Why Matta’s Record Doesn’t Matter

There’s just something that doesn’t add up.

Thad Matta is the winningest coach in Ohio State basketball history. He’s taken the team to two Final Fours in twelve seasons. He coached in four consecutive Sweet 16s, with only a handful of names on that list. Krzyzewski, Dean Smith. No big deal.

Multiple conference championships. Multiple Big Ten Tournament championships. 20 wins every season, as a matter of principle.

He’s landed more NBA-ready recruits than essentially every single coach in the program before him combined. Five Matta-coached players are currently in the league, and two of those were multi-year players. Developed talent.

Oh, and he’s not even 50 years old.

Nonetheless, people around town seem…displeased. Perhaps some perspective is in order.

Tom Izzo is 61. When Tom Izzo was 49, he had just come off three straight double-digit-loss seasons. Two first round bounces. Since then, he’s enjoyed four of his six Final Four appearances.

Bo Ryan is 69. When Bo Ryan was 49, he was coaching at D-III Wisconsin-Platteville, part of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Go Pioneers.

Mike Krzyzewski is also 69. When Mike Krzyzewski was 49, he had already been at Duke for sixteen seasons. He’s won three National Championships since then.

Thad Matta is currently 49. He’s done a lot. He hasn’t won a NCAA title yet, a fact we’re reminded of every year when some beef-headed sports journalist puts together a list of the best coaches to have never won the whole thing. He’s always on that list. Because he’s a tremendously good coach.

By Matta’s standards, the past few seasons have been a struggle. Fewer elite recruits. No conference tournament title since 2013. No Final Fours since 2012. Still hasn’t managed to coach a team to fewer than twenty victories, but he damn sure came close a couple times. It’s really been quite embarrassing.

But it’s not Matta who should feel embarrassed. Nor the players, the assistants, or the managers. No.

The people opening their mouths, calling into radio shows, hosting radio shows, decrying the recent dip in program status, criticizing Matta from seats of utter ignorance—that’s where the shame resides. The fans who don’t show up to the arena, who don’t learn about the players, who don’t bother to better understand the game of basketball—those people deserve blame.

To suggest that Ohio State look for a new coach, send out feelers, put Matta on some sort of “hot seat” is completely absurd. Laughable. Insulting. Disgraceful. To suggest that Archie Miller, current coach at Dayton and one of Matta’s many successful disciples, would somehow be an improvement is a joke. These theories exist. They’re being blasted over the airwaves by wide-bottomed fill-in “personalities,” whose careers as broadcasters have about the same lifespan as a fish swimming in a bowl of American vodka.

And to the fans who’ve never played, never coached, never been to a game, convinced that the time for change has come, let’s leave it at this:

If a change need come, it need come with everyone outside the locker room. Elite programs don’t jettison elite coaches. Elite programs have foresight and wisdom and realize that part of what makes great coaches great is giving them the latitude to pilot the ship through all sorts of weather. You trust him to get you through a storm or two. Syracuse was in the Final Four last season. This year, they’ve started 11-9—the worst start to a season in Jim Boeheim’s 41-year tenure. What should they do: put him out to pasture?

The very simple reality is the person who knows the most about the state of the program, its struggles, its past, present, and future, is Thad Matta.

Stop pretending to know. Stop pretending to care. If you had something meaningful or helpful to say, you’d be on the staff.

In another twelve years, when Matta notches his 600th victory at Ohio State, maybe then we’ll all be able to trust him to do a good job, run a clean program, and continue bringing a quality product to a town full of people who didn’t deserve it in the first place.

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