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14 Ohio State coaching candidates to replace Thad Matta, grouped by plausibility

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The Buckeyes need a new coach. They’re probably not getting a huge name right now, but all’s not lost.

Butler v North Carolina
Butler head coach Chris Holtmann.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Thad Matta is out as Ohio State’s head men’s basketball coach. He spent the last 13 years in that job and went 337-123, with two Final Four appearances and a handful of Big Ten championships (regular season and tournament) mixed in. Matta was brilliant in Columbus for a time. He made all but one NCAA tournament between 2006 and 2015, and he made the Buckeyes a hub for elite recruits.

But Matta’s last two teams were both bad, and the Buckeyes’ recruiting suffered over the course of the last few years. Matta’s personal health was a constant topic of discussion, with opponents reportedly using it to recruit against the Buckeyes. Ohio State isn’t anywhere near the top of the Big Ten as Matta exits. But before he goes, the school says he’ll help find his own successor. It’s all sort of odd.

Based on some reports and some conjecture, here are candidates:

Probably not going to happen

Anybody on this list:

If I were Ohio State, I’d want these coaches, too. But it takes two to tango, and for varying reasons, it’s hard to see Stevens, Bennett, Wright, Miller, or Donovan taking this job. Miller has an arguably superior job at Arizona and might not want to coach against his little brother, Archie, who’s now at Indiana. Donovan is the coach of an NBA team that has Russell Westbrook on it. Wright is a national champion and an institution at Villanova. Bennett’s been rumored to the Big Ten, where his father once coached, for years. Stevens is — well, he is Stevens, and he’s not leaving the Celtics for OSU.

Seems like it would make sense for all parties

Xavier head coach Chris Mack

Butler head coach Chris Holtmann

Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin

Mack has been in charge at Xavier since 2009 and made all but one NCAA tournament in that span. He brought the school to its third Elite Eight in history this year. (Coincidentally, the coach for Xavier’s first run to a regional final was Matta, in 2004, before he took the job at Ohio State.) If Mack wanted to level up, it’d make sense.

Holtmann is currently enjoying a strong run at Butler, where he’s a successor to Stevens. Brandon Miller coached one season at BU after Stevens left for the NBA, and Holtmann has made the Dance in each of his three years since replacing Miller. He coaches a plodding but efficient offense and will come up in big-name coaching searches for as long as he remains at Butler.

Cronin has carried out a marvelous rebuild at Cincinnati, where he arrived from Murray State in 2006. The Bearcats have played in the last seven NCAA tournaments and finished ranked in the top 20 on two occasions. He also oversaw a smooth hoops transition from the old Big East to the American Athletic Conference — a change that hasn’t been as good to programs like Connecticut and South Florida.

Also sensible on various levels

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams

Williams is mentioned here:

Williams is a good coach, and he’s done some good work at Virginia Tech. How big a jump is the Ohio State job? I don’t think it’s a big one, but it’s probably a slight one. Williams is a character, known for his animation on the sidelines. He’s also coached a lot of good offenses in his day, both at Tech and Marquette before that.

I’ll throw it to my colleague Matt Brown, who wondered in March about who would replace Matta whenever he left town. I’ll quote some of his notes in full:

Ohio State assistant coach Chris Jent

This wouldn’t be a sexy hire, but it’s certainly one that would be on the table. Jent was a Buckeye basketball player, and an Ohio State assistant from 2011-2013, an era of great success in Columbus, before heading to the NBA. He’s never been a college head coach, but he was briefly an NBA head coach (interim, Orlando Magic), and he’s been a head coach in the G-League. He’s also a Buckeye assistant now, although if the Buckeyes struggle again next season, that might not be as much of a selling point.

Stony Brook head coach (and former OSU assistant) Jeff Boals

An Ohio guy and a longtime Buckeye assistant coach who was so successful at crafting stringy defenses that I basically singlehandedly started the movement to get the guy a head coaching job (#HIREJEFFBOALS), Boals now has head coaching experience on his resume. Boals led the Seawolves to an 18-14 record in his first year as a head coach. He’s got a ton of Buckeye state ties, gets social media, and has a bright future ahead of him, but he also might be a teensy bit to green to take over the Buckeyes right now.

Pat Kelsey, Winthrop head coach

Kelsey isn’t a name you hear very often, since he doesn’t have an obvious Ohio State tie. But Kelsey is from Cincinnati, played and coached at Xavier, and also coached at Elder High School in the Queen City. He’s done a great job at Winthrop, with a 102-59 record over five years, with two conference titles, and an NCAA bid. He was hired at UMass to be their head coach for all of five minutes earlier this offseason before unceremoniously returning to Winthrop, but that shouldn’t preclude him from potentially working in Ohio.

Illinois State head coach Dan Muller

Given his success, Muller sure looks like he’s on a crash course for a future Big Ten job. He doesn’t have Ohio ties, but he checks a lot of other potential boxes. He’s young (41), midwestern (from Lafayette, Indiana, and played and coached in the midwest), and he’s built a strong program at Illinois State over the last five years, guiding the Redbirds to a 28-7 record and an NIT bid last season.

Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall

Is this likely? Nope. But shoot for the moon, land for the stars, etc. Marshall is unquestionably the biggest name in the non-power conference market, having built a mid-major dynasty at Wichita State. He’s well paid (over $3 million), and he’s turned down big offers before. Alabama was able to get into serious talks with him earlier, and Ohio State is probably a better basketball job than Alabama. If the Buckeyes can really open their wallet, this is at least a possibility, albeit probably not a great one.

June is an odd time for a job like this one to come open, and that timetable might make finding quality candidates harder. Also, Ohio State isn’t an immediate Big Ten contender. But it could be one again soon, as long as the school gets this right. There’s no reason that can’t happen, no matter what page of the calendar we’re on.