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Coaching Search Profile: Thad Matta

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By request, let’s talk about the choice that should be an obvious one... if his health is okay.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Thad Matta

Age: 51

Current job: Out of coaching (since 2017)

Previous jobs: Head coach, Ohio State (2004-17), Xavier (2001-04), and Butler (2000-01); assistant coach, Butler, Miami (OH), and Western Carolina

Career head coaching record: 439-154 (.740)

NCAA Tournament appearances: 13

NCAA Tournament record: 24-13

While doing these profiles, I’m going to go back and forth somewhat between names that have actually been connected to the job by credible sources (John Thompson III) and names that haven’t been connected to the job, but should be on the list. Thad Matta, the former Ohio State coach, falls squarely into the latter category.

Why he’d be a good fit: See that “career head coaching record” up there? Matta has been a college head coach for 17 years, and he’s won 74 percent of his games as a head coach. To put that number in context, only five active Division I head coaches with at least five years have won more than that, and that list is Mark Few, Roy Williams, John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, and Bill Self. That’s it. He’s posted a higher career winning percentage than Jim Boeheim, Tom Izzo, and Tony Bennett. And since 13 of his 17 seasons as a head coach were at Ohio State, I don’t even have to apply any caveats about the competition. NCAA Tournament success? He’s had that, too, with two Final Fours on his resume.

If you just look at his resume, this one’s pretty obvious. But there is a caveat...

What’s the problem here? Soooooo... like John Thompson III, his last few years weren’t great. After an incredible eight-year run from 2006-13 (230-61 overall record, seven NCAA Tournaments, five Sweet 16s, two Final Fours), things started tailing off in his last four years at Ohio State. His teams made first-weekend exits in 2014 and 2015, then missed the tournament entirely in 2016 and 2017 — leading to his dismissal from Ohio State in June 2017.

There was a rational, unfortunate explanation for this. Matta had surgery to correct a back problem in 2007, which led to a permanent disability in his right foot and affected his ability to coach. It likely explains the diminishing returns in his last four years at Ohio State — and, perhaps, explains why he’s been out of coaching for the last two years. (He was connected to several jobs last offseason, perhaps because his buyout at Ohio State requires him to seek employment; if Matta is healthy, there is no way that Tom Crean or Jeff Capel was actually hired over him.)

Overall thoughts: If Matta’s health were not an issue, he’d be a no-brainer hire. His Ohio State run was too good to pass up.

But Matta’s health is going to be an issue. The question, really, is how much of an issue is it going to be? Some of the issues, particularly in recruiting, could be mitigated a bit by having some energetic assistant coaches on staff. (One possibility is current Vanderbilt assistant coach Jake Diebler, who previously worked for Matta at Ohio State.) It’s worth a shot if you think he can handle the job, but you’d be taking on a lot more risk than the resume would suggest.