As anyone who writes about college sports will tell you, one of the most challenging aspects of the job is covering coaching searches. It’s a process where the unexpected becomes expected and where things can twist and turn in the blink of an eye.
For Ohio State, that process occurred last night.
On Wednesday, during the midst of Game 3 of the NBA Finals, reports began leaking out regarding Ohio State’s ongoing coaching search. The program opted to move on from Thad Matta earlier this week and has been pursuing candidates in recent days.
The two names that popped out were Fred Hoiberg and Greg McDermott.
Hoiberg is currently the coach of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and should be in the process of preparing for the NBA Draft and his second season at the helm. He is most well known for his success at Iowa State between 2010 and 2015. His run with the Cyclones included four NCAA Tournament appearances and two Big 12 Tournament titles.
However, as quickly as Hoiberg appeared in the coaching search, he disappeared. He quickly issued a statement shooting down the rumors, claiming that he was committed to the Bulls going forward. This didn’t come as a surprise. After all, stealing a coach from the NBA isn’t exactly an easy task for a college team.
The McDermott rumors, on the other hand, stuck.
Early reports indicated that McDermott was under “serious” consideration for Ohio State’s head coaching vacancy. But that was quickly elevated when reports surfaced that McDermott met with Ohio State on Wednesday and was offered the job.
As I said, things move quickly in coaching searches.
Like Hoiberg, McDermott also made his mark in the midwest. He spent the last seven seasons with Creighton and four years at Iowa State before that. The most impressive run of his career was between 2011 and 2014, when Creighton went 84-22 (.792) overall, made three straight NCAA Tournaments, and won two Missouri Valley titles and a Missouri Valley Tournament.
And should McDermott accept Ohio State’s job offer, there are some legitimate things to like about what he could bring to the program. He has experience, he’s shown he can win at a high level, and his recruiting has improved in recent years. Unlike many other candidates, McDermott is a relatively known quantity.
But, even so, is Ohio State really going to reach this far for McDermott?
Look, I don’t want to ridicule McDermott or project what he would be at Ohio State. As I said above, he has shown he can win at a high level and he has more than 15 years of head coaching experience at quality programs. If Gene Smith hired McDermott, he wouldn’t be jumping off a cliff and hoping for the best. He does have some idea as to where his descent would end with McDermott at the helm.
However, with that said, it’s hard to get too excited about McDermott’s resume. That three-year run between 2011 and 2014 was solid, but there should still some major red flags for Ohio State if he opts to go with McDermott.
Let’s start with the obvious. Despite one year at North Dakota State, five at Northern Iowa, four at Iowa State, and seven at Creighton, McDermott has never coached a Sweet 16 team. The NCAA Tournament is a crazy and unpredictable event, but that’s an 0-for-17 record at getting to the second weekend. That’s not cutting it at Ohio State.
Additionally, McDermott also has a mixed resume when it comes to delivering respectable teams. Over the last 17 seasons, he’s had seven seasons with a losing record and three others where he failed to make the NCAA Tournament.
McDermott would likely have an easier path to the NCAA Tournament at Ohio State than at those other schools, but Thad Matta just got fired after posting 12 straight winning seasons and making seven of the last nine NCAA Tournaments. Realistically, McDermott would have to significantly improve his performance to have any shot at staying in Columbus for any considerable amount of time.
One other thing worth mentioning is the fact that so much of McDermott’s success is linked to his son, Doug McDermott. Remember that impressive run between 2011 and 2014? Well, that was when Doug was at Creighton.
In fact, if you look at McDermott’s tenure at Iowa State and Creighton when Doug’s four years are excluded, his overall record is just 118-112 (.513). He also made the NCAA Tournament just once in seven seasons, getting knocked out in the Round of 64 last March. He would also have just a 40-77 (.341) league record during those two stops.
Simply put, no matter how fans analyze McDermott’s resume, they’re not going to be blown away, especially in the context of a job like Ohio State. In my opinion, the Ohio State job is often overrated by the media, but nobody in their right mind can think the achievements above would cut it in Columbus. Ohio State is going to demand far more than first weekend NCAA Tournament appearances roughly half the time.
If you want some perspective, let’s just take a look at the last four seasons. That brings in the last year that Doug McDermott was with Creighton through the present. Creighton had an 86-52 (.623) overall record with two NCAA Tournament appearances and one NIT appearance. Creighton went 1-2 in NCAA Tournament play and didn’t win any league titles.
Well, guess what Thad Matta and Ohio State did during the same time span? The Buckeyes went 87-50 (.635) overall and made the NCAA Tournament twice and the NIT once. Ohio State went 1-2 in NCAA Tournament play and didn’t win any league titles. Matta was fired in large part due to that performance.
That’s an absolutely damning comparison and that doesn’t even include the early years of Matta’s tenure with Ohio State. As Buckeye fans will surely remember, Matta took Ohio State to two Final Fours and five Sweet 16s. Of course, McDermott has never made the Sweet 16 as a head coach.
Put simply, Matta has a better resume than McDermott.
And Matta was just fired by Ohio State.
All told, McDermott may have a solid resume that’s good enough to warrant him head coaching attention at the Power Five level. But for a program like Ohio State that is demanding excellent, there’s a pretty obvious question.
Is Ohio State really going to reach this far for Greg McDermott?