Ohio State announced the end of the Thad Matta era in Columbus on Monday, and will conduct a national search to find his successor.
Who will replace the all-time winningest coach in Buckeyes men’s basketball history? Here are five potential candidates:
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.
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.
If Ohio State doesn’t land Mack, it might opt to look at the other side of Cincinnati’s Crosstown Shootout.
After three seasons — and two NCAA Tournament appearances — at Murray State, Mick Cronin took over at Cincinnati, a job he’s held since 2006. In that time, the Cincinnati native has posted a 237–135 record and has taken the Bearcats to the last seven NCAA Tournaments.
Making an in-state hire would fit the Buckeyes’ strategy of wanting to get back to recruiting Ohio.
As with Mack, it might simply be a matter of dollars and cents.
Ohio State would be foolish not to explore Matta’s long line of former assistants who have taken jobs elsewhere. Of the realistic options, Sean Miller might just top that list.
An assistant at Xavier from 2001-04, Miller succeeded his former boss as the Musketeers head coach when Matta left for Ohio State in 2004. After five seasons at Xavier, Miller then took over at Arizona, where he has recorded a 220–66 record and won four regular-season Pac-12 conference championships.
Often regarded as one of college basketball’s top recruiters, Miller’s history of recruiting the Buckeye State would be appealing. And while it’s tough to imagine him leaving one of the top “basketball schools” in the West, it’s worth noting that many believed his brother — new Indiana coach Archie Miller — considered Ohio State his “dream job.”
Could the older Miller feel similarly about the Buckeyes? Gene Smith should at least make the call to find out.
When Ohio State faced Marquette in 2013, the admiration between Matta and then-Eagles coach Buzz Williams was clear.
Could the now-Virginia Tech coach succeed Matta? It seems possible.
An up-and-comer in the coaching ranks with ties to the Midwest, the 44-year-old Williams would be a solid choice to lead the Buckeyes into the future. In one season at New Orleans, six at Marquette and three with the Hokies, he has amassed a record of 206-134, having made the NCAA Tournament in six of the last eight seasons.
And for all he’s accomplished, Williams has yet to coach at a school with the resources the Buckeyes have at their disposal. This wouldn’t be a sexy hire, but it could be a strong one.