Calling it the best day of his life, Thad Matta was introduced as Ohio State's basketball coach Friday in the auxiliary gymnasium at the Schottenstein Center.
Athletic director Andy Geiger - often criticized during the search, but proving once again why he is one of the best - opened the press conference by stating why Matta was the right fit for the Buckeyes.
"We started looking for the right characteristics for the ideal coach," Geiger said. "We worked on building a strong man, if you will.
"Just exactly what is a coach? We wanted, first and foremost, a teacher and an educator. We wanted somebody with very high energy and we are overwhelmed with (Matta's) sense of energy - his sense of purpose and focus. We wanted somebody who had enormous respect and love for the game. The game of basketball is a way of life for the right coach. And we certainly have somebody with those characteristics.
"Integrity, compliance and obeying the rules, all of those kind of things are very important. Intelligence, competence and somebody who is an incredible competitor. We have that person in Thad Matta."
Matta, who began the press conference by pulling a buckeye nut out of his pocket, made it clear he was thrilled to be at OSU.
"There are times in life when you know something is right," Matta said. "And to be a part of The Ohio State University, this is the greatest day of my life."
As expected, Matta addressed the issue of his departure from Xavier. Some tried to paint him as untruthful, but that was not accurate. He was simply trying to protect himself from a "Glen Mason" situation. Therefore, he kept his athletic director in the loop and "misled" some in the media.
"As this decision went on, there were a lot of tough things that I went through personally," Matta said. "But I always kept in mind what was important in trying to reach my goal. One thing I'd like to cover in regards to leaving Xavier University, I deeply regret the perception of what transpired. My intentions were never to demean Xavier University, or its program. Dawn Rogers, the athletic director there, is one of my dear friends and she's a great athletic director. And her and I made a commitment to each other that we would work on this hand-in-hand. Through the process, she knew everything that was going on.
"I take great pride in the three years I was there and what our kids were able to accomplish. And I think, with that said, I'm closing the door on that. And I'm opening the door at The Ohio State University. I believe this is the greatest job in the world for Thad Matta."
Matta knows the Buckeyes haven't made the NCAA Tournament in two years and expects that trend to end quickly.
"I am fully aware of the state that this program is in right now and I stand before you today that I have accepted this position for one reason and one reason only: To bring Ohio State basketball back into national prominence," he said. "I do realize that we have challenges, but I'm ready to roll up the sleeves, go to work and bring this thing back. I really believe with what this university stands for, what the administration stands for, for what our fans, alumni, the guys that have worn the scarlet and gray and set the tradition for us to build the program to back where it belongs is what I'm here for."
Matta met with OSU's players for the first time Friday. It does not appear as though any of them will transfer - a rarity when there is a coaching change. Usually at least one or two guys will jump ship.
"As I told the players today, ‘the Ohio State way' is now in effect," Matta said. "That is a phrase that we use with our players and that is what this program will be built on: the Ohio State way. We've got a long way ahead of us, but as I told them, it starts right now."
Matta, 36, is an intense coach and made some bold statements regarding what to expect from the Buckeyes.
"I'm bringing to Ohio State a fun, exciting style of basketball," he said. "I want to play fast, as I told the players. But we want to play smart. We will be the hardest-working, toughest team you've ever seen. We will defend. We will play smart, we will play hard and most importantly, we will play together as a team."
Matta knows that OSU could be facing NCAA sanctions. Jim O'Brien was fired for giving $6,800 to a Serbian recruit five years ago. However, Matta likely would not have accepted the job if he thought the penalties would be severe.
"Well, this is something that Mr. Geiger and I have spoken about," Matta said. "And one thing that is very positive to me is how quickly they acted to comply with the NCAA. I don't think I can answer exactly where it is. I just think there are some things being investigated and I am aware that is going on. It was (a concern) but I felt in dealing with this, I'll take whatever is given to us and go with it."
Matta reiterated that he feels the OSU job is not a stepping stone. He thinks it's one of the best jobs in the country.
"I can remember sitting around when I was younger watching Big Ten basketball with my family," he said. "And since I got into coaching, I've always viewed Ohio State as a job that could be the greatest job for Thad Matta. As I look at this, I think this is the pinnacle for me. I don't think there is a better place to coach basketball at than The Ohio State University."
Matta, who will turn 37 on Sunday, has compiled an impressive career record of 102-31 (.767) in four years as a head coach. In three years at Xavier University, he was 78-23 and in one season at Butler University (2000-01) he was 24-8.
Matta, a native of Hoopeston, Ill., led Xavier to three consecutive 26-win seasons, back-to-back Atlantic 10 Conference regular season championships in 2002 and 2003 and a league tournament title in 2004. Xavier advanced to three NCAA tournaments, including an Elite Eight appearance last year following two second round trips.
Matta was named 2002 Atlantic 10 Conference Coach of the Year, while leading the Musketeers to the top regular season finish in the league at 14-2 and an Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament championship. In addition, Matta became the only first-year coach in conference history to ever win both the A-10 regular season and tourney championships.
Matta is no stranger to conference championships. He is now 3-of-4 for regular season and conference tournaments championships as a head coach. He won regular season conference championships, conference tournament championships and conference coach of the year awards in each of his first two seasons as a head coach. Matta won all three in 2000-01 at Butler in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference and duplicated that feat in the 2001-02 season at Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Matta was named 2000-01 Midwestern Collegiate Conference Coach of the Year in his one season at the helm at Butler after leading the Bulldogs to a school record 24 wins, while also being named National "Rookie Coach of the Year" by CBS SportsLine.com and College Insider.com. Matta had spent the previous three seasons as the top assistant to Barry Collier, who left Butler after the 1999-2000 season to take over as head coach at Nebraska.
Matta guided Butler to a 24-8 record, a MCC Regular Season Championship with an 11-3 mark, a MCC Tournament championship and an appearance in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Butler won 13 of its last 15 games, including a 58-44 upset win at then 10th-ranked Wisconsin and a 79-63 bashing of then 23rd-ranked Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The win over Wake Forest was Butler's first NCAA tournament win since 1962. Eventual NCAA runner-up Arizona ended the Butler run in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Matta began his coaching career at Indiana State University as a graduate assistant under head coach Tates Locke in 1990-91. Matta served as an academic coordinator and administrative assistant at Butler (1991-94) before moving into the full-time coaching ranks. Matta took his first full-time assistant coaching position under Herb Sendek at Miami (Ohio) University in 1994-95 and helped Miami to a 23-7 record, a Mid-American Conference regular-season championship and a first round win in the NCAA tournament. The following year, Matta accepted a coaching position at Western Carolina University under Phil Hopkins and helped the Catamounts to a 17-13 record, the school's first winning record in 10 years. Western Carolina captured the Southern Conference regular season and tournament championships and advanced to the NCAA tournament. Matta returned to Miami under new head coach Charlie Coles in 1996-97 and helped the RedHawks to a 21-9 record, the MAC regular season and tournament championships and a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Matta rejoined Butler's staff in 1997 and helped the Bulldogs to three-consecutive 20-win seasons. He established himself as one of the nation's best young coaching prospects during a six-year assistant coaching stint. In his three seasons as Barry Collier's top assistant, Butler compiled a 67-29 (.698) record, won two Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournament championships and one MCC regular-season title, made two NCAA tournament appearances and earned one NIT berth. He served as Butler's primary recruiter. In total, Matta spent six seasons as a full-time assistant coach at three different universities, helping his squads compile a composite 128-58 (.688) record and make six postseason tournament appearances. He was on the bench in five-consecutive conference tournament championship games, and won four league tournament championship rings. He was in the NCAA tournament five times as an assistant under four different head coaches and in the postseason NIT once.
A high school basketball standout at Hoopeston-East Lynn in Hoopeston, Ill., Matta was a two-year starter for the Butler Bulldogs in three seasons after transferring from Southern Illinois as a sophomore. He led Butler in assists (100) and three-point field goal percentage (.433) in 1987-88 and in free throw percentage in 1988-89 (.872). He served as a team captain on Barry Collier's first team in 1989-90 and finished his career in sixth place on Butler's all-time list for free throw percentage (.800). He earned a B. S. degree from Butler in 1990. Matta enjoyed his Butler career high point total of 21 points against XU at the Cincinnati Gardens March 2, 1989.
Matta and his wife, Barbara, have two daughters, Ali and Emily.