COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thad Matta is out as Ohio State’s basketball coach, with the Buckeyes having missed the last two NCAA Tournaments amid an exodus of players.
Matta, who has coached the team for 13 seasons, also cited his health at a news conference Monday. He has been troubled for years by chronic back problems that sometimes prevented him from taking off his shoes after a game.
“This has probably been the greatest 13 years of my life,” said Matta, his voice breaking as he quoted lyrics from the Grateful Dead. “Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me, other times I can barely see. Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.”
The 49-year-old coach said he and athletic director Gene Smith agreed he would leave.
“I think it’s the right thing for our program at the right time,” Smith said.
Matta had three years remaining on a contract extension he signed in 2012. Smith said a national search for his replacement will begin immediately, and Matta will participate in the search.
Matta coached the Buckeyes from 2005 to 2017 and took them to two Final Fours. Ohio State finished 17-15 this year, the worst season in Matta’s 17 years as a head coach. In the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State lost in the first round to Rutgers, the lowest-seeded team.
During the tournament, Smith said Matta’s job was secure. But on Friday they met and agreed to a change of course.
“We weren’t winning the battles in recruiting that I thought we might have a chance to win, as he did,” Smith said. “We started talking about that on Friday (and) the flow of the conversation took me to the reality.”
Matta said his chronic pain wore on him through the years and his focus now is on getting healthy. As for coaching again, he said: “Never say never.”
He said his back problems from a botched surgery 10 years ago didn’t affect his ability to coach. But he said he thought he would still be Ohio State’s coach if not for this health issue.
Matta’s teams won at least 20 games in 12 consecutive seasons, making him the school’s career leader in wins and games. He won five regular-season Big Ten titles and four league tournaments, the most championships of any league coach over the last 13 seasons.
But the Buckeyes hit a rough patch the past two seasons. After finishing 21-14 and losing in the second round of the NIT in 2015-16, four out of five members of his 2015 recruiting class transferred. The Buckeyes limped to the end of this season, and then star guard JaQuan Lyle left the team without public explanation.
“The last thing I hope I’m remembered for is that we always did it the right way,” Matta said. “And that to me is something I’m going to hang my hat on, that this program was run the right way.”