Hail Caesar!

By Jake on March 23, 2011 at 1:00 pm
No one lives to see a second Matta thumbs-down

In the later Roman Empire, there was a tradition whereby two men ruled the empire at the same time. The dominant Emperor took the cognomen Augustus, named after the first emperor Caesar Augustus.  The subordinate Emperor took the cognomen Caesar, named after Julius Caesar. The relationship between the Football and Basketball team works in much the same way. Tressel, as the Augustus, is doubtless the big man on campus. Thad Matta, as the Caesar, works under Tressel’s shadow, yet he’s still a force to reckon with on his own. With the football program dealing with clouds of distraction and controversy, it’s the duty of the Caesar to take command and keep the ship sailing through the murk. While pondering this state of affairs, I couldn’t help but think that Matta may be the best coach we’ve ever had prowling the court. Fred Taylor won the only national championship in Buckeye history. If we're lucky, Thad Matta may join him. But what does the rest of the resume say?

My methodology was simple. I looked at six things; overall win-percentage, conference win-percentage, average conference finish, average number of NCAA tournament wins per year, and average tournament seed over their career. Years when a team didn’t qualify for the tournament counts as a 0. Missing the tournament drags you down big time, just like that Chemistry project you forgot to do ruined your entire quarter. As for the coaches, I began with Fred Taylor because he’s the first real candidate in the modern era. Jim O’Brien gets his wins counted, but not his conference championships.

Here's the overall breakdown of every coach since 1960:

Coach Yrs Coach Ovr win% conf Win% Avg Conf rnk avg seed Avg NCAA rnd
Fred Taylor 18 65.27% 61.54% 3.7 N/A 1.56
Eldon Miller 10 59.18% 53.33% 4.6 12.1 0.90
Gary Williams 3 59.00% 44.44% 6 14.3 0.67
Randy Ayers 8 53.45% 44.44% 6.5 11.9 1.13
Jim O'Brien 7 60.00% 53.98% 10.3 9.6 1.43
Thad Matta 7 76.95% 70.83% 2.9 6.9 1.71

Here's what we see:

Fred Taylor won a title, in only his second season no less. Yet his performance tailed off considerably at the end of his career. While he got off to a roaring start, he left the cupboard bare for his successor Eldon Miller after an abysmal 6 win season. Nonetheless, he's a strong contender statistically, even if he coached before the tournament seeded the teams.

Eldon Miller took the moribund Bucks from the end of the Taylor era and build them into a winner again, but he could never get over the hump. He never made it past the Sweet Sixteen, and made the tournament less than half of his seasons as coach.

Gary Williams was the shortest tenured coach, mainly because he jumped ship at the first opportunity to the Terrapins. He got the team of to a good start, but quitters never prosper.

Randy Ayers had a respectable career, but like Eldon Miller, he never really got over the post-season hump. He had 0 Final Four appearances, and only made the tournament 3 out of 8 years.

Jim O'Brien had a, *ahem*, colorful career. Prior to sanctions, he was leading the Buckeyes into a new Golden Age. A record 4 straight tournament appearances and multiple 1st place finishes in the Big Ten had Ohio State at the top of the Big Ten heap at the turn of the Millenium. I don't believe I need to go into why that particular experiment crashed-and-burned.

Which leads us to Matta. Looking at the data, is there really even an argument as to who is the best Buckeye coach ever? He has, by far, the best winning percentages, in conference and out, coupled with complete control of the Big Ten Trophy. His post season record is unimpeachable, with the only missing element the capstone Championship that Fred Taylor alone can claim. We'll get the chance to see Matta try and make his legacy even more secure in the next week. Matta, perhaps for the first time at Ohio State, will have the most experienced squad on the court all the way through to the Final Four. I, for one, wouldn't want any other Caesar in charge of the Buckeye legions.

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