Thad Matta’s tenure as the Ohio State men’s basketball coach came to an abrupt end on Monday afternoon. The veteran head coach held a joint press conference with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, announcing that Matta would be stepping away after 13 years at the helm of Ohio State. Smith said that he initially suggested the head coaching change, while both Smith and Matta said that they mutually agreed that it’s the best option moving forward.
“It’s the right thing for our program at this time,” Smith said during the press conference, where he noted that the university will honor the final three years of Matta’s contract.
“I want what’s best for the program, and if it’s not me being here, I understand that and I respect it,” Matta said. “Today does not define who I am. I’ve got some of the greatest memories at this place.”
Matta was emotional at times during the press conference, stating that the past 13 years have probably been the best time of his life. The all-time wins leader at Ohio State, Matta went 337-123 during his time with the Buckeyes, winning five Big Ten regular-season titles and four Big Ten Tournaments in the process.
However, the Buckeyes have struggled the last two years, going 21-14 in 2015-’16 before finishing 17-15 overall, including 7-11 in the Big Ten, last year. Smith said that he left the 2016-’17 season fully expecting Matta to be back for 2017-’18, but the situation changed in the offseason.
“We weren’t winning the battles in recruiting that I thought we might have a chance to win,” said Smith, stating that recruiting is the lifeblood of the program.
Smith said that prompted him to meet with Matta on Friday, and that conversation led Smith to suggest that it was time to move on. It’s in that meeting that the decision was made to take the program in a new direction.
“I just got this feeling listening to him that it was time,” Smith said. “I could see and sense that maybe it was time. ... Then we started talking about the process.”
Matta compiled a 439-154 overall record during his time at Ohio State, Xavier and Butler. The Buckeyes were the best program in the Big Ten early in Matta’s tenure, highlighted by the freshmen group of Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook that led the Buckeyes to the NCAA Tournament championship game in 2007.
Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft led the Buckeyes back to the Final Four in 2012, then Craft brought them to the Elite Eight in 2013. However, the Buckeyes have dropped off from there, making the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and 2015 before missing the tournament the last two years.
Matta’s health problems, including past back surgeries, have appeared to play a role in the recent downturn. The 49-year-old Matta said during Monday’s press conference that he would probably still be the coach if he was 100-percent healthy.
“It’s more of a physical thing than a mental thing,” Matta said, noting that there have been times when he couldn’t walk. “I don’t think anyone can truly understand what this job, coaching, does to you.”
Smith said that there isn’t a timetable for hiring a new head coach, but Matta will be involved in the transition process and Ohio State’s search for a potential replacement.
“I’m going to do my best to find the right person that fits the Ohio State University,” Smith said. “Besides wins and losses, he (Matta) has set a standard with culture and how we do things the right way. ... In basketball, you have to take the time to find the type of person that you know is always going to do it the right way when you’re not looking.”
Ohio State will now move on and try to find a quality replacement for Matta.