COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State has hired away Butler coach Chris Holtmann to replace Thad Matta.
The move concludes a coaching search that spanned a chaotic week, starting with the stunning announcement Monday that Matta was out. Ohio State was linked to multiple candidates who appeared close to becoming the Buckeyes’ new coach, but the Chicago Bulls’ Fred Hoiberg and Creighton’s Greg McDermott both opted to stay put. On Thursday, the Buckeyes zeroed in on Holtmann, who had been considered one of the more likely candidates from the start.
So now that he’s the head coach of the Buckeyes, what should Ohio State fans know about Holtmann? Here are five things to keep in mind.
1. Chris Holtmann has entered a tenuous situation before
The June timing obviously isn’t ideal, and it might have prevented Ohio State from hiring an even more seasoned coach. But Holtmann is no stranger to difficult circumstances. He went to Butler as an assistant in 2013, and one year later he became the interim coach in October 2014 when coach Brandon Miller took a medical leave of absence.
Holtmann performed so well during that stretch that the interim tag came off in early January 2015. By that point he already had secured wins over North Carolina and Georgetown and was well on his way to an NCAA Tournament appearance.
2. Chris Holtmann never missed the NCAA Tournament at Butler
Holtmann’s three seasons at Butler were remarkably consistent. Take a look at the records.
|Year||Overall record||Conf. record||NCAA Tournament|
|2014-15||23-11||12-6||Round of 32|
|2015-16||22-11||10-8||Round of 32|
Last season, Holtmann and Butler earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament — the highest seed in program history. Given Butler’s recent run of success, putting together the most impressive regular season of the bunch is a solid accomplishment. The Bulldogs were pegged by some as an upset target but won back-t0-back games to get to the Sweet 16. Butler was eliminated by eventual national champion North Carolina in that round.
3. He has bet on himself before — and it paid off
Holtmann taking an assistant coaching job at Butler was a bit unconventional at the time because he left a Division I head coaching job to do so. For three years, Holtmann roamed the sidelines at Gardner-Webb, a notoriously difficult job with little history of success.
His first two years there were rocky. His teams won just 11 games in his first season and 12 the next. His third season, though, was a breakthrough. The Runnin’ Bulldogs went 21-13 overall and 11-5 in the Big South. Gardner-Webb lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament but was invited to the CIT after missing out on an NCAA spot. It was the first postseason tournament appearance in program history. At the time, no coach in program history had won more games over a three-year stretch.
Most coaches would have held out for another head coaching job, but Holtmann saw a viable path to coaching stardom at Butler by taking the job as an assistant when Miller was hired to replace Brad Stevens.
4. Chris Holtmann can recruit Ohio
Ohio is loaded with talented Class of 2018 prospects, making it a huge opportunity for the Buckeyes. Athletic director Gene Smith specifically referenced Matta’s recent struggles in that department in the news conference announcing his departure.
Holtmann pulled 4-star Kyle Young from Massillon (Ohio) Jackson in the Class of 2017, and there are two other Ohioans on Butler’s roster who were signed by Holtmann. He’d already started making inroads with the 2018 Ohio players as Butler’s coach.
One good thing for Ohio St fans, Butler has been recruiting many of the top Ohio kids in 2018 for a while, so pre-existing relationships
— Brian Snow (@BSnowScout) June 9, 2017
His hiring also has the approval of Westerville (Ohio) South, a Columbus-area program that has sent players to Ohio State in back-to-back years. So there’s that.
Excited to see Chris Holtmann accept the OSU job.
Chris was very active in recruiting Andre to Butler and I know he loved Kaleb's potential
— Westerville South (@SouthBasketball) June 9, 2017
5. He is very well-regarded
This is probably about as well as Ohio State could have hoped to do given the unusual circumstances. Holtmann has been praised by analysts for his work at Butler, especially the Bulldogs’ strong defense. He consistently made the Bulldogs competitive nationally, and for that he’s earned the admiration of those who cover the sport.
Chris Holtmann went from HC of Gardner Webb to Butler assistant to Butler interim HC to Butler HC to Ohio State HC in four years. Unreal.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) June 9, 2017
Ohio State has landed a great coach & better person in Chris Holtmann. And I have no doubt @BUADCollier will find next great Butler coach.
— Dana O'Neil (@DanaONeilWriter) June 9, 2017
Between Butler’s awesome defense and that play call, I am fully, 100% in on the Chris Holtmann experience.
— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) February 15, 2015
So impressed w Chris Holtmann at Butler. Doesn't meet traditional criteria but case for COY. Great job in difficult situation
— Dana O'Neil (@DanaONeilWriter) February 14, 2015
Can't say enough how well Chris Holtmann is coaching/running Butler as interim. Great win for BU. Leave Bahamas w/wins over UNC, GU.
— Andy Katz (@TheAndyKatz) November 28, 2014