This is the fifth in a series of profiles of potential candidates for Indiana’s vacant basketball head coaching position.
Candidate: Thad Matta
Current Position: Out of basketball/effectively retired
Previous Jobs: Ohio State head coach 2004-17; Xavier head coach 2001-04; Butler head coach 2000-01.
Career Accomplishments: Owns 439-154 career record, winning 74 percent of his games. Reached the NCAA Tournament in 14 of 17 career seasons, winning an NIT title in one of the years he did not. Took Ohio State to the 2007 national championship game, two Final Fours, three Elite Eights and five Sweet 16s. Also took Xavier to the Elite Eight in 2004. Led Butler to an NCAA Tournament first-round win in his only season as a head coach there. Won at least a share of five Big Ten titles at Ohio State, two Atlantic 10 titles at Xavier and the Midwest Collegiate Conference title in his lone season at Butler. Owns a 24-13 NCAA Tournament record and 6-1 NIT record. Never won fewer than 20 games until his final season at Ohio State and won at least 25 games in a season 10 times.
Statistical Hallmarks: Matta’s best Ohio State teams were balanced – excellent on both ends with size, athleticism and skill. Seven of his Ohio State teams, two of his Xavier teams and his lone Butler team placed in the top 25 of adjusted offensive efficiency. Ten of his Ohio State teams and all three of his Xavier teams were in the top 30 of adjusted defensive efficiency and only twice in his career did he have a team rank outside the top 50 in that category. His 2007 team with Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. was fourth in offense and 11th in defense. The 2010-11 team was first in offense and 12th in defense. The 2011-12 team was sixth in offense and fourth in defense. The 2013-14 team struggled on offense but was second in defense. The Buckeyes were generally a mid-tempo team in his tenure, cracking the top 100 just once. They had teams that shot from outside extremely well, ranking first in 3-point percentage nationally in 2010-11. He had eight teams that finished in the top 20 in effective field goal percentage.
Why It Might Work: Outside of Brad Stevens, there isn’t a coach whose resumé would be a better fit. He has as much winning experience as a head coach, specifically in the Big Ten, as John Beilein but is 15 years younger. He’s a Butler grad, he currently lives in Indianapolis, and his most important recruiting coup came out of Indianapolis when he landed Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. from Lawrence North for his 2006-07 class and they took him to the national title game. After winning at the level he did at Ohio State, he shouldn’t have any problems dealing with the pressure and attention that comes with the Indiana job. Also, he wouldn’t come in with the same level of hype that Stevens would even though he’s arguably as proven of a commodity.
Why It Might Not Work/Might Not Happen: The same reason Matta left Ohio State — his health.
Matta had back surgery in 2007 that apparently went wrong and left him with chronic pain in his back and a condition called “drop foot,” which requires him to wear a brace on his right foot. He needed to watch practice from a high-top chair for much of his career and at times couldn’t perform basic tasks on his own such as taking off his shoes and socks. Over time the pain took its toll on the court and the recruiting trail and after a 17-15 season and a 7-11 Big Ten mark in 2016-17 he decided it was time to resign and move on from coaching.
He’s had almost four years since to get rest and treatment. If he feels good enough to coach again, he’d be a great fit. But if practices still equate to physical torture, he’s simply not an option.
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