A picture can be odd yet still beautiful. Pablo Picasso drew noses going every which way on his works of art. Georges Seurat’s dots became masterpieces. Jackson Pollock dripped colors and museums honor his name.
Does it look a little odd that Thad Matta and Jim Foster are entering the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame so relatively soon after being let go? As in, what’s wrong with this picture? Yes. Just ask them. The two former Ohio State basketball coaches — Matta coached the men from 2005 to ’17, Foster the women from 2002 to ’13 — talked by phone this week, and a few chuckles salted the conversation.
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Why? Because it’s not every day two fired coaches are so warmly welcomed after being shown the door. Both men appreciate their induction, but agree there is a touch of irony associated with the honor.
“I had mixed emotions when I got the phone call,” Foster said of his reaction to being told he was being inducted.
Matta also was a little surprised.
“Kind of a weird deal,” he said.
But if weird, also beautiful like a Monet, because both absolutely belong in the school’s hall of fame. Matta won more games (337) than any of Ohio State’s previous 14 coaches. The Buckeyes reached two Final Fours (2007, 2012), won four Big Ten Tournament titles and five Big Ten regular season championships. Under Matta, Ohio State collected three 30-win seasons and 12 20-win seasons and 18 NCAA Tournament wins.
Foster guided the Buckeyes to six consecutive Big Ten championships and four Big Ten tournament titles. Ohio State made the NCAA Tournament in 10 of his 11 seasons and Foster’s .772 win percentage tops the list of OSU women’s coaches.
Of course they deserve to be honored along with eight other former Ohio State athletes who were inducted Friday night and will be recognized on the field during Saturday’s football game between Ohio State and Cincinnati. Joining Matta and Foster are Boyd Cherry (football), Justin Fry (baseball), A.J. Hawk (football), Stan Lyons (men’s track and field), Mike Nugent (football), Andrew Pierce (men’s track and field), Natalie Spooner (women’s ice hockey) and R.J. Umberger (men’s hockey).
The inductees were voted on by the Varsity O board. The men’s basketball office nominated Matta for consideration to Matt Terwilliger, a member of the Varsity O board who played for Matta. Two of Foster’s former players, Samantha Prahalis and Jantel Lavender, wrote letters to the board in support of their coach.
For Foster and Matta, returning to Ohio State for the festivities was not a warm homecoming hug as much as a chance to reunite with former players.
Matta, who lives in Indianapolis, has returned to campus several times since his “mutually agreed upon dismissal” — whatever that means — to socialize with former players. Those relationships are what he misses most from his coaching days.
Tanned and looking healthier than when he coached — he said he feels “90 percent less stress” — he said he is staying "very busy.”
He did reveal the titles — wink-wink — of books he always wanted to write: “One is, ‘Do you really want to know?’ And the other was, ‘You’re right, it’s my fault your son missed the jump shot,’ ” he said.
Foster, who lives in Athens, Georgia, said he had not visited Ohio in six years.
“I’ve flown over it,” he said.
Clearly, there remains a bad taste about how his tenure ended. But like Matta, he only is interested in looking ahead.
“I view (the induction) as an opportunity to get together with the players,” he said. “That group won six conference titles in a row. We never got to celebrate that, because you’re always asking, ‘What’s next?’ It will be fun to tell stories and embellish.”
Embellish away, but the truth is telling. These two could coach.