Thad Matta has stepped down as Ohio State’s men’s basketball coach in a mutually agreed upon decision with athletic director Gene Smith.
To insiders, the decision wasn’t that surprising. Matta has been dealing with chronic back pain for a decade after botched surgery for disc issues. He also suffered nerve damage in his right foot during surgery that causes him to walk with a limp and requires him to wear a brace.
He’s only 50 so it only makes sense that he’d want to devote more time to getting his health right now rather than have his back get much worse.
If we need any further proof that this divorce is amicable, Smith has asked Matta to help him choose the Buckeyes’ next coach.
The only thing that doesn’t make sense is the timing.
Matta received a $625,000 bonus last month for still being the head coach, and at the time there was no indication he was considering taking a coaching sabbatical.
But another factor could be the criticism of his recruiting failures in recent years.
Ohio State lost four highly regarded players to transfers after the 2015-16 season and Evansville’s JaQuan Lyle left the team last month and David Bell chose to transfer to Jaacksonville.
That means the Buckeyes currently have only nine scholarship players (four shy of the 13 max), which lessens the chances for a turnaround next season unless the next coach can sign some hidden Juco gems.
The Buckeyes were also 7-11 in Big Ten action last season – the first sub-500 conference record since Jim O’Brien was the coach in 2003-04 – and they missed the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season. They finished 17-15 overall.
But over the course of his 13 seasons in Columbus, Matta established himself as one of the nation’s best coaches. Moving from Xavier in 2004-05 to take over a Ohio State program that was on probabation, Matta led the Buckeyes to a 337-123 record overall and a 150-78 Big Ten mark in 13 seasons. He won five regular season league titles, four tournament championships and took his 2007 and 2012 teams to the Final Four. He was the Big Ten coach of the year in 2006, 2007 and 2010.
“This has been probably the greatest 13 years of my life,” said Matta, whose wife Barbara is from Seymour, Indiana.
Here’s hoping Matta gets his back and legs issues corrected and will be able to return to coaching, if that’s his desire.
But until then, I think the next move belongs to BTN. Hire him as a studio anaylyst/color commentators NOW.