"[Harbaugh] is an outstanding coach. That’s what people lose perspective of. The man can coach, He can get it done. Regardless of his tactics and strategies, the man gets it done, and he’s doing it clean."
-Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, via David Briggs, The Blade
It has been a busy offseason for the Ohio State Buckeyes athletic program, led by athletic director Gene Smith, who is entering his 12th year in the position. From the new media rights deal which is being worked out with the Big Ten to the announcement that Ohio State would begin selling beer stadium-wide during football games next season, the Buckeyes seem to be doing well from a financial perspective. Combined with a second-place finish behind Stanford in the Director’s Cup, which is awarded to the best top-down athletic department in the NCAA, Ohio State athletics is in prime position as it prepares to enter the 2016-17 academic year.
In an interview with The Blade, Smith commented on Ohio State’s offseason moves, and where he anticipates the athletic department in general and football specifically will be heading come next season.
One of the most prominent offseason moments for Smith came in the form of a public Twitter battle with Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh. Smith later apologized for the debacle, and acknowledged that Harbaugh is still a great coach and is keeping the program clean, even though Smith disagrees with many of his tactics including the use of satellite camps. In the interview, Smith mentions that he would rather have coaches on-site at Ohio State with the incoming freshmen who have committed to the university rather than on the road.
Similarly, Smith discussed basketball recruiting, specifically as it pertains to the nearly 1,000 transfers this offseason, including four from Ohio State. While Smith said that some of the basketball players should have reconsidered and stayed at their respective schools, he mentioned that it is an "adult decision" and that, like a relationship, both the players and coaches can make mistakes, leading to a situation that does not fit both parties.
"I want to be there for many of his games and working weekends would not be conducive to traveling to see him play. Plus, it was time. I have been in the business for 19 years."
-Candice Lee, mother of Darron Lee, via Rich Cimini, ESPN
It seems that Ohio State football moms are willing to go further than most to ensure the success of their sons’ careers. For starters, Annie Apple, mother of former Buckeye cornerback Eli Apple, who was selected in the first round by the New York Giants, has been extremely vocal on social media and in interviews throughout her son’s career, even earning a position on NFL Countdown as a contributor as a result. Annie, who writes a blog "Survivin America: Making it through with humor and hope" gained notoriety with her comments during the 2016 NFL Draft in April, aims to highlight the sports mom’s perspective in her writing and her work.
And now, Candice Lee, mother of linebacker Darron Lee, quit her job of nine years to support her son as his manager or, as Darron calls it, his "mom-ager."
After nearly a decade as a reporter on Columbus NBC affiliate WCMH-TV, Candice put in her notice the day following the 2016 NFL Draft, where Darron was taken with a first-round pick by the Jets.
Candice gave her 90-day notice in April, and her last day at work will be July 27. In her new role, she will be primarily covering off-the-field affairs for Darron, such as endorsements, promotions and marketing.
Darron is expected to sign a $10.2 million , four-year rookie contract, but is one of just four remaining holdouts from the first round of this year’s draft who has not agreed to his contract. The fact that Lee has not signed is not a concern at the moment, as training camp is not scheduled to begin until late July.
"In short, Matta hasn’t just held his own against blue-blood programs like Indiana and Hall of Fame coaches like Tom Izzo, he’s actually outperformed them on the recruiting trail."
-Thomas Beindid, U sports
In a year in which nearly 1,000 Division I basketball players transferred to a new school in the offseason, the importance of good recruiting--both finding and retaining talent in the program--cannot be dismissed. Ohio State was not exempt from losing transfers even before the season ended, with four total freshmen leaving the program. Guard Austin Grandstaff announced his departure back in December, while center Daniel Giddens, point guard A.J. Harris and forward Mickey Mitchell followed suit following the conclusion of the season. While the loss of four scholarship players might come as a shock, Matta has previously said that the departure of the quartet was not surprising.
Still, head coach Thad Matta’s track record is in his favor. Since joining the coaching staff in 2004, he has been able to consistently get top talent from across the country to come to Columbus. In his first recruiting class in 2005, Matta brought in Mike Conley, Jr. and Greg Oden, both five-star recruits from Indianapolis. Overall, since 2006, Matta has had 10 five-star and 17 four-star recruits come to Ohio State. While perennial powers like Kentucky consistently garner higher numbers, these stats place Ohio State near the top of the Big Ten in recruiting. Michigan State has just six five-star prospects over the same 10-year period, and Indiana five. Michigan State also had 17 four-star recruits to match Ohio State, with Purdue, Michigan and Indiana falling in behind with 15, 14 and 13 recruits, respectively.
While not all prospects pan out, such as four-star center Amir Williams, and while some slip away late in the recruiting process, Matta has remained consistent throughout his tenure with the Buckeyes. Even having been down for the past couple of seasons, he has proven that he can bring success starting on the recruiting trail.
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