Another offseason, another decorated college coach that “mutually agrees to part ways” with their university.
Of course I’m talking about Thad Maata, who was sneakily one of the best college basketball coaches in America with THE Ohio State University (God, I hate that.)
Keep in mind Maata brought OSU to nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances; of those, two Final Fours and five Sweet Sixteens, with five Big Ten regular season titles and four Big Ten tournament titles after taking over in 2004.
Maata brought the Buckeyes to the NCAA Tourney every single year for nine straight years. No titles, but there were seasons where Ohio State came close.
On the surface, it sounds ridiculous that OSU would fire a coach like this, especially when college coaches rarely have the same track record at the age of 49.
Looking deeper will show that Ohio State failed to reach the top four of the Big Ten standings in each of the last four seasons, and even missing the NCAA’s for two straight seasons.
However, what’s so strange and so modern college basketball about this firing is a.) the timing, and b.) how it ended.
Let’s start with the timing: after all the firings and the coaching carousel that start in April, Ohio State waited until June to fire their coach and search for a replacement.
Two other Big Ten schools, Illinois and Indiana, fired their coaches on March 16th to give themselves the most time to look for the best replacement. Illinois ended up with Oklahoma State’s Brad Underwood, and Indiana got Archie Miller from Dayton.
These schools ended their seasons early with short exits in the Big Ten Tournament, and had more time and found their coaches, but Ohio State chose to wait it out until June. As odd as this sounds, it’s consistent with Ohio State’s previous firing of Jim O’Brien and hiring of Thad Maata in early June of 2004.
Why did OSU wait so long? Does it really take three months to figure out whether the guy’s doing a satisfactory job, or are they afraid the coach they fire will end up staying in their conference?
There’s validity to the second, since no other Big Ten schools were in search of a coach at the time of Maata’s firing.
That’s just half of what makes this move so confusing. The second, is how Ohio State told Maata to pack his bags. Even in how ESPN reported the firing on June 5th, it was easier to figure out what really went on between OSU athletic director Gene Smith and Maata.
Ohio State wanted to BS a bit by claiming the decision was mutual, although it’s clear that it wasn’t. Maata himself said he wanted to continue coaching, as in coaching at OSU next year, and the AD cut him down at Maata’s “performance report” sometime last week.
Ohio State is not only late to the party in finding a coach, but the coach who steps in will have a difficult time settling in and getting ready for next season (say, giving him more time to show himself off on recruiting trips?).
All of this won’t matter much if Ohio State finds the right guy, but that’s just it: they aren’t getting the pick of the litter.
According to Nicole Auerbach of USA Today Sports, all of their rumored replacement candidates, Gregg Marshall, Mick Cronin, and Chris Holtman of Butler, who all have jobs already. Each may be interested in taking a top 10 job like Ohio State, but they may take note of how poorly Maata was sent out the door. Our own BMolleur has more on all the coaches OSU thinks they can hire.
Thad Maata’s remaining 3 years, $9 million dollar contract will be bought out by the university, which means OSU is sparing no expense to fire their coach. I’m sure Thad feels thanked for his 13 years of servicd right now. The replacement is expected to earn upwards of $3 million per.
There’s an even bigger slap to the face than that though: Maata’s going to help Ohio State look for his replacement.
It’s a class move on Maata’s part, and only goes to show what OSU will miss when they find the new guy. Just imagine helping your mean old boss find someone to take your job and try to do it better than you did, that just doesn’t happen.
If I’m getting fired, I would be tempted not to hire the best guy because it would only strengthen my case for why they shouldn’t have fired me. Not that Thad Maata will have trouble finding a job, though.
This firing is modern college basketball in a blender; they’re doing the most they can to emulate the professional game (but still have two halves and a god awful 35 second shot clock!), and that ultimately leads means firing a guy unless he’s absolutely perfect. D-1 universities are beginning to think they’re bigger than they really are.
It was always like this before, but the stakes are much higher with the increase in advanced statistics and analytics which I don’t mean to discredit, and that the goals of athletic directors are clearer in their pursuit of the greenbacks, since “success” can be more easily measured in today’s game:
- Make the Tournament.
- Get all the top recruits.
- Help us secure a big deal with the apparel companies.
- Rebuild the program that the AD made much worse by firing the last guy.
- Do it within two or three years or you’re gone.
This formula is designed to weed out incompetent coaches, but the incompetence is more often found in the positions above the basketball coach.
There are countless athletic directors across Division I sports that have no clue about the coaches they evaluate, and frankly don’t care.
Ohio State, like many other schools, has a body of associate athletic directors, but they all seemed to think the same way last week.
Athletics is one of the driving sources of profit for a big money university. We know this. Colleges care much more about winning now because winning helps make more money for the university. The product on the field and court is entertaining a lot of the time, and that’s enough to continue the investment of sports fans across the country.
I don’t expect the big-time schools to be forthcoming about everything but “mutually agree to part ways” is a euphemism that I hope will go away. There was no mutual understanding between Thad Maata and his bosses, even for a guy who is as respectable as Maata.
Ohio State wanted him gone. Maata wanted to keep going. Maata doesn’t have a job now, but is getting a financial settlement to not coach. Maata has to help find his replacement. Mutual understanding, huh?