Buckeyes hire Holtmann
June 9, 2017
By Brian Edwards
You never expect a pair of marquee college basketball jobs to open up in early June. But with Thad Matta’s stunning dismissal on Monday following an outstanding 13-year tenure at Ohio State, that’s exactly what we’ve seen unfold this week.
On Friday, Ohio State announced the hiring of Butler’s Chris Holtmann. This came 24 hours after Creighton’s Greg McDermott announced that he was staying at the school after Ohio St. AD Gene Smith flew to Omaha to visit with him Wednesday night.
Before we get to Holtmann and who will be on Butler’s radar, let’s first go back to Matta. The first 11 years of his tenure with the Buckeyes included nine trips to the NCAA Tournament, five Sweet 16’s, three Elite Eight’s and a pair of Final Fours. The two seasons in which Ohio State didn’t get to the Tourney? His first at the school when OSU was ineligible for postseason play and 2007-08, when it won the NIT.
If not for the only team to win back-to-back national titles in the last two decades (Florida), Matta would’ve bagged a national title in ’06-07.
Matta has had multiple back surgeries and the last one about a decade ago really impacted his health. He used to be an exercise fanatic, but his back hasn’t allowed that in recent years. When the Buckeyes saw their seven-year steak of NCAA invites snapped two seasons ago, they won one game in the NIT before being eliminated by the Gators.
Then came this past season when Ohio State finished 17-15 overall and 7-11 in Big Ten play. It was the only time in Matta’s 13-year run at the helm that the Buckeyes were below .500 in conference action.
With Matta’s health and job security becoming more of an issue, the negative recruiting was at all-time high. It resulted in a number of strikeouts on the recruiting trail, including a recent de-commit from one of the top players in the state.
With what appears highly likely to be another mediocre season looming, Smith decided the pull the trigger and make a move by ousting the 49-year-old Matta. With the timing and a challenging rebuild on the horizon, what is a great job in the long run wasn’t viewed as attractive by other high-profile coaches who might’ve otherwise been interested in coming to Columbus.
“The list” of top targets for Smith is believed to have included names like Xavier’s Chris Mack, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, Indiana’s Archie Miller and West Virginia’s Bob Huggins. All four of those names have Ohio roots, but none were interested. If Smith had been more decisive and fired Matta promptly after the Big Ten Tournament last season, he might’ve been able to get Miller before he went to IU.
Cronin already used his flirt-with-another-school card last year when he played (I mean PLAYED!) UNLV to get a big contract extension. I’ll be shocked if Huggins doesn’t retire at WVU, while Mack and his family are happy at Xavier. In fact, there were reports in 2016 that Mack wouldn’t have been (or wasn’t) interested in the Florida job if (when?) the Gators came calling after Billy Donovan bolted for the NBA. Hell, Mack took the Musketeers to the Elite Eight this past season even after his best player (Edmond Sumner) went down with a season-ending injury in January.
With McDermott unwilling to leave Creighton, Smith settled on Holtmann. However, although he might not have even made the top-five of Smith’s potential options, Holtmann could end up being an excellent hire. In three season at Butler, the 45-year-old coach took the Bulldogs to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. He compiled a 4-3 record in the Tournament, leading his team to the Sweet 16 this past year.
Holtmann went 70-31 (69.3%) overall and 34-20 (63.0%) in Big East play at Butler. He was the head coach at Gardner-Webb before accepting a job on Brandon Miller’s Butler staff in 2013. When Miller took an indefinite leave from the program, Holtmann was named the interim head coach in October of 2014. The interim label was eventually removed.
Holtmann’s deal with Ohio State is reportedly worth $24 million over eight years.
Where will Butler AD Barry Collier look for his next coach? There are a number of candidates from within the Butler family like LaVall Jordan, Micah Shrewsberry and Terry Johnson. There’s also Tom Crean, the former Indiana coach who will likely be mentioned for a slew of jobs that open for 2018-19.
Jordan, who played at Butler and missed a pair of free throws with 8.1 seconds remaining before Florida’s Mike Miller hit a buzzer beater to knock off the Bulldogs in the 2000 NCAA Tournament, is 38 and just completed his first season as a head coach at UW-Milwaukee. Although the Panthers limped to an 11-24 record, the former Butler assistant will undoubtedly get a long look from Collier. He nearly scored the job when Miller was hired.
Johnson is a current Butler assistant who has been in the program since 2007. Johnson is in play here and if history repeats itself, he might the man. I say that because Butler has promoted an assistant to the head-coaching position with four of its last five hires.
Shrewsberry is a 40-year-old assistant for Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics. He left Butler with Stevens in 2013. This could be who Stevens pushes for and Collier will certainly be receptive to input from the Celtics’ head coach.
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