Chris Holtmann’s opening statement at his introductory press conference Monday lasted just over 10 minutes.
He hit on all the usual topics: the difficulty of the decision to come to Ohio State, the current state of the program, recruiting. You know, pretty standard stuff.
There was a portion of Holtmann’s in opening remarks that weren't necessarily surprising but not something you see every day either. Holtmann dedicated roughly a minute to the man he succeeded as Buckeyes head coach: Thad Matta.
“I also want thank Coach Matta,” Holtmann said. “Thad is a friend and his guidance through this process speaks to what all of us know about him: He’s a man of great character and he loves this place. He loves this place."
"It was important to me that I had his blessing and he went above and beyond in encouraging me, in supporting me at the highest level.”
Matta won more games than anybody in Ohio State history over his 13-year tenure leading the program. He won five Big Ten regular-season championships, four Big Ten tournament titles and went to the NCAA tournament nine times with five Sweet 16 appearances, three Elite Eights and a pair of Final Fours.
The decision to part ways with Matta wasn’t easy for athletic director Gene Smith. Smith said he went into a meeting with Matta last Friday and did not anticipate coming to the conclusion that a change in leadership was needed. That’s what happened, though, and the declining on-court results coupled with recruiting whiffs caused Smith and Matta to come to what both called a mutual decision.
But no matter how the Matta tenure ended, make no mistake about it: Holtmann has some big shoes to fill.
“Thad probably wouldn’t want me to go on and say this but the standard he set here is incredible,” Holtmann said. “I think everybody understands the records, the accomplishments, the championships on the floor — those speak for themselves. The academic success, the kind of people he brought in, many of whom are here today, the class and the dignity and the class in which he led this program is a great example for all of us.”
Ohio State senior forward Jae’Sean Tate said the last week was a bit emotional for him and his teammates. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to the coach that was the reason Tate decided to come to Ohio State.
“It was between Ohio State and Michigan and just the kindness and how real Coach Matta was the reason I came here,” Tate said. “And he hasn’t changed in the three years I’ve been here. He’s been the same person he was from Day 1. I’m thankful for him and I’m thankful to say I’ve played for him and I’m grateful for the experience.”
That’s what Matta was, though: A player’s coach.
By most accounts, Holtmann is the same. He’ll try to accomplish many of the same things Matta did during his tenure at Ohio State, too.
And as he stood at the podium at midcourt inside Value City Arena on Monday morning, Holtmann primarily discussed the future. For good reason, too, as the future is what matters most right now at Ohio State. It’s about getting back on the right track.
But a key part of Holtmann’s press conference was how he discussed the program’s past. And to be more specific, how he knows there is a lot to live up to that was accomplished by the man he replaced.
“I got to know Thad more here in the last few years and we communicated more in the last few years. I have always respected how he’s done things and his integrity, his ability to win at the highest level doing it the right way,” Holtmann said. “When I think of Thad, I think of a guy who loves his players and who did it the right way.”