It is that time of year, not long after Groundhog Day, when some Ohio State fans poke their heads out of the ground and demand that Thad Matta be fired.
I am not necessarily referring to Ohio State’s hardcore basketball fans, who drive the campus-sports economy through the heart of the winter. More, I am referring to OSU football fans, who drive the city’s economy year-round. I am referring to folks who have a hard time believing that Matta is not undefeated and want him gone posthaste.
Metaphorically speaking, Matta may be on a horse with his hands tied behind his back and a noose around his neck, but he has earned a long rope. He deserves a rebuild.
True, these are dark times on the northwestern plat of Lane Avenue and Olentangy River Road. Ohio State stands at 16-13 after an 83-73 win over No. 16 Wisconsin on Thursday night at Value City Arena and 6-10 in the Big Ten.
Matta will experience his first losing conference season since he arrived in Columbus in 2004. He has been trending this way. His teams have won fewer and fewer games each of the past six seasons. Attendance in the stupid cavern has been declining apace.
Matta makes north of $3 million a year after bonuses. He can’t be worth it anymore. Off with his head, then.
First question: Is there a better coach available? Another Kelvin Sampson or Bruce Pearl type — guys who can rack up victories and NCAA violations — will be available. These guys are always available. You want one?
Matta’s assistants also are available, but that would be a weird way to go. Then, there is the small pool of few “hot” names, some of which are on the branches of Matta’s own coaching tree — like Dayton’s Archie Miller. If you are Miller, and Ohio State fires Matta, do you step into this breach?
Next question: Has Matta lost his touch in acquiring top-flight talent? My answer is yes and no.
Look: Ohio State basketball is not in the same strata as Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas or even Michigan State. By and large, Ohio State cannot draw a D’Angelo Russell every year. Success depends upon projecting and developing talent. Sometimes, Evan Turner evolves. Sometimes, Amir Williams devolves.
Will a new coach do a better job of in-state recruiting? Not tending to the backyard is an oft-heard criticism of Matta. I think this is a cyclical thing. People forget that Ohio is brimming with Division I basketball talent and most of it flees.
Fred Taylor in the early ’60s and Matta at the outset of this decade had the fortune to see their local talent coalesce. It is not a given. There are only so many scholarships in any given year. Ohio State coaches are going to get picked apart for not tending to his backyard much more often than not. For every Aaron Craft or Marc Loving there are two Trey Burkes and three Nigel Hayeses.
It is a tough business. Look: Tom Izzo is arguably the best college coach in America and, after Thursday’s win over Nebraska, his Spartans are 17-11 overall and tied for fourth at 9-6 in the Big Ten.
At Ohio State, Matta has won 73 percent of all his games and 66 percent of his Big Ten games. Matta has won five Big Ten championships and four Big Ten tournament titles, and he has been to two Final Fours. He is 49 years old and, although his back is creaky, he has lost neither his love for the game nor his verve for coaching.
A good argument can be made that Matta’s time is, or should be, done at Ohio State. Meanwhile, Matta is probably the best alternative.