The vision for Thad Matta’s position as Indiana’s associate athletic director for basketball administration came less from Mike Woodson than it came from the man who actually hired him.
During their meeting in New York — which Woodson requested instead of a Zoom call for a job interview — Woodson told athletic director Scott Dolson that he considers himself a collaborator. Woodson talked about the effectiveness of his relationship with Glenn Grunwald, a former teammate at Indiana who was general manager of the New York Knicks when Woodson was the head coach there from 2012-14. If Woodson would be the head coach at Indiana, he wanted to have a similar relationship with Dolson.
Dolson loved what he was hearing, but also realized he didn’t have the bandwidth for what Woodson was suggesting.
“One of the things that’s important to him is putting great people around him and he said, ‘Scott, you and I will be joined at the hip. If we do this, this is a partnership,'” Dolson aid. “And it actually was music to my ears because that’s what I was looking for, not for me to micromanage the program, but this needs to be a unified effort and it was really, really important to to him. As I moved forward in the process after several meetings, I realized that I’m joined at the hip with a lot of our coaches and for me to put all my resources into him — although obviously basketball is so critical to us — that I needed some people.”
On the flight back, he said, he thought of Matta.
If the 53-year-old Matta were fully healthy, he would have been an outstanding and perhaps even unbeatable candidate for the head coaching position. But then again, if he were healthy, he would probably still be dominating at Ohio State.
In 17 combined seasons at Butler, Xavier and Ohio State, he posted a 439-154 record with 13 NCAA Tournament appearances and eight regular season conference championships. In those 13 appearances, his teams only lost in the first round twice. He took the Ohio State to the national title game in 2007, another Final Four in 2012 and the Elite Eight in 2013. He also took the Buckeyes to the Sweet 16 in 2010 and 2011.
However, after the 2016-17 season, the only year in his career in which his team didn’t win at least 20 games, he resigned from Ohio State because long-standing complications and pain from a botched back surgery in 2007 had become too much for him to bear and continue coaching.
Dolson saw an opportunity to get Matta back in the fold without forcing him back on to the sideline or the recruiting trail where his pains might be aggravated. He knew Matta — a Butler graduate who lives in Indianapolis and managed to pluck Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. out of Indy to lead Ohio State’s 2007 Final Four team — was an Indiana fan as a boy and would be interested in the opportunity.
“In my mind I started thinking about this team and really based on what Woody was asking me for and what he needed and then knowing in my conversations with Thad, his basketball mind, his knowledge of the business speaks for itself,” Dolson said. “I just started formulating this plan.”
Dolson brought it to both Matta and Woodson and they were both on board. Though Woodson said he felt confident in his ability to recruit and coach at the college level after 24 years in the NBA, he liked the idea of having someone with more familiarity with the Big Ten and with recruiting the region.
“I’ve watched Thad from afar,” Woodson said. “This is the first time I’ve had an opportunity to sit and talk with Thad. Again, great basketball mind. My ego has always been in tact in terms of being able to accept great basketball minds and what they are thinking. I think that’s healthy from a coaching standpoint and I think it can’t do nothing but help me as I move up the road and try to build this basketball team. I’m grateful that Thad is on board.”
Dolson didn’t provide an exact description of the division of labor between the two, nor did he say if he had any discussions with Matta about the head coaching job before deciding to use him in this role. However, he also made clear that Matta’s role is in support of Woodson and that he is not in charge of Woodson.
“Mike Woodson is 100 percent the head coach,” Dolson said. “He reports to me. He’s the final decision-maker based on my final approval of basketball decisions. Thad reports to me and is a key resource for me and for Mike.”
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