According to multiple reports, former Ohio State basketball head coach Thad Matta met with Ole Miss officials Friday in Oxford to discuss the possibility of a return to coaching.
Wrapping up its regular season Saturday, Ole Miss men’s basketball has been led by interim head coach Tony Madlock since the abrupt Feb. 18 resignation of former head coach Andy Kennedy. On Feb. 12, Kennedy originally announced his intentions to resign at the end of the season, but later decided to step down early, citing the distraction his presence had on his players. Athletics director Ross Bjork said in a press conference following Kennedy’s resignation that the coaching search had already began.
With names of head coaches like Steve Forbes of East Tennessee State, Dan Hurley of Rhode Island, Kermit Davis of Middle Tennessee State, Steve Prohm of Iowa State and former NBA superstar Penny Hardaway already circulating around the position’s opening, there is now another name to throw in the mix – Thad Matta.
Matta, who played college ball at Southern Illinois from 1985 to ‘86 and at Butler from 1987 to ‘90, was hired as an assistant coach at Indiana State in the 1990-91 season and bounced around Division I programs as an assistant before taking his first head coaching spot at Butler in 2000. He spent one season at the helm of the Bulldogs before taking his talents to Xavier for a three-year stretch. In 2002, he was named Atlantic 10 Conference Coach of the Year. Ohio State took notice of Matta’s trajectory and offered him its head coach position in 2004, which Matta accepted.
At Ohio State, Matta won a program-best 337 games and lost just 123 times, posting a .733 win percentage over his 13-year career with the Buckeyes. His teams reached two Final Fours and five Sweet 16s in nine NCAA Tournament appearances, and Matta developed a number of current NBA stars, including Mike Conley, Kosta Koufos, D’Angelo Russell and Evan Turner.
In a bizarre turn of events last June, Matta was released from the remainder of his three-year, $9 million contract when Buckeyes’ athletics director, Gene Smith, said he evaluated the program and felt it was time to make a leadership change after being disappointed by Matta’s spring recruiting period.
Matta, 50, has battled health issues for nearly a decade and cited these problems as he presented the Ohio State decision as fairly mutual. After a botched back surgery debilitated his right foot and left him with lingering back issues (including an emergency surgery in 2007), Matta walks with a limp, often requires a brace on his foot and sat in a special chair on the bench to alleviate some of his pain while in Columbus.
Despite medical setbacks, sources say Matta is ready to return to coaching Division I basketball and is in much better physical shape after a year off.
“He wouldn’t take any job,” a source close to Matta told ESPN. “But he’d possibly consider coming back for the right one.”
Whether it is the right job or not, Matta was in Oxford this weekend to discuss the position.
Star players like Breein Tyree have said their futures with the program may be determined by the hiring of a new head coach, and a big name like that of the former Buckeye might settle any of their doubts.
For a program that finished dead last in the SEC this season, Matta would certainly make a splash.