Ohio State’s Holtmann hire looks familiar

By Jim Naveau - jnaveau@civitasmedia.com

In the end, Ohio State’s new men’s basketball coach came from exactly where he was always going to come from.

That does not mean it was obvious all along that Butler coach Chris Holtmann would be named as Thad Matta’s successor.

What it means is that OSU was eventually going to end up hiring a head coach from a very good or borderline elite basketball program where the raise and professional advancement he would get by coming to Columbus would be life changing.

Anyone who thought Sean Miller was going to leave Arizona to come to Ohio State or that Billy Donovan was going to jump ship with the Oklahoma City Thunder and reunite with Urban Meyer just wasn’t being realistic. And Brad Stevens was never leaving the Boston Celtics to walk through that door at the Schottenstein Center.

Anyone who thought they would was just looking at the world through over-sized scarlet and gray glasses, as Buckeyes fans sometimes do.

What OSU appears to have done is to go the same route it did when it hired Matta away from Xavier and brought Jim Tressel in from Youngstown State.

Ohio State swung for the fences — but maybe not the fences some people expected — with those two and hit home runs. The next few years will tell if it has done that again.

Holtmann appears to have solid credentials. So solid that the question is why Creighton’s Greg McDermott was offered the job before him. According to Gregg Doyel, of the Indianapolis Star, Holtmann did get an offer before McDermott but turned it down until the guarantee of an eight-year contract was added.

After two losing seasons in three years as head coach at Gardner-Webb, Holtmann took a job in 2014 as an assistant at Butler under head coach Brandon Miller, who had followed Stevens as the Bulldogs’ head coach.

Forty-four days before Holtmann’s first season as an assistant at Butler, Miller took a leave of absence for health reasons and Holtmann was named interim head coach.

Miller never returned and Butler was 23-11, 22-11 and 25-9 in three seasons for Holtmann, including at least one NCAA tournament win each of those years and a trip to the Sweet 16 last season.

So, four days after firing perhaps the greatest coach in Ohio State men’s basketball history, the Buckeyes have the new guy in place.

That is considerably faster than OSU moved when it hired Matta a month after firing Jim O’Brien in 2004 for recruiting violations.

The arrival of Holtmann, 45, is being treated as an occasion of great excitement and optimism, as these things almost always are.

But is it really a huge change of direction for the Buckeyes’ basketball program?

What Ohio State has done is hire a younger, healthier Thad Matta. It has replaced 2017 Matta with 2004 Matta.

Matta had been a head coach for only four years – one at Butler and three at Xavier – when he was hired at Ohio State. Butler won 24 games in his one season and Xavier won 26 games each of his three seasons there.

On the day he was introduced as OSU’s coach, the then 36-year-old Matta said, “I’ve accepted this position for one reason and one reason only – to bring Ohio State basketball back to national prominence.”

It will be no surprise if Holtmann says something similar.

At the press conference introducing Matta, OSU great Bill Hosket said, “I think what set him apart was his energy level. You could just tell how competitive he was, how energetic he was.”

Again, it would not be surprising to hear Holtmann described the same way.

Meet the new Thad. A lot like the old Thad. And that is a good thing.


By Jim Naveau


Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.