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Men’s basketball: Five potential Thad Matta replacements

One of the most anticipated coaching announcements of the coming season came early Monday afternoon when Ohio State announced Thad Matta was out as men’s basketball head coach. As the curtain falls on the tenure of the most successful coach in program history, Athletics Director Gene Smith said a national search for a new coach will start immediately.

Former OSU assistant and Dayton head coach Archie Miller accepted the heralded Indiana job in March, taking the speculated would-be replacement of Matta out of the picture. But there are plenty of high-profile coaches who could be contacted about the vacant position at a school considered to be a high-major program.

Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder head coach

Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan shouts to his players during the second quarter on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Accomplishments: Donovan won back-to-back national championships at Florida in 2006 and 2007, the second of which was against Matta’s Buckeyes. Donovan coached 19 seasons at Florida from 1996-2015, then was hired by the Thunder as its head coach. He has a career record of 467-186 (.715) overall at Florida and 202-109 (.650) in the Southeastern Conference. He made four Final Four and seven Elite Eights in his time with the Gators.

Why a good fit: OSU needs a change in the program to bring it back to the top of the conference. Donovan did it before, so why couldn’t he do it again? He is arguably one of the best coaches in basketball right now and has had tremendous success on the recruiting trail, grabbing nine McDonald’s All Americans from 2001-2015.

Connections: Donovan and OSU football coach Urban Meyer coached at Florida simultaneously and reportedly have a strong relationship. If that has any impact on Smith and the job search, that’s remaining to be seen. Not to mention, OSU will have to take Donovan away from the NBA. However, Donovan’s Thunder aren’t likely to win a title in the near future despite having triple-double machine Russell Westbrook at point guard.

Sean Miller, Arizona head coach

Arizona head coach Sean Miller issue orders to his team during second-half action against Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite 8 at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 28, 2015. Wisconsin advanced, 85-78. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Accomplishments: Once Matta left Xavier at the end of the 2003-04 season, Miller kept the program alive and made the tournament each year except 2004-05 when the Musketeers lost its three leading scorers from the previous year. Miller led Xavier to two straight Sweet Sixteens in 2008 and 2009 before he was hired as Arizona’s head coach. There, he has won two conference coach of the year awards, four regular-season conference championships and three conference tournament championships.

Miller has never made it to a Final Four, but has made it to three Elite Eights and five Sweet Sixteens in seven NCAA Tournament appearances. He has also been most successful on the recruiting trail with five top-five and six top-10 classes since 2010. Miller has signed seven McDonald’s All-Americans since 2012.

Why a good fit: Smith made it seem like the decision to fire Matta and not give him another season was because of recruiting. If that’s the case, why not get one of the best recruiters, by numbers, in college basketball? However, Arizona is a premier program and Miller is under contract through 2022.

Connections: Miller was one of Matta’s assistant coaches at Xavier from 2002-04, then took over for Matta and coached the Musketeers from 2004-05 season through 2009. His brother, Archie, was an assistant with Matta at OSU.

Chris Mack, Xavier head coach

Xavier head coach Chris Mack on the sidelines against North Carolina State during the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Accomplishments: Where Miller picked up after Matta, Mack picked up after Miller. In his eight seasons as Xavier head coach, Mack has led the Musketeers to seven NCAA Tournaments, including four Sweet Sixteens and one Elite Eight. Under Mack, Xavier had its highest preseason Associated Press ranking (7) in school history at the start of the 2016-17 season.

Why a good fit: He’s an Ohio guy who knows the area and is a growing recruiter in the Midwest. He has built up his career enough to make the jump to a major program like OSU. Mack has also been able to compete against high-major programs with primarily four- and three-star prospects that have developed into reliable college scorers.

Connections: Mack is a Cleveland native, graduated from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati and has coached Xavier for seven years as an assistant and eight years as the head coach. Xavier gave OSU its last coach and this would be a huge leap forward for Mack in his career. One aspect that could play a factor is that Mack is a Xavier alumnus.

Mick Cronin, Cincinnati head coach

Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin shouts out a play against UConn on Sunday, March 5, 2017 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Accomplishments: Cronin was named the head coach of the Bearcats in 2006-07 and was just 11-19 in his first season, finishing last in the Big East. Four years later, the Bearcats won 26 games and a game in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six seasons. Since then the Bearcats haven’t won less than 22 games in a season and have made seven NCAA Tournaments, winning one American Athletic Conference title in the process.

Why a good fit: Cronin has deep ties in Ohio and, like Mack, has immediate credibility to in-state recruiting. He has also shown an ability to develop players over a few years in his program, which is something OSU desperately needs.

Connections: Cronin lacks direct connections to OSU, other than landing his first collegiate coaching job under then-Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins, who was an assistant for two seasons with the Buckeyes in 1978-79 and 1979-80.

Chris Holtmann, Butler head coach

Butler head coach Chris Holtmann directs his team during the first half against Virginia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., on Saturday, March 19, 2016. Virginia advanced, 77-69. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Accomplishments: He has only been a coach at Butler since the 2014-15 season, but is quietly becoming one of the best coaches in college basketball. This past season, Holtmann’s Butler Bulldogs beat the reigning national champion Villanova Wildcats twice during the regular season and finished second in the Big East. Holtmann was named 2017 Big East Coach of the Year award after finishing 25-9 and 12-6 in conference. Butler made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 2016-17 for the first time since 2011 under Boston Celtics coach, and former Thad Matta assistant, Brad Stevens.

Why a good fit: Holtmann, although under contract through 2025, has returned Butler to the relative prominence that Brad Stevens had the program at during its two national championship runs in 2010 and 2011. It would make sense for OSU to hire a coach that has had commitments from players in Ohio (Massillon Jackson’s 2016 forward Kyle Young) and has shown he can put a program back on the map and compete for conference championships.

Connections: Like the Xavier coaching tree to OSU, the Butler coaching tree has also been lucrative for the Buckeyes, considering Matta’s head coaching career began with the Bulldogs. Holtmann was an assistant under coach John Groce at Ohio in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Groce was one of Matta’s original assistants starting in 2004-05 until 2007-08.

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