What to know about Thad Matta’s departure and Ohio State’s coaching search
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Today is Tuesday, June 6, and it’s time to Wake Up Sloopy. Given the announcement Monday that Thad Matta’s time at Ohio State is up, we’re going with an all-Matta edition of Wake Up Sloopy that breaks down our coverage of the game-changing news.
Who’s next up for Ohio State?
With Thad Matta out at Ohio State, the next question is an obvious one.
My colleague Ben Axelrod put together a list of potential options for Ohio State, and it starts with one that would leave Ohio State fans pretty pleased.
If Ohio State is going to swing for the fences, bringing Billy Donovan back to the college ranks would be the biggest home run it could hit.
In 19 seasons at Florida — which like Ohio State is considered a “football school” — Donovan amassed a 467-186 record, winning two national championships and appearing in two other Final Fours. The Gators produced several NBA draft picks during his time in Gainesville, including Jason Williams, Mike Miller, David Lee, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Chandler Parsons and Bradley Beal.
In 2015, Donovan made his own jump to the NBA, taking over as head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. But following the departure of Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016, the franchise has experienced a shift in expectations, which could make a return to the college level feasible for Donovan, 52.
Should that be the case, Donovan could do worse than reuniting with his former Florida co-worker, Urban Meyer, at Ohio State. As for the Buckeyes, they likely wouldn’t be able to do any better than adding such an accomplished college coach who also happens to have an NBA pedigree.
That’s a bit of a long shot, though it’s not hard to see the logical reasons to pursue Donovan or why it would probably be a fit for both Donovan and Ohio State.
The next option on the list is probably a little more available, and it might mean a few angst-filled weeks or months for Xavier fans.
The Xavier coaching tree has been kind to Ohio State. It’s where the Buckeyes found Matta and women’s basketball coach Kevin McGuff.
Could Ohio State go to that well one more time and try to hire Chris Mack? It would seem to make sense.
In eight seasons in charge of the Musketeers, Mack has compiled a 187-91 record and has qualified for seven of the last eight NCAA Tournaments. In two of the last three, the Cleveland native’s teams have advanced to at least the Sweet 16.
As a Xavier alum, leaving Cincinnati for Columbus could be tricky for the 47-year-old coach. But money often talks, and the Buckeyes might be willing to break the bank for the right replacement.
To see our full list of possible candidates, check out the story here.
For Ohio State, why now?
In March, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith announced Matta would return for another year.
So what changed? Well, Ohio State basketball only had the worst offseason in recent memory. In my story examining the decision to oust Matta — in June, no less — I take a look at the craziness that’s transpired in recent months.
The night Smith backed Matta, Ohio State lost to Rutgers. The Buckeyes didn’t get a spot in the NIT, so that game ended their season.
Center Trevor Thompson declared for the NBA draft and didn’t withdraw, even though he has virtually no chance of being drafted. Fellow big man David Bell transferred. Class of 2018 4-star recruit Darius Bazley de-committed, saying, “they didn’t even make the NIT.”
JaQuan Lyle, probably the team’s best returning player, was arrested in May. When the news came to light, Ohio State announced that Lyle had actually quit in April and the school had never bothered to announce it.
While all of this was happening, the team swung and missed on every remaining recruit and graduate transfer it had targeted to help stop the bleeding.
To sum it up, nobody wants to play for Ohio State right now. Matta was on the thinnest of ice as it was. It seems to have simply become a situation where Smith wanted to give Matta one last crack at saving the program he built but ultimately came to the realization that keeping Matta would have done too much harm over the course of a year.
Ohio State basketball players bid farewell to Thad Matta
Matta’s legacy will be measured not only by the way he raised the standard at Ohio State but also by how much his players loved playing for him. That much was evident Monday afternoon when the news of his departure broke.
Tons of Matta’s former players took to Twitter to share their thoughts on the news.
Here’s a sampling of what some former Buckeyes had to say about their coach.
Although I didn't play for Thad, he embraced me to the fullest. Class act, did a great job as our coach. Love him and his family.
— Scoonie Penn (@Scooniep12) June 5, 2017
Family aside, no one has done more for my life than Coach Matta. Love that man w all my heart and will forever be indebted to him. Go Bucks.
— Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) June 5, 2017
Man, words can't describe what Coach meant to me and the program! Wouldn't have wanted to play for anyone else! pic.twitter.com/JmkQtJ8CcW
— Aaron Craft (@ACraft4) June 5, 2017
— Jared Sullinger (@Jared_Sully0) June 5, 2017
The rest of the Twitter posts can be viewed here.
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