The Ohio State University and Thad Matta have amicably decided to part ways. Coach Matta has coached the Men’s basketball program for 13 years now, and have missed out on the NCAA Tournaments for the last two seasons. Concern of recent arose following the exodus of players, and the inability to nail down top-seeded recruits.
Matta, on Monday, cited his health at a news conference, referencing a known chronic back problem that he has been dealing with for years. It was so bad at times, he said, that it prevented from taking off his shoes after a game.
“This has probably been the greatest 13 years of my life,” said Matta, his voice breaking as he quoted lyrics from the Grateful Dead. “Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me, other times I can barely see. Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.”
The 49-year-old coach mentioned that he and athletic director Gene Smith agreed it was time for his departure.
“I think it’s the right thing for our program at the right time,” Smith said.
Matta had three years remaining on a contract extension he signed in 2012. Smith said a national search for his replacement will begin immediately, and Matta will participate in the search.
Matta coached the Buckeyes from 2005 to 2017 and took them to two Final Fours. Ohio State finished 17-15 this year, the worst season in Matta’s 17 years as a head coach. In the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State lost in the first round to Rutgers, the lowest-seeded team.
During the tournament, Smith said Matta’s job was secure. But on Friday they apparently met, agreeing on a change for all parties involved.
“We weren’t winning the battles in recruiting that I thought we might have a chance to win, as he did,” Smith said. “We started talking about that on Friday (and) the flow of the conversation took me to the reality.”
Matta said his chronic pain wore on him through the years and his focus now is on getting healthy. As for coaching, again, he said: “Never say never.”
He said his back problems from a botched surgery 10 years ago didn’t affect his ability to coach. But he said he thought he would still be Ohio State’s coach if not for this health issue.
Matta’s teams won at least 20 games in 12 consecutive seasons, making him the school’s career leader in wins and games. He has also won five regular-season Big Ten titles and four league tournaments; this is the most championships of any league coach over the past 13 seasons.
But the Buckeyes hit a stretch of ‘dirt-road’ in the last two seasons. After finishing 21-14 and losing in the second round of the NIT in 2015-16, four out of five members of his 2015 recruiting class transferred. This did not help the program. The Buckeyes limped to the end of this season, and then star guard JaQuan Lyle left the team without any public explanation.
“The last thing I hope I’m remembered for is that we always did it the right way,” Matta said. “And that to me is something I’m going to hang my hat on, that this program was run the right way.”
With that said, we can admit there has never been any question of the “cleanness” of the Buckeyes Men’s basketball program – something so many other programs in the NCAA cannot profess to. Thad Matta was a ‘good’ coach, and it isn’t a joy in any capacity to see him move on.
Admittedly, it catches me off guard. But, after reflection, I agree with Gene Smith and Thad, it is the right time for a change. I personally wish Coach Matta the best in his future. I hope his health issues improve. And, without any doubt, I know I will see him again on the sidelines of an NCAA team … I just hope it isn’t a Big Ten foe.
Best of Luck Coach. Our Prayers are with you.