COLUMBUS, Ohio — Chris Holtmann was supposed to be at the beach on Monday.
Ohio State basketball’s next coach had planned a vacation to Hilton Head, S.C., beginning the weekend of June 10, but the beach will have to wait. Instead, Holtmann found himself standing before a throng of reporters and cameras dressed in a gray suit with a scarlet tie.
“We had a change of plans,” he said.
A week earlier, on June 2, Gene Smith and coach Thad Matta sat down in a previously scheduled meeting. The Ohio State athletic director later said he had no intention of moving on from Matta before that meeting, but the need for a change became clear as they spoke.
Smith said he and Matta came to a “mutual agreement” that a coaching change was necessary. That weekend, in Chicago for Big Ten meetings, Smith spoke to Ohio State president Michael Drake and secured permission to use the funds necessary to attract the coaching candidates he wanted. He said he spoke with search consultant Eddie Fogler on June 4; they began vetting candidates after Matta’s June 5 news conference to keep word of the coach’s pending departure out of respect for Matta.
From there, Smith said he targeted Holtmann as his first choice for the job — though, to be fair, no athletic director ever has admitted to hiring a second or third choice at that coach’s introductory press conference. He contacted Holtmann the morning of June 6, the coach said.
While names such as Fred Hoiberg and Greg McDermott swirled over the next two days, Holtmann pondered Ohio State’s offer.
“It really started when I was contacted on Tuesday morning,” said Holtmann, who left Butler to take the job leading the Buckeyes. “Since then, it’s been a little bit of a blur, to be real honest with you.
“Gene was persistent in his approach. I had to deliberate.”
Hoiberg and McDermott both announced that they wouldn’t be the next coach at Ohio State, though it is unclear how far either got into negotiations — if at all. Meanwhile, Holtmann drove up Ohio State’s offer from seven years to eight.
“I left a special program and special guys, and that was emotional for me,” Holtmann said.
That apparently was enough to seal the deal. The two sides met in Dayton, Ohio — a neutral ground between Columbus and Indianapolis — to come to an agreement on June 8.
“I was able to wake up and get my wife up after three hours of sleep to drive with me to Dayton,” Smith said. “He did the same thing. He and [Holtmann’s wife] Lori met me in Dayton. It was an unbelievable place. We sat and had a great conversation and got to know one another. In that moment, he accepted the job. I called Eddie and I said, ‘We’re done. Release everyone else. We’re done. We got our guy.'”
Chris Holtmann hiring timeline
June 2: Gene Smith meets with Thad Matta and decides to make a coaching change.
June 4: Smith meets with Ohio State president Michael Drake in Chicago, he says, to get authority to use “the financial parameters I felt were necessary” in the coaching search.
June 4: Smith contacts consultant Eddie Fogler for help with vetting candidates.
June 5: Thad Matta’s dismissal is announced at a news conference.
June 5: Smith and Fogler begin the vetting process after the news conference.
June 6: Smith contacts Holtmann to inquire about his interest in the job.
June 6: An Ohio State plane flies to Roanoke, Va., reportedly to meet with Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams. Smith later acknowledges the plane was there but denies he was on it.
June 7: Reports surface that Ohio State and Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg have mutual interest.
June 7: Hoiberg announces he’ll remain the coach of the Chicago Bulls.
June 7: Ohio State reportedly meets with Creighton coach Greg McDermott late at night.
June 8: McDermott announces he’s staying at Creighton, and there are conflicting reports as to whether he was ever offered the job.
June 8: Smith and Holtmann meet in Dayton, Ohio. Later that day, Holtmann emerges as a candidate.
June 9: Ohio State announces Holtmann as its choice to replace Matta.
June 12: Holtmann is introduced as Ohio State’s next head coach.