With the recent scandal that is currently taking place in college basketball that includes players getting money to attend certain schools, agents and schools working together to get certain recruits, and even shoe companies getting involved as well, among other things, we express love for former Ohio State basketball head coach Thad Matta, who did things the right way, which eventually landed him out of a job.
When Thad Matta first came to Ohio State in 2004, he hit the ground running, both in terms of coaching on the court and on the recruiting trail. On the court, after the Buckeyes went 17-15 in 14-16 in the two seasons prior to Matta’s arrival, they were 26-6 in his first season, including losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and 35-4 in his second, including losing in the national championship to a very good Florida team.
On the recruiting trail, Matta dominated out of the gate. In 2005, he had no commitments due to Ohio State not having any scholarships, but he made up for it (and then some) in 2006 with a class featuring Greg Oden, Mike Conley, David Lighty, Daequan Cook, and Othello Hunter—the second-best class in the country. His next three classes between 2007-10 then featured the fifth-best—twice—and third-best class once.
For Ohio State, it was unheard of to have recruiting classes as good as those, especially in consecutive years and multiple times during a five-year period. But for Matta, it was what he knew all along. The guy who was as great of a coach as he was a person, Matta not only dominated in the recruiting world for quite some time, but he transformed it onto their performance on the court as well.
At times, Matta made people forget that Ohio State was a football school. With the football team going through a scandal and firing of its own, he made Ohio State fans somewhat forget that the Buckeyes were a football school. It may have only been one season, but he turned them into a basketball school for just one year in 2010. Matta stopped the hurting from the fall, and it was exactly what Buckeye Nation needed at the time.
Over the last five years, Matta’s program came back down to Earth. Whether it was due to recruiting the wrong kid, not developing the talent they had at times, or just getting out-recruited by other schools, his recruiting and his team’s performance on the court led to him being let go by Ohio State.
With that said, Matta hung his hat on the fact that he had a clean program. When it came to recruiting, he and his staff didn’t cheat. They didn’t offer benefits or money to recruits in order for them to commit. He didn’t do anything special for recruits on official visits. And last, but certainly not least, Matta did things the right way, both on and off the court.
In order to compete at the highest level, you not only have to recruit the top talent in your state, but also nationally as well. After he was able to get those top recruiting classes early on, he struggled to recruit even one top player for much of the last five years. What really hurt Matta and his staff was that, while they were trying to recruit the top talent across the country, some of the in-state kids decided to commit elsewhere because Ohio State was focused on other players. Then, when they couldn’t get those out-of-state kids to commit, the Buckeyes missed out on both. It was a lose-lose situation much of the time for Matta toward the end of his time in Columbus.
As news continues to trickle out regarding the latest scandal, we see more evidence as to why Matta took such a hit in recruiting. With schools, including Louisville, taking bribes and paying players to commit, it becomes tougher to compete. There’s a reason why some of the top talent that Matta tried to recruit said no to the Buckeyes but decided to go to an Adidas school. Keep in mind, there’s still a lot more to come of this investigation—it’s not even close to being done yet and it will shed light on even more schools who had a recruiting edge over Ohio State over the years due to means that would otherwise violate countless NCAA rules.
Matta’s time in Columbus came to an abrupt end, but for him to have a clean program that competed at the highest level for so long cannot go unnoticed. Although the timing made many in Buckeye Nation sad to see him go, the fact that Matta continued to do business the right way will be what he is remembered for, and rightfully so. He will forever be a fan-favorite at Ohio State, not because of the way he coached, but for the person he was off the court as well. Kudos to Matta and his coaching staff for keeping a clean program even when times got tough before being forced out in the end. They could have cheated too, especially given how much money Ohio State’s athletic department has, but they chose to do the right thing.
Now begs the question, would you have rather had a clean Ohio State program the past 13 years or be like Louisville, had won a championship (in 2013) and then dealt with everything they have been forced to endure this summer—including escorts and a sex-to-play scheme—and the latest scandal that shows that the Cardinals funneled money to recruits to get them to come to their school? The Final Four appearances have most been fun for Louisville over the last few years, but they will now have quite a price to pay for the two scandals they are now involved in, a price that could ruin their basketball programs for the foreseeable future.
Coaches are judged by wins and losses, but Matta’s reputations and demand to keep a clean program will forever be what matters most and will define his legacy in the end. At his press conference that announced his departure, the coach said just that.
“I think the last thing that I hope I’m always remembered for is that we always did it the right way,” Matta said. “That to me is something that I want to hold or hang my hat on. That this program was run the right way.”