Ross Bjork Says Promoting Jake Diebler to Head Coach Was a “No-Brainer”

By Josh Poloha on June 8, 2024 at 11:42 am
Ross Bjork and Jake Diebler

Jake Diebler seemed to be the answer to every question Ross Bjork had during Ohio State's search for its next men's head basketball coach.

When Bjork was named Ohio State's new athletic director on Jan. 16, a position he will officially step into when Gene Smith retires on July 1, his first major decision came quickly: Who will lead the OSU men's basketball team going forward?

On Feb. 14, following a loss at Wisconsin, the Buckeyes fired Chris Holtmann. A little over a month later, Ohio State promoted Diebler from interim coach to its full-time head coach, a decision Bjork said was quite easy after seeing what the former Ohio State assistant did on and off the court and the praise and cheers he received from others.

"The togetherness of the team that he brought to the dance floor was about culture, energy, chemistry, reliability to the players. So every time we checked him against other candidates, we just kept coming back and saying 'This is a no-brainer,'" Bjork said in an interview with Big Ten Network. "And then you would take the fan response. Every time we played in The Schottenstein Center, got a standing ovation. ... The whole place would go crazy."

Those comments echoed what Bjork said previously when Ohio State promoted Diebler in March.

“Throughout the search, every time we analyzed what was best for the program, our decision kept leading right back to Jake,” Bjork said when Diebler was promoted to the full-time gig. “The way he has led the program since February 14 has been exemplary and is only the beginning of what lies ahead for Buckeye Basketball. The future is exciting, and I cannot wait to watch him lead this program.”

While being from Ohio, having a legendary high school basketball coach as a dad and one of Ohio State's best-ever 3-point shooters as a brother played a small role in the decision, Diebler's history on the recruiting trail was something that Bjork and Co. kept going back to.

During his time as an assistant coach at Vanderbilt, Diebler served as the lead recruiter for Darius Garland, now an NBA All-Star with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was Holtmann’s lead recruiter before Holtmann was fired, championing the effort to sign the nation’s eighth-ranked recruiting classes in both 2022 and 2023.

"Really, if you look at Jake's history, being an Ohio guy, that means a lot," Bjork told BTN. "Every time I kept checking sort of the recruiting landscape, I'd run into people that would say 'Oh, Coach Diebler has deep ties.' Whether it's the state of Ohio, whether it's AAU basketball. When he was at Vanderbilt, he recruited kids at a level that maybe he shouldn't have, and so, just understanding his recruiting ties."

That recruiting prowess was proven again this offseason, except this time it was out of the transfer portal, a part of today's game that is just as important as recruiting high school prospects. Ohio State was able to secure commitments from Aaron Bradshaw, Meechie Johnson, Micah Parrish and Sean Stewart out of the portal, all of whom are expected to play major roles for the Buckeyes this upcoming season.

Before Holtmann was fired, the Buckeyes were just 14-11, including a dismal 4-10 in the Big Ten, and had lost nine of their last 11 games. After Diebler took over, Ohio State won eight of its final 11 games and made it to the quarterfinals of the NIT. Diebler proved he could motivate his players, make in-game adjustments and be an effective team leader in his short time as the interim coach at the end of last season.

"Watching him coach in-game, he was making moves in-game to make adjustments that led to victory or led to a close game," Bjork said. "There's games maybe that we could have won or should have won, but he made the right adjustments down the stretch and I was really impressed with his in-game acumen.

"The NIT run, just the energy and passion, it just became a no-brainer that we have an Ohio guy, he knows the program, his family is so connected, the Diebler name in the state of Ohio means a lot and so, to me, it was just a natural."

While many questioned Ohio State's decision to hire a first-time head coach like Diebler over the likes of Dusty May – who has since taken over at Michigan – and other candidates with much more head coaching experience, Bjork is confident that he made the right decision, even if national pundits were (and are) skeptical.

"It could have been easy to 'win the press conference' nationally. We won the press conference locally and then some, and to me, that matters more long-term than it does sort of a flash," Bjork said. "So really excited about what Coach Diebler brings to the table." 

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