This week saw the tenure of two iconic NCAA coaches come to an end. On Monday Thad Matta and Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith held a joint press conference to announce that Matta would not return to coach the Buckeyes for the 2017-2018 NCAA basketball season. Then on Wednesday Bob Stoops announced that he would be stepping down from his position as head football coach for the University of Oklahoma, effective immediately. Each coach was the winningest head coach in their school’s history for their respective sports, so both schools have some pretty big shoes to fill.
In the Ohio State press conference, Gene Smith stated that he and Matta came to a “mutual understanding” that it was time for a leadership change, but this was very clearly Smith’s decision, at least initially. For Smith, it came down to the fact that Ohio State was losing the recruiting battles that they both felt they should be winning. When asked, Smith confirmed that heading into the off season he was fully behind moving forward with Matta as head coach for the 2017-18 season, but after a meeting between the two last Friday it became apparent that a change was necessary. Throughout the press conference Matta appeared very emotional, which was a stark contrast to Smith’s stoic and inexpressive demeanor.
For Matta, the driving factor was his health. He’s clearly been struggling for a while, alluding to the fact that he could barely move at times after games and would occasionally need injections in order to be able to make his pain manageable enough to coach through. When asked if he felt he would still be the head coach if he were completely healthy he said “yes”. He also mentioned that he wouldn’t rule out a return to coaching, but for now his primary focus is getting healthy.
In his 13 years at Ohio State, Thad Matta became the winningest basketball coach in Buckeyes history. While he never brought home a national title, he did make it to the championship game once and made two Final Four appearances (something his predecessor was never able to do, at least not according to any official NCAA record books). It wouldn’t be a stretch to declare Thad Matta to be the greatest basketball coach in OSU history, but I do think the school is making the right decision by moving on.
So where do the Buckeyes go from here? There were quite a few names thrown around online as possible candidates, although it’s unclear whether Ohio State seriously pursued any of them. I for one had hoped they would keep up the tradition of hiring a former Florida Gators head coach that beat them in a National Championship by hiring Billy Donovan, but I’m not sure how realistic that scenario ever was.
One name I definitely did not expect to see was Creighton head coach Greg McDermott, but Wednesday saw Gene Smith traveling to Omaha to offer McDermott the head coaching job at Ohio State. McDermott ultimately opted to stay at Creighton, so the search continued.
As of Thursday night it sounded like Butler head coach Chris Holtmann was the leader in the clubhouse, and had been in talks with Ohio State to take the position. Now it’s looking like this hire is all but official, and will be formally announced by Ohio State later today. Personally, I think this is a better fit than McDermott would have been, so I’m glad to see that they were able to get a deal done. Holtmann was able to bring a lot of success to Butler so I’m hoping he is able to replicate that for the Buckeyes. I think the future is bright for OSU basketball, and I’m excited to see what Holtmann can do.
The Stoops announcement was the polar opposite of the Matta press conference. While I admit I did not watch the entire Stoops press conference, in the clips I did see he came across as a guy who was clearly at peace with his decision. He was getting to go out on his own terms and definitely seemed ready to move on to the next chapter in his life. And while Matta is a local legend at Ohio State, Stoops is recognized as one of the best ever on a national level.
Oklahoma also clearly had a plan from the beginning, immediately announcing offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley as Stoops’s successor. At 33, Riley will become the youngest active FBS head coach in the country. He has some pretty high expectations to meet in Norman, OK. Stoops failed to reach double digit wins only four times in his 18 year career at OU, and never posted a losing record. With only a few months until the beginning of the season, Riley doesn’t have a lot of time to get adjusted to his new role. He’s going to be tested early when he travels to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes in week 2, which would be a huge statement win to kickstart his head coaching career.
On a side note, I’m insanely jealous of Bob Stoops right now. I think retirement is the thing I look forward to most in life, which is pretty sad for someone who’s still closer to his birth than his retirement. I’ve still got quite a long way to go, so until then I’ll just pass the time by day dreaming about my retirement press conference. Hopefully it looks more like Stoops’s than Matta’s.