann arrived on campus as an assistant coach on Brandon Miller’s staff. Brad Stevens had just left the previous July to take over the Boston Celtics, four months after Butler had finally joined the Big East. In Miller’s one season as head coach, the Bulldogs went 14-17 and finished just 4-14 in the league.
Then, in October of 2014, Miller took a leave of absence from the program that he would never return from.
Holtmann stepped in and immediately turned the program around. Butler went 23-11 in his first season, 22-11 the year after and 25-9 this past season. They’ve been to the NCAA tournament and won a game in each of the last three years, and next year’s team, which is coming off of a Sweet 16 appearance and a second-place finish in the Big East, may enter the year in the preseason top 25.
The program is recruiting at levels that we’ve never seen it recruit at. They’re rightfully sitting near the top of a league that includes programs like Villanova and Xavier. If Ohio State hadn’t come along and scooped him up, there’s no reason to think that Holtmann couldn’t have won a Big East title with the Bulldogs at some point in the near future.
Even without Holtmann at the helm, Butler still may be able to make that happen.
And that’s because Holtmann ushered them out of the darkness and into a new era for Butler basketball.
That should never get overlooked, and there’s only one reason to think that he may not be able to do for Ohio State what he did for Butler: recruiting.
Recruiting players to Butler and recruiting players to Ohio State is a different ball game. He’ll mostly be targeting the same regions — his bread-and-butter with the Bulldogs was Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, but he pulled kids out of Rhode Island and Georgia, not to mention that he tapped into the transfer market effectively — but he’ll be trying to get a different caliber of player. Recruiting at that level is not always clean, and there are few that believe he will resort to that in Columbus.
You can win at Butler by finding the kids that want to play for you, whether it’s because they’re from Indiana, they love the coaching staff or they were under-recruited, overlooked and accurately evaluated by your staff. If Holtmann can do the same for the Buckeyes, then Ohio State should be right back in the mix at the top of the Big Ten sooner rather than later.