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Ohio State’s Gene Smith has his toughest hire ahead of him

After landing Urban Meyer with great timing, the Buckeyes athletic director has his work cut out for him.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

“There's no Meyer here, no obvious decision. Every list of candidates is basically the same, but there are plenty of ways to go. And Smith isn't replacing a coach forced out by NCAA violations, as was the case with Tressel and Jim O'Brien, the coach Matta replaced. He's not replacing a disaster. He's replacing the winningest coach in program history who had a couple rough years and whom Smith decided to fire just three months after providing him with a vote of confidence on the last day of the season.”

- Doug Lesmerises, Cleveland.com

With the obviously huge news of Thad Matta stepping down as the head coach for Ohio State basketball, there’s another storyline that’s worth watching. The Buckeyes athletic director, Gene Smith, has perhaps his most difficult task in front of him. Smith made the hire of football coach Urban Meyer, which was a home run from day one, but in reality, the fact that a two-time national champion at Florida with great ties to the state of Ohio and even the Ohio State program itself was available was mostly just luck. As Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com points out, there isn’t an Urban Meyer when trying to replace Thad Matta. Replacing Jim Tressel would have been tough had Meyer not been available, but now Smith has to choose the replacement for the winningest head coach in the Buckeyes’ history.

Lesmerises continues and points out that Smith has done a good job in other areas of the athletic department in terms of hiring. Wrestling coach Tom Ryan has been extremely successful in his duties and it’s worth mentioning women’s basketball head coach Kevin McGuff, who helped recruit star player Kelsey Mitchell and has had Ohio State playing in the Sweet Sixteen a couple of times. Who Smith hires to replace Matta will certainly reflect on his duties so it will be interesting to see who he gets.

“Sitting in the middle of a fertile recruiting ground and with an ample budget, the Buckeyes are positioned to compete annually for the Big Ten title and occasionally for the national title.”

- Pete Thamel, Sports Illustrated

Speaking more to the candidates that could potentially replace Thad Matta at Ohio State, Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated took a brief look at a number of head coaches across the country that could have ties with the state or otherwise. Some of the names are certainly interesting and are being brought up across most of the boards. Chris Mack from Xavier is a frequent name being listed, having led the Musketeers to four Sweet Sixteen appearances in eight years. Of course it also makes sense because the last time the Buckeyes hired a coach from Xavier, it turned out to be Matta!

Some other names popping up on the list are Sean Miller from Arizona, who has ties to the geographic location, but with his team currently sitting as the preseason favorite it’s hard to imagine him leaving for a restarting program. The former Matta assistant would obviously be a slam dunk. One interesting name that I hadn’t even considered was Shaka Smart of Texas. Although he seemingly just made the move to the Longhorns, a poor performance last season could potentially push him to a tradition-rich program like Ohio State. But with a good recruiting class this past year, the Longhorns could instead be on the rise for the former VCU head coach.

“That’s probably what you appreciate more the further removed you are from the program. Obviously we won a lot during my four years and we had some great times there. But just the type of man he was and the opportunity to play for him, that’s what sticks out the most right now.”

- Sam Thompson via Ben Axelrod, Land of 10

Sam “Slam” Thompson was a crowd favorite during his time with the Ohio State basketball team. He was also a big fan of Thad Matta. Thompson spoke a little about why Matta meant so much to his players and the program alike. One of the main points was that Matta was a great man who cared about his team, and the proof is in the support received through social media from his former players. And although the Buckeyes might be down right now, Thompson believes that Ohio State will sell itself and be right back near the top soon enough.

Thompson appreciated Matta for having a great sense of humor, which follows a lot of what previous players have said including Mark Titus, the former walk-on who published a book about his time as a benchwarmer at Ohio State on some of the great teams. Either way, Matta will certainly be missed and should be remembered of fondly for the time and success he put into the basketball program.

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