Keeping Coaches Happy A Priority For Smith

It's not uncommon for the public to get at the throat of the head coach of their favorite team, but that is not the situation at the current time with Ohio State football and men's basketball. Most fans hope that the situation stays this way for the long term, and that is one of many things on the mind of OSU athletic director Gene Smith. Bucknuts reporter Charles Babb spoke with Smith recently about the future of these two coaches.

It doesn't get much better than this.

Not since Ohio State had Fred Taylor on the hardwood and Woody Hayes pacing the sidelines have the Buckeyes had as much to cheer about in the two major men's sports, basketball and football.

Hired just five seasons ago, Jim Tressel:

  • Coached in five bowl games, managing a 4-1 record
  • Won two Big Ten Championships
  • Taken Ohio State to three BCS games with a stellar 3-0 mark in those contests.
  • Claimed a national title in 2002 and nearly played for another in 2003 and 2005; Ohio State remains the only 14-0 national champion in modern Division I-A history.
  • Significantly raised the team GPA and graduation rates.
  • Is 4-1 against the Buckeye's hated rival, Michigan.  To put it in proper perspective, he has more wins in Ann Arbor than the football program managed in Ohio Stadium under the 13 year tenure of John Cooper.
  • Consistently landed top 10 recruiting classes, cherry picking the bulk of the top players in Ohio while landing key players from out of state.

Hired just two short years ago, Thad Matta:

  • Hauled in the most highly considered recruiting class in over 45 years at Ohio State and one of the most talked about groups since recruiting mania began.
  • Taken a group of players who were not even his and in short order won 20 games his inaugural season.  This included a win over previously undefeated Illinois that will probably be talked about for as long as Ohio State stands.
  • Has his current basketball team tied for first in the Big Ten with an 18-3 overall record?  This is the highest the men's team has been ranked in the regular season in almost a generation.
  • Barring a melt down of colossal proportions (think ice cream on a Miami sidewalk), will take Ohio State to an upper level seeding in the NCAA tournament.

Best of all, as far as Ohio State administrators and fans are concerned, these coaches appear to want to win the right way.  It is not just about wins and losses; they also keep score in maintaining their integrity and the integrity of their program.

Based on all of this, I took a moment to speak with Athletic Director Gene Smith to ask him what he could do to make sure Ohio State is a place where these two men maintain the same zip code for a long, long time.

With regard to Matta, he acknowledged that it's likely he is going to be a hot commodity, and the university must work proactively to ensure he is happy for the long term: "One, you provide him with the resources he needs to reach his professional goals.  Andy obviously did that with the contract he signed him with.  Our fans need to continue to respond like they have been responding and come to games.  Obviously that is important for a coach to have an arena that is exciting and supportive of what he is trying to do on the floor with the student athletes, and (we need) to make sure he is comfortable.  There isn't a lot of magic to it.  People think there is a magic, but there isn't.  It's (a matter of) can he accomplish his personal and professional goals as a Buckeye head basketball coach?"

Those professional goals surely include championships and winning on a national stage.  Smith believes this is possible at Ohio State.  Personal goals would of course include his family and making sure that Matta and his spouse are happy. 

"Ohio State is a huge platform; everything is not about money," Smith continued.  "That's where you have to take your thinking to – is his wife happy?  Are the children?  Do they have a good experience in the school system they are in?  How easy is it for him to get things done in the arena so he can coach his team and be successful?  There's a lot more to it than just dollars and a contract."

Still, there is the money component where Smith acknowledges the University will need to be continually proactive if Matta keeps winning at this pace.

"There's no question that Andy (Geiger), my predecessor, created a contract that is pretty good," Smith said. "It has great compensation and provides great incentives.  If Thad accomplishes certain things he gets bonuses and things of that nature.  It is a pretty progressive contract as it is so you get progressive in other areas."

Again, that isn't enough for him however – it's about more than just dollars and cents since keeping his coaches happy means being aggressive in other areas as well. 

He said, "You get progressive by trying to make sure our fans show up and are packed in the arena, helping him win ball games and (so) when they bring recruits in the arena they see a packed house.  All those little things that people don't think about are sometimes more important to a coach than the contract because they want to be able to be successful."

In other words, for all of the fans enjoying the ride on the Matta Hoops-mobile, their part in this equation is actually putting their seats in the arena instead of their couch.  Their voices need to be heard, and keeping a great coach means the Buckeyes' basketball venue needs to have the same intimidation level as the men's football program enjoys.

In the meantime, Smith is watching this season and enjoying the ride his young coach is taking the rest of the state and national Buckeye fan base on these days.  As an athletic director, he is even trying to figure out ways to let his coach and players shine not just regionally but nationally by scheduling more major programs aside from league events like the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. 

Smith described their future intentions: "We would go somewhere and play a major and someone is coming into our house and then it reverses itself.  We would like to get to that, and we will continue working hard to get to that.  That excludes the challenges, things of that nature.  This is just what we schedule.  We're going to work hard to get to that, we're working diligently.  Our fans want to see that.  The teams we are playing now are highly competitive teams, but we want to get some of those marquee match ups that the national audience would be interested in."

His expression was that of a happy man as he smiled and said of the current situation of Buckeye men's hoops, "It's kind of cool."

As for coach Tressel, indications this winter were that Smith would sit down after the bowl and recruiting season were completed. 

Undoubtedly those discussions are ongoing with both sides realizing Tressel currently has no plan to leave Columbus any time soon.  He, in the minds of many, was born for this job.  The son of a former Buckeye, he has spent his entire career inside the state with the exception of a two year stint at Syracuse as the quarterbacks coach.

What will be used to determine how Tressel's situation will be addressed?

Smith suggested, "You look at market."

If true, then look for Ohio State's head football coach to get a substantial raise.  Smith wouldn't confirm or deny such talk.

"My philosophy is that I first of all never discuss matters like that to the media," he said.  "That's between Jim and I.  Philosophically, that's how I operate.  What I end up doing, I never discuss with the media.  I leave that to Jim to discuss because it is personal for him, not for me."

He then added, "There's another way you keep a coach – you don't talk about his business personally.  You allow him to talk about it and get the satisfaction for it."

A wise decision.  Perhaps it will leave fans and media more in the dark about specifics, but if it leaves Tressel a happier man, then the fans at least will gladly wait.  After all, job number one for Smith is keeping his entire athletic department running smoothly. 

What is the best way to accomplish this?

Keep Matta and Tressel happy. 

Very, very happy.

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