Since he left Ohio State in 2017, Thad Matta had no shortage of opportunities to return as a head coach.
After winning the Big Ten regular season crown five times and reaching the Final Four twice, few could match his resume.
But Matta’s declining health made the demanding job even more of a challenge, and nothing that came his way seemed worth the toll. Even though he was just 49 years old when he departed Columbus, Matta’s career as a high major head coach seemed to be over.
But something sparked when he arrived in Bloomington a year ago. Matta was hired by IU Director of Athletics Scott Dolson in an administrative role to help new head coach Mike Woodson acclimate to the college game behind the scenes.
He told reporters on Wednesday at his introductory press conference as the new head coach at Butler that he came up with the idea of IU going on the foreign tour to the Bahamas, and helped Woodson navigate some of the nuances of the rules and regulations that govern college basketball. He played his part while working to stay behind the scenes and leave no doubt who was running the show.
And truth be told, what Matta got out of his year in Bloomington likely exceeded what he brought to the IU program.
“This year being down there at IU kind of sparked a little hunger that ‘hey I want to do this again’ if the right situation presents itself,” Matta said on the Ride with JMV on Wednesday afternoon.
“I really, really enjoyed it. The people at Indiana, the people in Bloomington, Hoosier fans. It’s amazing being there really for just one year how connected I became to them. It was a lot of fun, it really was, and it was a great learning experience. I learned a ton from Woody and everything that he values and teaches.”
Matta had never taken his eye completely off of college basketball.
The Indianapolis resident was a season ticket holder at Butler, his alma mater and the place he first landed a head coaching position.
But it wasn’t until he got back behind the scenes over the last year — in the locker room, watching film — and then seeing it all come together, that something changed for Matta.
“There are so many things that factor into that,” Matta told JMV about what he derived personally from his time at Indiana. “Being around a group of guys again.
“And not that I was heavily, heavily involved with the Indiana deal. But being in a coaches meeting and learning and growing, and watching Indiana make the NCAA Tournament this year, they hadn’t been there in a while.
“The jubilation on those guys’ faces of what they accomplished. I started to see the rewards of what I used to do, and I missed that. I don’t think I could have gotten it at any other place (than IU), in terms of what Scott Dolson did for me, I couldn’t be happier.”
Matta wasn’t the only member of Woodson’s circle whose hire was at least influenced by Dolson. His tenure at IU was the same length as assistant coach and former player Dane Fife.
Now Matta is in the process of assembling his own staff at Butler. He’s already hired Kevin Kuwik, a former assistant of Archie Miller at Dayton and staffer under Matta at Ohio State.
Will Matta consider a reunion with Fife at Butler? He is still evaluating his options and seems to want to have a heavy Butler influence on his staff, but Fife appears to be in the mix for one of Matta’s assistant coach positions.
“I talked to Dane a couple days ago,” Matta said. “That’s something that’s in my mind.”
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