Might Indiana have better luck with a second trip to the batter's box with Thad Matta?
Two years ago, it's believed Matta was on the very top of IU's original wish list. After all, the former Butler head coach had once referred to the Hoosier coaching position as his "dream job," and his coaching roots are in the Hoosier state.
The Hoopeston, Ill., native got his start as a graduate assistant at Indiana State in 1991, and then spent the next three years as an administrative assistant at Butler. After short but successful stints at Miami (Ohio) and Western Carolina as an assistant coach, Matta returned to Butler in 1997 as Barry Collier's top assistant. During the next three seasons Butler went 67-29 and earned two NCAA invitations, and Collier used the success to land the Nebraska job. When he departed Matta took over and guided the Bulldogs to 24-8 record and a berth in the NCAA tourney in 2001.
From there, Matta spent three seasons at Xavier, winning 26 games each season. He guided the Musketeers to two regular season Atlantic-10 titles, two postseason tourney titles, three NCAA appearances, and an overall mark of 78-23. That success helped him land the Ohio State job, where he's in his fourth year. Matta owns a 98-33 record in Columbus with two Big Ten titles and a berth in the 2007 National Championship game.
While that sort of success and that sort of affinity for the IU program is sure to pique the Hoosiers' interest once again, it's important to note that Matta isn't necessarily looking around for other opportunities, and he wouldn't come cheap. A year ago rumors circulated that he was a potential candidate for the vacant Kentucky job, but Matta said he wouldn't be interested in the position.
Matta is also the second-highest paid coach in the Big Ten, with a guaranteed annual income of $2.5 million. He has eight years remaining on his contract, and he's got some big-time talents slated to come to Columbus in the next several years, including '08 signees B.J. Mullens (ranked No. 6 nationally) and William Buford (No. 12), plus '10 recruit Jared Sullinger (No. 7) and most likely DeShaun Thomas (No. 2).
He clearly doesn't need to make a move to compete for national championships – he's shown the ability to compete at the highest level in Columbus, and he's also proven he's more than capable of convincing the state of Indiana's top players to cross the border to play for the Buckeyes.
What Makes Him a Viable Candidate: Two years ago, Matta couldn't leave Ohio State. I don't care if his family had founded Indiana University – it would be unfathomable to think a college coach would pass on the opportunity to coach a player like Greg Oden and possibly win a national championship. Oden is gone, the national championship narrowly eluded Matta, and now Indiana might come calling for the second time in two years. While it's not a foregone conclusion that Indiana is a better job than Ohio State is considering the success Matta has had and the facilities, salary, and budget he enjoys, only he knows just how much he'd welcome returning to the state of Indiana. Only he knows if he'd welcome the opportunity to be at a school that thinks basketball first instead of football. Matta also won't be put on the spot about the subject because if asked, he'll likely hide behind a clause in his contract that prevents him from talking publicly about other coaching vacancies. He still has a window (after Big Ten tourney until April 15) to take to other schools about coaching vacancies as well, and although he's under contract from the 2016 season, his buyout is only $500,000.
What Makes Him a Longshot: He has eight years left on a contract that pays him approximately $2.5 million annually. With the success he's enjoyed at OSU and the talented preps he has lined up to come in during the next couple of years, he's certainly not going to take a pay cut to come to Bloomington. Indiana might have shown a willingness to up its compensation package when it brought in Sampson two years ago, but Matta's current deal is in another stratosphere than the package that paid Sampson $1 million last year and was scheduled to pay him $1.5 million this year (that was cut by $500,000 after the revelation of recruiting violations in the fall). If Matta decided to leave he'd quickly emerge as the most hated man in Ohio (other than Rick Rodriguez), and if doesn't need to leave Ohio State to have a chance to compete for national titles. He's proven he can do that next door.
HoosierNation.com's Take: Ohio State is struggling through the toughest season of Matta's four-year tenure, and that might give him a reason to consider an IU overture. But Matta is in a great situation at Ohio State, so Indiana would really have to dazzle him to have a chance to bring him to town. How can Indiana do that? With money? Not a chance. Matta is already one of the five highest paid coaches in the game, and Indiana would have to put together perhaps the most lucrative deal in Division I basketball to give him a significant raise from what he's currently bringing in. Unless donors start lining up to foot the bill, he's probably out of IU's price range. Matta also doesn't really have a reason why he'd want to leave the Buckeyes. He has everything he needs to be successful on the highest of levels, so why leave?
IU COACHING CANDIDATE: Thad Matta
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