Two of Gene Smith's final five months as Ohio State’s athletic director will be spent evaluating the future of the Buckeyes’ basketball program under Chris Holtmann.
Smith has not made any decisions about Holtmann's future in Columbus as of yet. But after losses in five of the last six games including a 25-point blowout defeat at Northwestern on Saturday – Ohio State’s 14th consecutive loss on the road – Smith will be watching the team closely throughout February and March.
“We have a lot of this season left to play, and we have coaches and players that are focused on winning every day,” Smith told The Columbus Dispatch. “I’m looking forward to seeing how this turns out.”
The downward momentum of the Buckeyes' program hit a freefall last season, when they lost 14 of 15 games during a nearly two-month stretch of play. Ohio State finished 16-19 and missed not just the NCAA Tournament but also the NIT.
Smith still gave Holtmann a rating of "excellent" in his performance review of the coach following the campaign, citing his off-court accomplishments.
"While the athletic performance of the team on the court did not meet expectations, Chris did an excellent job in all other areas," Smith wrote in February. "Personnel management, budget, communication with all operations, schedule improvement focus, and especially recruiting. Having two (highly) ranked classes of recruits gives the program a great chance of success on the court in the future."
Indeed, the Buckeyes signed the composite No. 8 recruiting class nationally in both 2022 and 2023. Those results in talent acquisition have not yet led to many victories in Big Ten play this year, however.
Ohio State now has a combined record of 8-21 in conference play over the last two seasons. With one January game remaining against No. 10 Illinois on Tuesday, the Buckeyes are a combined 4-12 during the calendar's opening month dating back to last season.
Under his current contract extension, inked in the summer of 2022, Holtmann is under contract with Ohio State through the 2027-28 season. Should his contract be terminated before its conclusion, he will be owed his full remaining salary. If such a move is made following this season, Holtmann will be owed about $14 million.
A path remains for Ohio State to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year, but the Buckeyes must turn things around quickly and win a majority of their remaining games. As Smith remains in wait-and-see mode, whether the Buckeyes can find that trail could dictate Holtmann's future as the team's coach.