So, it’s sure looking like we’re going to see Thad Matta coach again pretty soon, huh?
After reports linking Matta to open gigs at Ole Miss and Pitt, the smoke coming from Athens, Georgia appears to be the thickest. According to one report, Georgia went ahead and already offered him the dang job.
We don’t have many unified editorial positions here at LGHL. Our writers disagree all the dang time, but I think it’s safe to say that everybody here likes Thad Matta. We are appreciative for the work that he did at Ohio State, helping launch a generation of Buckeye fans who actually had a reason to care about Ohio State basketball. He was funny, thoughtful, and left a slew of banners, trophies and happy memories.
I can certainly understand why a program like Georgia would be interested in a guy like Matta. It’s not every offseason that a candidate with his experience, his accolades, and his reputation finds himself not only on the market, but on the market and willing to consider a place like Georgia, a school that’s had only very modest basketball success.
However, I hate to be the guy to rain on the Thad Matta-redemption parade here.... but... are we sure this is actually a good idea?
This job is all about recruiting, after all
Just like in football, there’s plenty of untapped potential for Georgia basketball, if they’re able to take advantage of their recruiting potential. As a state, Georgia produces plenty of high-level basketball prospects, especially in the Atlanta area, but the Bulldogs haven’t done a great job at getting that talent to Athens; losing out on players not just to heavyweights like Duke and North Carolina, but to Florida State, Alabama, Auburn, and others. With the right recruiter, you could get some really good basketball players to Athens.
At times, Matta has absolutely been that right kind of recruiter. But, he was fired from Columbus in large part because that recruiting had fallen off significantly, causing him to either reach on players who simply weren’t as talented, weren’t the right cultural fits, or both. That steady erosion of talent was probably the single biggest reason for Ohio State’s decline over the last several seasons.
Now, the 50-year-old Matta would be moving to an area of the country where he hasn’t recruited as heavily (at stints at Butler, Xavier and Ohio State, Matta mostly, although certainly not exclusively, recruited the midwest), while still having to face rumors on the recruiting trail about his health, rumors that also helped limit his success. Like, coaches were telling kids Matta was doing to die.
That’s not going to get better in the SEC. In fact, it will probably get worse
For a while, #SECBASKETBALLFEVER was something to tweet when Ole Miss or Auburn lost to some directional vocational school in early December. We’d all have a good laugh at the fact that outside of Kentucky and like, two and a half other schools, the conference was very content to not really care about college basketball.
But then a funny thing happened; many SEC schools started hiring real coaches and spending real money on their basketball programs. And then wouldn’t you know it, the league got a lot better! Top to bottom, the league was unquestionably better than the Big Ten this last season, and you can sell yourself on the competitiveness of plenty of teams that missed the NCAAs. Frank Martin at South Carolina just made a dang Final Four. LSU, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State all have top-ten projected recruiting classes coming in. This is an experienced coaching cohort, and recruiting battles are going to be intense.
Also, and I don’t bring this up to be sanctimonious, but it’s worth mentioning that Matta’s reputation in the media and coaching circles is pristine. His unwillingness to carry the proverbial bag probably at least played a role in the diminishing recruiting returns for Ohio State over the last few years.
After battling rumors of declining health, to go into a region where he doesn’t have as strong of relationships, and one where there are programs involved in the FBI investigation for, let’s just say, playing to win when it comes to recruiting....well, that’s all a pretty tough situation, no?
Also, there are some non-recruiting reasons to potentially be concerned
Matta is unquestionably a great coach. His teams almost always play strong team defense, and it’s no accident that he sent plenty of former Buckeyes to the NBA, or, at least, to strong overseas leagues. But, the other credible accusation thrown his way over the end of his Ohio State tenure? Players didn’t substantially improve.
Exactly how big of an issue this was, or how much goes on his shoulders is credibly up for debate, but if you look at players who joined Ohio State from say, the 2013 recruiting class onward, you will find plenty of players that made similar mistakes as freshman and sophomores as they did as juniors and seniors, and few that took dramatic jumps.
So much of Matta’s ability to develop players, and overcome some of those recruiting disadvantages, will depend on who he hires as staffers. His coaching tree in college basketball is substantial, but the bulk of those branches were formed much earlier in his career. Will he be able to assemble the right staff at Georgia?
Of course, it’s entirely possible everything I wrote is wrong, and Matta kicks ass
After all, he already helped one football school reach huge heights, and he did a lot of that back when the Big Ten was one of the toughest leagues in college basketball. He hasn’t forgotten how to teach defense, or handle in-game duties, or build relationships with players. He could take this job, or any other job, and turn that program into a second-weekend threat in the NCAAs pretty quickly. He’s certainly good enough!
I’ll root for Matta wherever he ends up, if he decides he wants to coach again. I’m skeptical a place like the SEC would be the best place for the next step in his career, or any other job that demands elite recruiting in a territory where it may be especially cutthroat. It’d be a move that would probably be praised #online, but not one without risks, in my view.