My junior year of high school, I had just wrapped up a day tour at Ohio State and was literally about to pass out on a couch in the Union. My dad shook me awake and loudly whispered “Brian, that’s Thad Matta!” as Matta walked past with Bobby Knight. I had no idea that 18 months later I’d be starting a four-year term working under him as a student manager from the 2013-14 season through his final season in 2016-17.
A phrase that I remember being thrown around a lot as an underclassman in the program was “great player, better person.” Substituting “player” for “coach,” the phrase couldn’t be more true for Coach Matta.
He always wanted not just what was best for the team, but what was best for the individuals, as both players and men, and during some of the tougher stretches, the pain he felt from having let his team down as a coach was both visible and genuine. It’s rare to see anyone as invested in their profession as Coach Matta was in his teams and the state of the program.
Everyone saw, and unfortunately quickly forgot, the huge success Coach Matta brought to the Ohio State men’s basketball program. Most people don’t get to see what he’s like off the court. Contrary to the occasional beet-red face sometimes seen on the sidelines, he’s actually one of the most laid-back individuals I’ve been with in a work environment.
From addressing me by Brian about ten times per day the last week of my senior season after realizing my real name wasn’t “Chops,” which is what my nickname within the program was, to seamlessly transitioning from a regular conversation with me to a Chris Farley Saturday Night Live sketch dialogue, I’ll always appreciate Coach Matta’s wit.
I don’t know if he will be back out on the hardwood again, but if not, I know, as he has told me on several occasions, he’s looking forward to living where “It’s never colder than 70 degrees, (he) never has to wear long pants and doesn’t have to put a shirt on before 5 o’clock.”
Brian Lamb, former Ohio State men’s basketball manager