Skull Session: Chris Holtmann is Out, Ohio State Hoops Will Honor Its 1998-99 Team vs. Purdue and Archie Griffin Shares a Memory of Woody Hayes

By Chase Brown on February 15, 2024 at 5:00 am
Chris Holtmann
Adam Cairns / USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Skull Session.

The Ohio State women's basketball team is ELITE.

Have a good Thursday.

 SO LONG, FAREWELL. Chris Holtmann's tenure at Ohio State is over.

Across seven seasons in Columbus, Holtmann collected a 137-86 overall record and a 67-65 mark in Big Ten competition. Ohio State hired Holtmann from Butler in 2017 after he led the Bulldogs to three NCAA Tournament appearances and one Sweet 16 in three years.

In year one at Ohio State, Holtmann and the Buckeyes went 25-9 overall and 15-3 in the conference, ending the season one game short of a Big Ten championship. After back-to-back years without an NCAA Tournament appearance under Thad Matta, Ohio State returned to the Big Dance. The Buckeyes beat South Dakota State in the Round of 64 and lost to Gonzaga in the Round of 32.

Holtmann's Ohio State career was off to an excellent start.

But season after season and year after year, Holtmann's on-court success fell flat.

In 2018-19, Ohio State went 20-15 overall and 8-12 in the Big Ten. In the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes beat Iowa State in the Round of 64 (!) ... but lost to Houston in the Round of 32.

In 2019-20, Ohio State went 21-10 overall and 11-9 in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes were destined to become one of the better seeds in the NCAA Tournament (!) ... but watched the association cancel March Madness due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020-21, Ohio State went 21-10 overall and 12-8 in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes were a No. 2 seed (!) ... but suffered an upset to Oral Roberts in the Round of 64. (Remember Max Abmas? That dude could ball.)

In 2021-22, Ohio State went 20-12 overall and 12-8 in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes beat Sister Jean and Loyola Chicago in the Round of 64 (!) ... but lost to Villanova in the Round of 32.

Then, the wheels fell off the wagon.

Over the past two seasons, Holtmann and the Buckeyes had a combined 30-30 record and a 9-25 mark in the Big Ten. Ohio State lost 14 of 15 games to end 2022-23 and missed both the NCAA Tournament and the NIT. After a summer of reflection, Ohio State started 2023-24 with a 12-2 record. However, it has lost nine of its past 11 and is –once again – perched near the bottom of the conference.

Following the Buckeyes' 11th defeat of the season, Ohio State fired Holtmann.

A tenure that started with tremendous promise ended with “He's a good person!” That's an unfortunate outcome, but it is the outcome Ohio State fans must accept.

I like Holtmann. He's compassionate. He's kind. He is a good person. But Holtmann didn't produce the results Buckeye Nation expects from the men's basketball program – one that reached two Final Fours under his predecessor – and that's what led to his termination. I wish him the best of luck wherever he lands. 

 SHH! IT'S A SECRET. While Chris Holtmann will be at Ohio State vs. Purdue on Sunday, the 1998-99 Ohio State men's basketball team will. Indeed, the Buckeyes, who won [REDCATED] games and reached the [REDACTED] of the 1999 NCAA Tournament, will be honored when the Buckeyes host the Boilermakers at Value City Arena this weekend.

But shhhhhhhhh!

Don't tell the NCAA about it.

Ohio State can no longer recognize the Final Four team after the school accepted NCAA sanctions for a fallout that led to coach Jim O’Brien's termination in 2004. However, Adam Jardy of The Columbus Dispatch reported Ohio State will honor the 1998-99 team on Sunday for an achievement the NCAA cannot revoke:

As part of its season-long celebration of 25 years of the Schottenstein Center, Ohio State will officially welcome back “The USA Today Coaches Poll No. 4 Team.” It’s not a recognition of a Final Four run that helped put the program back on the national radar, or an acknowledgement of a 27-9 overall record, but it’s a way to give some due to a team went from 8-22 the year before (and 1-15 in the Big Ten) to the Final Four.

George Reese and Scoonie Penn are excited for the event:

“Every time we come into the building people still talk about that team, so why not?” Reese said. “That elephant in the room was always there, like, come on man, we remember it. You see all the stuff the NCAA does, now it’s our time to actually be recognized. The NCAA can’t take that away.”


“It’s nice to have something, to be recognized, but it still has a sour taste in my mouth and I’m sure the rest of the guys, coaches, everybody that was a part of what we did that special season feels like that,” Penn said. “The people who were around, they understand, they remember. But what about all these people who became Buckeyes and Buckeye fans these last 22 years that go into the Schottenstein Center and don’t see that? Hopefully those who don’t know, this will help them recognize and understand a little bit better.”

Including family members, “The USA Today Coaches Poll No. 4 Team” will have about 70 representatives on Sunday. Penn told Jardy the players and their loved ones will arrive in Columbus on Saturday, reuniting nearly the entire team for the first time since their postseason banquet in 1999. The team will also have a brunch at the arena before their in-game recognition.

I love this.

Kudos to whomever at Ohio State put this event together for the 1998-99 Buckeyes. Michael Redd, Penn, Jason Singleton, Ken Johnson and Reese are some Ohio State basketball legends and deserve praise for their contributions and performances in one of the best seasons ever for the program. I can't wait to see them receive that praise from Buckeye Nation this weekend.

 ONE-OF-ONE. In the Tuesday Skull Session, I mentioned that former Ohio State running back Archie Griffin would be on the 200th episode of The Garage Beers Podcast with co-hosts Michael Keefe and Chad Meyer.

Griffin's appearance was like him – legendary.

In a 25-minute interview with Keefe and Meyer, Griffin discussed several different topics.  The topics that stood out the most to me were his comments on the late Woody Hayes, a Buckeye icon and Griffin's head coach at Ohio State.

On Hayes calling him "the best damn back in the country" in 1973

“It was the day after the (Wisconsin) game. It was on a Sunday. I went in to get some treatment. I walked down the hallway of the Biggs Athletic Facility. Woody's office was along that hallway. He was coming in the other direction. I'm facing him, and all of a sudden, he gets in front of me, stops me and puts his finger in my chest. He said, 'You're the best damn back in the country.' Then he just kept walking. Then he just kept walking. I was like, 'Oh, what is this? What made him do that?' After that, you could bet, I was gonna give him everything I had to give. I didn't think I was the best back in the country at that time. That was unexpected for me. I was a sophomore, and this man stopped me and said that to me. He thought that much of me. I had to give him the best I had the rest of the way. It was unexpected. It blew me away. When I think about him, I think of that to this day.”

On Hayes' approach toward The Game

“When it was TTUN week, he took it to another level. Everything was different. We practiced in the regular season, and he would get in there and turn on the loud speakers because it would be loud in the game. ... He would bring in speakers from former teams who had experiences against 'The Team Up North.' They would come in, and they would talk to us. ... My freshman year, (a former player came in) and gave one heck of a speech. He was crying. I looked around the room, and everybody had tears in their eyes. When he ended that speech he said, 'This is not a game; this is war.' Everybody was ready to go then and there.

“It was intense. We had this mat we would step on when we would leave the locker room to go out to practice so we could step on them every time we would leave that locker room. There was so much intensity. He always wanted us thinking about that game. He wanted to make sure that we would not make mental errors or mistakes when we would play that game. He felt, in that game in particular, you would lose that game if you made a lot of errors. He didn't want that to happen. You didn't want to make mistakes in practice, either. That's when he would really go off. That was the last reguar-season game for us. If you don't win it, for us, it meant not going to the Rose Bowl. ... That game was huge from that standpoint. ... It meant a lot to win that game against 'That Team Up North' because that was always the team we competed with for a Big Ten championship.”

There has never been and never will be another person like Wayne Woodrow Hayes. His impact on the Ohio State football program cannot be understated, and neither can his impact on Griffin.

After Hayes called Griffin "the best damn back in the country," the 5-foot-9, 190-pound running back went on to become a two-time Heisman Trophy winner and a three-time All-American who collected 5,177 yards and 25 touchdowns for the Buckeyes. In other words, Griffin became what Hayes knew he was and could be.

That rocks.

I add in Griffin's comments about Hayes and The Game because they fascinate me. Hayes had such a respect for Bo Schembechler and Michigan, but he also hated the Wolverines' guts. That's what a rivalry should be. You should respect your rivals, but you should also want to destroy them. Hayes knew that, and he made sure his players knew that, too.

 BACK WHERE IT ALL STARTED. You've heard that Ryan Day played quarterback at New Hampshire when Chip Kelly was the Wildcats' offensive coordinator, but have you seen what Day looked like running Kelly's almost 25-year-old scheme?

I hadn't before Wednesday. Then, the wonderful website that is YouTube asked me if I would want to watch New Hampshire vs. No. 17 South Florida from Oct. 23, 1999. Of course, the answer was yes.

Below is the complete game between the Wildcats and Bulls – all two-and-a-half hours of it. While you are welcome to watch the whole video, I recommend the final 10 minutes, where New Hampshire and South Florida battled in overtime and double overtime. (UNH ties the game in 2OT and goes for the win at the 2:34:04 mark.)

Coach! You had two players wide open to win the game! Oh, man, I can't believe it.

I'll have to ask him about that missed opportunity at his next press conference. I wonder if he still thinks about it – if it still haunts him. Day completed 21 of 34 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown, but I'm sure he wishes he could have done more to help the Wildcats overcome the Bulls in Tampa.

 SONG OF THE DAY. “So Long, Farewell” - The Sound of Music

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