Chris Holtmann, who spent the last three years as Butler’s coach, has agreed to an eight-year deal to be Ohio State men’s basketball’s next head coach following Thad Matta’s firing Monday. The deal is worth around $3 million annually, according to the press release.
In just four seasons, Holtmann has gone from head coach at Gardner-Webb in the Big South to Butler in the Big East and now OSU in the Big Ten. Holtmann, 45, is the 14th head coach in program history and has a pedigree of helping programs achieve postseason success in a short amount of time while keeping his foot on the gas on the recruiting trail.
Holtmann’s coaching career began at his alma mater, Taylor University, in Upland, Indiana — a town of 3,845 people, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. He served one season as a graduate assistant, went to Geneva College as an assistant coach for one season, then returned to Taylor as an assistant coach for four seasons.
The Trojans were 50-16 and won two conference championships in Holtmann’s final two years before he left for his first Division I coaching job at Gardner-Webb. He spent five years as an assistant coach and associate head coach before his teammate at Taylor, John Groce, gave him a call to join his staff in 2008 at Ohio University.
In his second year, Holtmann assisted Groce in leading the Bobcats to their first Mid-American Conference tournament title in five seasons and a first-round upset of Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 14 seed in 2010.
“Chris was a huge part of that (tournament run). It was just a great hire,” Groce, current Akron head coach, told The Lantern in a phone interview Friday. “I already knew who he was as a person and that certainly played into my decision to hire him when I was at Ohio. I knew that he was going to be loyal, humble, hard-working and anything you would want from a character perspective.”
That ended up being Holtmann’s final season on Groce’s staff as he left for the Gardner-Webb head coaching position following that tournament appearance. From that point forward, Holtmann has had unprecedented success leading up to his hire on Friday.
Despite a below-.500 record in three years as head coach at Gardner Webb (44-54), the Runnin’ Bulldogs won 21 games and made their first Division-I postseason tournament in the 2012-13 season — Holtmann’s final year before darting to Butler.
Holtmann was an assistant for Brandon Miller’s 2013-14 Butler squad that went 14-17. The next season, Holtmann took over as interim head coach when Miller took a medical leave of absence. The interim tag was removed in January 2015 and he led the Bulldogs to a surprising 23-11 record and a second-place finish in the Big East. The next two seasons, Holtmann was 47-20 with a berth in the Sweet 16 in 2017.
Groce said the rise in Holtmann’s career isn’t surprising given Holtmann’s character.
“As we worked together for two years, it became very obvious to me how good he was professionally … whether it was coaching, developing players, recruiting, how organized he was, work ethic, et cetera,” Groce said.
“I wanted (my assistant coaches) to grow. I wanted them to get better and improve and move forward in the profession. That’s a big reason why I’m so excited for what Chris has done. What he did at Butler, what he did at Gardner-Webb as a head coach, I think through all that he’s maintained who he is as a person.”
OSU Athletics Director Gene Smith made it clear during Monday’s press conference where he fired coach Thad Matta that the next head coach at OSU would have to be an excellent recruiter in the Midwest.
It appears he found that.
“He’s connected, there’s no question,” Groce said. “He has experience in (Ohio and Indiana) which will be beneficial to what they need to get done from a recruiting perspective, but Chris has an ability to develop relationships regardless of location. I think one of his strengths is that he’s well-rounded and one of those areas that’s a strong suit for him is the recruiting piece.”
In his first season as head coach at Butler, he recruited Tyler Lewis, Kelan Martin and Tyler Wideman who all started for Butler’s Sweet 16 team this past season. He also has taken three players from the state of Ohio, including 2017 OSU target Kyle Young from Massillon Jackson.
In OSU’s press release, Smith explicitly said Holtmann had great Midwestern recruiting ties, as evidenced by nine players who have committed to Butler from Kentucky, Indiana or Ohio since the 2014 class.
What makes his ties more important is the deep 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes in Ohio. Dane Goodwin is the lone commitment since Matta’s Monday exit, but the other five top-six recruits in Ohio for 2018 could turn the entire OSU program around. Pete Nance, Dwayne Cohill, Darius Bazley, Jerome Hunter and Justin Ahrens all hold offers OSU. Ahrens and Bazley were once committed to the program.
In 2019, local products Jordan Mitchell and Jeremiah Francis are the top two players in the state, according to 247Sports, and already hold OSU offers.
Blue-blood programs such as North Carolina, Kentucky, Arizona and Villanova largely define college basketball. Holtmann has defeated all four of those schools. He defeated defending national champion Villanova twice in 2016-17.
Holtmann was an assistant at Gardner-Webb when it defeated Kentucky in 2007.
The past three seasons, OSU has won a single game against an Associated Press Top-25 team outside of Columbus. OSU was 3-13 against Top 25 teams in the past two seasons and has lost by double-digits in nine of its last 18 road conference games.
Holtmann was 13-10 in games against Top 25 opponents in three seasons at Butler.
Jacob Myers: email@example.com and Twitter @Jacob_Myers_25