Is Matta The Greatest OSU Basketball Coach Ever?

Posted Mar 27, 2013 Rob Kunz | 5 comments

You’ll have to forgive me, especially since Sunday is Easter, but many will consider this to be Buckeye basketball blasphemy.

I’m ready to declare Thad Matta as the greatest basketball coach in Ohio State hoops history.

Don’t get me wrong, I have an incredible appreciation for history, and for foundations laid, legacies created, etc. There’s also little doubt that time has started to erode the accomplishments of Fred Taylor.

About this time a year ago, I compared the "golden eras" of OSU basketball between Taylor and Matta.

The fact remains that Matta’s 2012-13 Buckeyes need to win four more games (and thus the school’s second national title) to truly activate this discussion. Taylor, of course, piloted OSU to its only championship in 1960.

But in my opinion, that’s the only thing keeping Matta from being considered the school’s greatest basketball coach. (Please, don’t anyone show this to Bob Knight!)

Again, this isn’t to slight Coach Taylor in any way, shape or form. He didn’t get into the hall of fame by accident, and the only reason he isn’t still held in higher regard was his own modesty.

I don’t think it was necessarily easier or simpler to be in Taylor’s position 50 years ago than it is now, but the current challenges were not faced by Taylor or his peers.

During Taylor’s time, especially in the 1960’s, the world was a smaller place. People didn’t travel as much, and students tended to stay closer to home when choosing a college.

There were some incredible basketball players to wear the Scarlet and Gray in Taylor’s tenure like Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Larry Siegfried, Gary Bradds, Bill Hosket, Larry Sorenson, Luke Witte, Allan Hornyak and Jim Cleamons just to name a few. All of them were from Ohio.

I’m sure it was easier said than done, but Taylor just had to recruit his own state, and he could be a top-level program. In fact, Taylor only had two real players of consequence from out-of-state (1,000-point scorer Ron Sepic and future captain Rick Smith, who was a freshman in Taylor’s final season).

Compare that to the big name players/recruits in the Thad Matta era, like Greg Oden, Michael Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos, Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft and you’ll see half of those are out-of-state. Look at the current OSU roster; only Craft is from the Buckeye state and on scholarship.

Furthermore, there was far fewer (if any) player movement in the 1960’s. The NBA hardship rule didn’t exist, and no one left early for the NBA. While freshman weren’t eligible back then, Taylor had Jerry Lucas for three seasons. Matta had Turner for three years, but Oden, Conley, Cook, Koufos, Byron Mullens and Sullinger all left Columbus in two seasons or less.

Players also tended to honor their commitments, and did not transfer back then. If you signed and enrolled at a school, you stayed your four years. Now, players come and go all the time and programs like Ohio State lose kids searching for more playing time nearly every year.

Recruiting is much different as well. Lucas famously eliminated Kentucky when Adolph Rupp showed up at Middletown High School, and tried to pull Lucas out of class to talk to him. Could you imagine a huge recruit doing that today?

The sphere of influence used to be a kid’s parents and high school coach. Now, you’re dealing with parents, high school coach, other relatives and AAU coaches, among others. And the national attention these kids get now can be overwhelming, whereas 50 years ago, high school athletes were covered by their hometown newspapers and that was it.

Conversely, the one big thing Matta has going for him that did not benefit Taylor was the full support of the athletic department and university.

Ohio State made a commitment to the basketball program when it hired Matta, and has given it the support and resources to succeed and flourish.

Taylor was able to get results, but OSU was unapologetically a “football school”, and the basketball program was completely overshadowed by Woody Hayes and his squad.

Whichever side of this debate you fall on, I think all Buckeye fans can agree that is an enjoyable time. It wasn’t that long ago that Eldon Miller’s teams were under-achieving, or that Gary Williams left for his alma mater, the talentless losing seasons of the mid 1990-‘s, or the cloud over the program caused by NCAA violations last decade.

Fred Taylor would dismiss this blog as silly. He wouldn’t care who is considered the greatest Buckeye head coach. He would just be thrilled that his program is back at the level he created. He’d also be Thad Matta’s biggest supporter.