Thad Matta once referred to the IU head basketball coaching position as his "dream job," and IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan might want to find out if the current Ohio State coach still feels that way.
The second-year Buckeyes' coach has surfaced as a potential replacement for Davis based on not only that statement, but also a track record of success. In five-plus seasons as a Division I head coach, Matta has compiled a 140-47 record, including five straight 20-win seasons. He'll likely make it six in a row by the time his 18-4 Ohio State squad wraps up the 2005-06 campaign.
Matta is quickly establishing himself as one of the elite coaches in the college game. He's considered a tremendous recruiter and a tireless worker, someone who will get plenty of consideration for Big Ten and national coach of the year honors this season.
A native of Hoopeston, Ill., the 38-year-old Matta began his head coaching career at his alma mater, Butler. After spending three years as the top assistant to Barry Collier at the Indianapolis school, Matta took over in 2000-01 and led the Bulldogs to a 24-8 record and Midwestern Collegiate Conference regular and postseason titles. Butler advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and Matta landed the Xavier head coaching job as a result of his success.
In three seasons at the Atlantic-10 conference school, Matta compiled a 78-23 record while winning a pair of regular season and postseason conference championships. Xavier won 26 games in each of Matta's three seasons, earned three trips to the NCAA Tournament, and went to the Elite Eight in 2004.
Those successes led him to Ohio State, where he inherited a program that was dealing with NCAA infractions and a continuing investigation in the wake of Jim O'Brien's firing. But Matta managed to guide OSU to a 20-12 mark a season ago, and this year's team is 18-4 and within one-half game of the Big Ten lead.
Matta is under contract with Ohio State through the 2011-12 season, and his package pays him upwards of $1 million annually. He has a $220,000 base with other guaranteed incomes bringing that total to $800,000. In addition, he has a variety of Big Ten and NCAA incentives that can add as much as $300,000 to his annual deal, and there's also $200,000 of deferred annual income that he'll get in 2011-12. While he doesn't have any specific "out" clauses in his OSU contract, he can discuss other coaching positions from the end of the regular season until April 15 each year. If he opts out of his OSU contract, he has a $500,000 buyout.
What Makes Him a Viable Candidate: While he's a native of Illinois, Hoopeston, Ill., is on the Illinois-Indiana border and Matta grew up as an Indiana fan. While he's never coached in any capacity at IU, he has worked at both Indiana State and Butler during his 16-year coaching career so he has roots in the state. He also thought enough of the Indiana program to have an "out" clause in his Xavier contract that would have allowed him to depart the A-10 school if the IU job opened up. Matta had similar outs for Illinois and Purdue, and many suspect Matta was Purdue's top choice to replace Gene Keady two years ago. But Matta wasn't interested, and many think it was because he thought the IU job might become available instead. While Mike Davis said earlier this year that the Ohio State job was the best in the Big Ten, many still think IU's tradition and loyal fan base, coupled with the state's abundance of elite recruits, makes IU the league's top job. Matta also has declined to address the IU opening, which is usually a sign that there's at least some level of interest.
What Makes Him a Longshot: He has a chance to win a Big Ten title this season, and his 2006 recruiting class is among the best assembled in recent memory. Their aren't many coaches who would even consider walking away from this sort of talent. Highlighted by Scout.com's No. 1 prep in the nation, Indianapolis Lawrence North center Greg Oden, Matta also has Indianapolis' Mike Conley (No. 25), Dayton, Ohio, guard Daequan Cook (No. 16), Cleveland, Ohio, small forward David Lighty (No. 29) and standout JUCO power forward Othello Hunter. That's a group has a chance to make Ohio State a national championship contender in the not-too-distant future. Ohio State also has the state-of-the-art Schottenstein Center as its basketball facility, and the state of Ohio has plenty of talented preps at Matta's disposal. With his success in luring Oden and Conley to Columbus, Matta has shown he doesn't necessarily need to be in Bloomington to attract the best players in the state of Indiana, either.
HoosierNation.com's Take: As much as IU fans might like the idea of luring Matta away from Columbus, it still appears like a long shot. Matta's silence on the IU rumors is likely a result of the uncertainty of the NCAA ruling that should come down in a matter of weeks in regards to the Jim O'Brien violations. Most think OSU's self-imposed postseason ban in 2005 will satisfy the NCAA in terms of postseason restrictions, and OSU won't face any more significant penalties. But, if the NCAA does come down harder on OSU, Matta might be ready to listen to Indiana. If the NCAA bans Ohio State from the postseason in 2006-07, Greg Oden and Mike Conley are presumably released from their letters of intent, and suddenly a Matta/Oden/Conley to Bloomington scenario could happen. Anything short of that, though, makes it unlikely Matta would jump to IU. Unlike the case at Iowa with Steve Alford, Ohio State officials appear ready to step to the plate and do whatever is necessary to keep Matta in Columbus as well. Over the weekend Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith told the Columbus Dispatch, "We would do everything we could to keep Thad Matta." Translation: Ohio State isn't shy about getting involved in a bidding war, and Indiana's pockets aren't as deep as Ohio State.
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