Dressed in a gray suit, white dress shirt and scarlet-striped tie, holding the hands of his wife, Lori, and his daughter, Nora; Chris Holtmann, alongside Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith, was formally introduced as Ohio State men’s basketball’s 14th head coach in program history in a press conference Monday on the court of the Schottenstein Center.
Rumored to be a candidate at several job openings such as North Carolina State, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Tennessee over the past three offseasons, Holtmann said the Big Ten program in Columbus was the only one he seriously considered.
“This was a decision I had to work through,” Holtmann said. “Gene was aggressive and persistent in his approach and I really appreciated that.”
Holtmann, 45, spent the past three seasons at Butler and made the NCAA Tournament each year, reaching the Sweet 16 this past season. After that run, Holtmann signed a contract extension with Butler through the 2024-25 season. But when the Ohio State job became available and he was offered an eight-year deal worth approximately $3 million annually, he couldn’t let that opportunity slip by him.
Holtmann said the combination of a university with world-class education, a thriving athletic department with some of the best programs in their respective sports in the country, the tradition of the program, a talent-rich recruiting area and a passionate fan base sold him on the position.
“I had left a special program and special guys,” he said. “That was emotional for me. But I’m telling you, it was the vision that (Smith) had and what he was looking for and this place. I’m extremely excited.”
The search for the replacement to 13-year head coach Thad Matta began the afternoon of June 5, coming just after it was announced Matta would be exiting. Smith met with former collegiate basketball coach Eddie Fogler to begin the process of searching for candidates and conducting background checks on any names that arose in the discussions.
Smith said the search for a new head coach began and ended with the same name at the top of their list.
“(Holtmann) was my target from the beginning,” Smith said.
Though Holtmann was offered the job on Tuesday, Smith said Holtmann was reluctant at first to sign on the dotted line. The contract originally put on the table was a seven-year offer, but Smith said he tacked on an additional year to create a more enticing offer.
Then, on Thursday morning, Smith said he and his wife traveled to meet the Holtmanns in Dayton and get to know one another. By the time the discussion had ended, Ohio State had its next head coach.
Smith called Fogler and told him the search was over. They got their guy.
“We sought a high-intensity individual with an emphasis on academics, someone who is relentless in recruiting with great ties to the great state of Ohio and the contiguous states,” Smith said. “We found a proven winner who’s a community engager and bottom line fits our culture.”
During Holtmann’s introductory speech, he emphasized the importance of recruiting the state of Ohio, highlighting his 20 years of experience recruiting the Buckeye state. He said that locking down the state’s best prospects would be paramount to the program’s long-term success.
“This region … is a tremendous area for talented, smart and tough players,” Holtmann said. “We’re going to work extremely hard as a staff to close the borders and dominate the state of Ohio in recruiting. It will be an every-day focus for us.”
Holtmann, who is leaving the highest-ranked recruiting class in Butler history, said that he began calling recruits immediately Friday after he signed the appropriate paperwork with the compliance department.
As far as the rest of the coaching staff is concerned, Holtmann said there are “some wheels in motion” on naming the rest of his staff, but would not expound on that notion.
The past four seasons, the Ohio State program has been on the decline, which has been exemplified in scoring struggles and defensive letdowns. Holtmann gave an indication of how that play might change under his leadership.
“Aggressive, attacking. We want to be physical and tough and tough minded,” he said. “But we want to play aggressive, attacking style and we want our guys to play with freedom. We want them to go out there and cut loose and play. I think that’s what people will see when they watch our team.”