COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thad Matta said on Tuesday he didn’t feel compelled to make a comment regarding his job security at Ohio State.
His boss apparently disagreed.
On Wednesday, Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith released a statement in support of the Ohio State men’s basketball coach. You can read the full statement here.
In sports, statements of support are so often anything but that, but at the very least, this one confirmed Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports’ report that Matta will return to the Buckeyes’ sideline for the 2017-18 season.
What it didn’t do, however, is guarantee anything beyond that.
In fact if anything, Smith’s statement seemed to send a message that the Ohio State basketball program is approaching a crossroads of sorts.
That may seem obvious, given the recent drop-off in production the Buckeyes have endured. After making eight straight NCAA Tournaments from 2008-2015 and obtaining either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed from 2010-2013, Ohio State has compiled a 38-28 overall record over the course of the past two seasons.
Heading into this week’s Big Ten Tournament, the 11th-seeded Buckeyes lay claim to a 17-14 record, including a 7-11 mark in conference play. Anything short of winning the conference tournament would likely mean that Ohio State will be sitting out the Big Dance for the second straight season.
“While we are not currently where we aspire to be with our performance on the court,” Smith said, “Thad understands better than anyone that component has to improve.”
The operative phrase in Smith’s statement: “has to.”
If it doesn’t next season, it’s hard to imagine Matta returning for a 15th season at Ohio State. While the Buckeyes may never be the perennial power fans want them to be, they’re also not a program that should be going more than two consecutive years without making the NCAA Tournament. Make no mistake, Matta’s own early success is certainly one of the reasons for Ohio State’s high standards. But with the Buckeyes’ record, attendance and postseason results steadily declining, the all-time winningest coach in Ohio State history is running out of goodwill.
What will Matta have to do to save his job beyond next season? There’s likely not going to be a set criteria. At the very least, the Buckeyes will surely have to make the 2018 NCAA Tournament, but even that might not be enough.
More than anything, Matta will have to prove that Ohio State is still heading in the right direction. And whether it be on the court or the recruiting trail, not since 2013 — when the Buckeyes won the Big Ten Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight a year after making it to the Final Four — has there been much evidence of that.
As of Tuesday, it appears Matta is going to get at least one more year to change that.
“I am confident in his leadership to return the program to the winning ways that we have all enjoyed during his 13-year tenure,” Smith said.
But if he doesn’t in the next year, it may be a very different statement Smith is sending out next spring.