Weighing the Cases for Jake Diebler, Dusty May to Be Ohio State’s Next Head Coach

By Andy Anders on March 16, 2024 at 7:38 pm
Jake Diebler and Dusty May
11W / Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports.

Diebler or May, who's to say?

Well, Ohio State is the operative "who" that will have to answer that question in the coming weeks. According to The Columbus Dispatch, interim head coach Jake Diebler and Florida Atlantic head coach Dusty May are the candidates the Buckeyes will decide between when selecting their next full-time head coach.

Ross Bjork doesn't officially become Ohio State's athletic director until July 1, but much of his first 17 days or so since arriving on campus on March 1 have been spent combing through options for the position. Outgoing athletic director Gene Smith has assisted his efforts.

This first hire is going to give a good read on Bjork's decision-making process and what he values in a head coach. With Selection Sunday at hand, Ohio State has expedited its hiring process to set itself up as best as possible in terms of transfer portal attrition and addition as well as recruiting.

The Case for Dusty May

Dusty May
Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports.

May is one of the hottest prospects rising through the coaching ranks for a reason.

After landing his first head coaching job with the Owls in 2018, the former Florida assistant got off to a mediocre start, going no worse than 17-16 and no better than 19-15 in his first four seasons.

Then came the breakthrough in 2022-23.

May led Florida Atlantic to a 35-4 record and a regular season championship in Conference USA. He proved he could back that success up in high-pressure tournament settings, leading the Owls to a Conference USA Tournament Title and a glorious run all the way to the school's first Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.

FAU had never so much as been to the second round of the tourney before May's arrival.

May has backed up last year's results with a 26-7 start to this season after Florida Atlantic moved to the American Athletic Conference, where the Owls will play for a tournament championship at 2:15 p.m. on Sunday.

The top advantage May holds over Diebler is proof that he can produce results over the course of full seasons. Diebler, who held no head coaching experience before his month-long stint as Ohio State's interim head coach, has produced fantastic on-court results in his limited opportunities. But an offseason dealing with recruiting, the transfer portal, NIL, raising money from boosters, player development, monitoring strength and conditioning programs – there will be a lot that Diebler hasn't experienced before.

Not to say Diebler won't be great at most or all of those things, but with May it's a more proven asset.

May's two latest campaigns have also featured prolific offenses for Florida Atlantic, with the Owls currently 16th nationally in points per game (82.8) and 15th in points per 100 possessions (117.7). Last year they were 39th and 15th in the same two categories.

If May is the man Ohio State opts to pursue, it will do so in competition with some strong programs around the country. He's an early favorite for the open Louisville job and the Buckeyes' archrival, Michigan, is likely to take a look at May as well after it recently fired Juwan Howard.

Truthfully, May is a hot commodity, so his name will be floated in most major conference coaching searches this March and April. His team won't be done playing for at least another handful of days, with its NCAA Tournament bid well in hand, so the deeper the run, the longer the Buckeyes might have to wait to hear back from May if he's their man.

They got some major help when Indiana announced that it will stick with Mike Woodson for another year, however. May is an Indiana alum and served as a student manager under legendary Hoosier head coach Bob Knight.

The Case for Jake Diebler

Jake Diebler hugging Dale Bonner

The fact that Diebler has reportedly emerged as one of two finalists in the first place is a testament to what he's accomplished in his month as interim coach.

Bjork made it clear from early on that experience would matter in Ohio State's search, and as stated above, Diebler has none as a head coach. He's been an assistant for 11 seasons now and cultivated a desire to lead a program in that time, but he didn't expect it to come at the behest of Chris Holtmann's mid-season firing on Feb. 14.

Holtmann hired Diebler in 2019 to be a Buckeye assistant and promoted him to associate head coach in 2022. At the time of Holtmann's firing, Diebler said his heart ached for a man who'd had a profound impact on his life. But when Gene Smith asked him to take over the program in an interim role, he was prepared to serve his players.

Under Diebler, Ohio State adopted a faster, more aggressive play style that saw the Buckeyes utilize more of their depth to keep legs fresh and involve its lot of talented bench players.

Before Diebler took over, Ohio State finished with a losing record in 2022-23 for the first time since 2003-04, going 16-19, then followed it up by losing eight of 10 games prior to the change in leadership. Buckeye fans were desperate for something to believe in, something to care about. Diebler and his player provided.

It started with a monumental upset of then-No. 2 Purdue in Diebler's first game at the helm. Ohio State extended its program-worst road losing streak to 17 games in its following contest at Minnesota, only to finally snap that skid with a buzzer-beater win at Michigan State. It had been 420 days since OSU's last road victory.

That served as a springboard to a four-game winning streak to close the regular season and enter the Buckeyes, against all odds, back into NCAA Tournament bubble conversations. Ohio State picked up a fifth win in a row over Iowa in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament but came up short in the quarterfinals against No. 13 Illinois, likely dashing its hopes for the Big Dance.

Still, there's no denying what Diebler achieved where few thought it was possible. That's perhaps his biggest argument to have his interim tag removed.

The second-biggest stance for Diebler is roster retention. There are young pieces in Ohio State's fold that could help the Buckeyes next season, and Diebler served as Holtmann's lead recruiter for each of them. Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle Jr., Felix Okpara, Evan Mahaffey, Scotty Middleton and Devin Royal would all be helpful to have around a year from now. Taison Chatman and Austin Parks were freshmen who didn't have big roles this season but could develop into nice players, particularly Chatman, the highest-rated prospect from Ohio State's eighth-ranked class of 2023.

Even Zed Key has one more year of eligibility from his COVID-19 waiver if he elects to use it. There's no telling how many of those players would leave if May is chosen – whether it's a high or low number – but Diebler gives the program the best shot to retain as many as possible.

Speaking of talent acquisition, Diebler is the top reason, assistant-wise, that Holtmann pulled in the No. 8 class nationally both in 2022 and 2023. While recruiting as a head coach is different, Diebler's acumen in developing relationships with prospects and players alike is hard to doubt.

Bjork has two distinct paths laid out before him for Ohio State's next head coach. Which he elects to go down will be telling for his hiring process and shape the future of the Buckeyes' basketball program for the next few years or more.

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