Contract Extension A Vote of Confidence in Stability And Potential Future of Chris Holtmann's Ohio State Program

By Griffin Strom on May 19, 2022 at 8:35 am
Gene Smith, Chris Holtmann

Five Ohio State head coaches received contract extensions Wednesday, but one inspired a more polarized reaction from Buckeye fans than the rest.

Groans about the end of this past basketball season and Ohio State’s lack of deep runs in the NCAA Tournament had largely subsided over the past couple months, as Chris Holtmann went about retooling his coaching staff and roster, adding several impressive transfer portal pickups to a team experiencing widespread personnel turnover over the offseason. But the news of Holtmann’s three-year extension, which will keep him under contract through the 2027-28 season, brought the return of many of the same complaints.

Yet the restructured deal and $500,000 raise, upping Holtmann’s annual compensation to $3.5 million per year, serves as a vote of confidence from Gene Smith and the Ohio State athletic department about the stability and potential of the program – at least for now.

While it far from guarantees that Holtmann will be at the helm of the program for a full 11 seasons, longer than all but three Ohio State head coaches in history (Harold Olson, Fred Taylor and Thad Matta), it certainly alleviates the pressure to produce a career-best season in 2022-23 without exactly having the proven commodities to do so.

Those disappointed in Ohio State losing its first game in the Big Ten Tournament and exiting the Big Dance in the Round of 32 didn’t have any immediate reason to be hopeful for improvement in the upcoming season. The Buckeyes’ two best players (E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham) are headed to the NBA draft, and 10 total players have left the program since this past season.

Ohio State will be banking on transfer guards Tanner Holden (Wright State), Sean McNeil (West Virginia) and Isaac Likekele (Oklahoma State) being able to produce at the Big Ten level. It also has to hope Justice Sueing, who missed all but two games last season, can return to – and perhaps even improve upon – his form from two seasons ago. Beyond that, Ohio State also likely needs a rapid emergence from at least one or two of its five incoming freshmen if it’s going to eclipse its 2021-22 results.

Now, though, Holtmann knows his job security beyond this season isn’t contingent on making a Sweet 16 run in what will be a season of transition. And he continues to make significant strides on the recruiting trail – ones that have begun to pay dividends even faster than expected.

Branham’s success as a one-and-done and projected first-rounder, the first of Holtmann’s career, could be a beacon to top recruits, particularly those who are Buckeye State natives. Although it took Liddell three years in the program, he’ll give Holtmann his second first-round draft pick in the same year come June. And Holtmann already signed his best-ever recruiting class before either Liddell or Branham emerged as first-round NBA draft prospects this year.

With four top-60 overall recruits coming aboard this summer in Roddy Gayle (No. 40), Bruce Thornton (No. 42), Felix Okpara (No. 56) and Brice Sensabaugh (No. 58), Holtmann has the sixth-best 2022 haul in the country – eight spots better than his previous best national class – and the No. 1 group in the Big Ten.

Although it’s still early in the 2023 cycle, Ohio State’s two top-100 commits have that class ranked at No. 5 in the nation heading into the summer. The Buckeyes already have the nation’s No. 46 overall prospect in combo guard George Washington III and the No. 90 player in the country in St. Marys center Austin Parks, and there is plenty of time left to add more top-level talent to the mix.

Smith referenced Holtmann’s recent recruiting run in particular when commenting on the state of the Ohio State basketball program and its head coach’s contract back in December, and there’s little doubt it played a large role in the extension he received Wednesday.

“I’m really happy with where we are. We strive for championships, there’s no question about that, and we need to get there – and we will,” Smith said. "But you look at his recruiting and it’s off the chain. I just love the teaching he does. … I feel real good about what he’s doing, feel real good about his recruiting.”

While championships haven’t materialized yet under Holtmann, his contract extension only allots him more time to realize the fruits of his recruiting labor, and potentially the satisfaction of bringing a Big Ten banner to the Schottenstein Center. But Smith has made it plain that championships should be the standard for the program, which is why a decade-long career in Columbus isn’t yet a surefire bet for Holtmann.

In lieu of championships, Holtmann has brought a level of consistency to the table when it comes to earning NCAA Tournament bids that has scarcely been seen in program history. If given credit for earning a trip to the Big Dance in 2020, the year the tournament was canceled, Holtmann would have as many tournament trips as any Buckeye head coach not named Thad Matta, who has nine.

Ohio State may not reach the mountaintop – whichever mountaintop that may be – this season. In fact, it would come as quite the surprise if it did. But even if the Buckeyes take a small step back in terms of team success next year, there are measures of progress to point to, and it’s clear the Ohio State administration believes in them enough to give Holtmann a vote of confidence for the time being.

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