From their appearance in the inaugural NCAA title game to their latest Final Four berth in March, the Ohio State Buckeyes have consistently been one of the premier basketball programs in the nation. As befits such a winning school, the Buckeyes also boast some of the greatest coaches in college hoops history.
Current head coach Thad Matta is quickly rising among the ranks of the best coaches of this (or any) generation. Since joining the Buckeyes in 2004, Matta has reached the 30-win mark in three different seasons and taken his teams to a pair of Final Fours.
Herein, a closer look at Matta and his place among the most successful coaches in Buckeye history.
Note: To avoid too much comparison of apples to oranges, only coaches from the NCAA tournament era are included on this list.
Jim O’Brien’s on-court performance would’ve merited a much higher spot on this list, but O’Brien’s off-court transgressions erased (rather literally) the best of his teams’ accomplishments.
The NCAA vacated three years worth of O’Brien’s top performances, including his 1999 Final Four run, as a result of assorted violations including academic fraud and improper benefits to players.
O’Brien didn’t exactly endear himself any further to Buckeye fans by suing the school (successfully) for wrongful termination after his misdeeds left the program saddled with sanctions.
Whatever goodwill he built up by bringing stars such as Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd to Columbus, O’Brien squandered it and then some by the way his career at Ohio State ended.
Floyd Stahl is a member of Ohio State’s sports hall of fame, but it’s not his basketball work that got him there.
In eight seasons at the Buckeye helm, Stahl became the only OSU coach in the NCAA tournament era to finish with a losing record (84-92) and the only one never to make a single trip to March Madness.
Stahl was more successful in other capacities, coaching baseball (with a 129-108-1 lifetime record), football (as an assistant under Francis Schmidt) and golf.
Oddly, he had more luck as a hoops coach during a brief stint at Harvard, where he took the school to its only pre-2012 NCAA tournament appearance in 1946…and lost to Ohio State.
Immediately before Gary Williams became an icon at Maryland, he endured a dismal three-year stopover in Columbus. Under Williams, the Buckeyes held their own in non-conference play but went a disheartening 24-30 against Big Ten competition.
After taking Boston College to a pair of Sweet 16s in four seasons with the Eagles, Williams also saw his squad bounced in the second round in his only NCAA tournament appearance with Ohio State.
It’s safe to say that both Buckeye fans and Terrapin fans are glad he left when he did.
Tippy Dye, a former football star with OSU, did have one brilliant season as basketball coach. Of course, his 22-4 campaign in 1949-50 immediately became a springboard to a much more successful coaching career with the Washington Huskies.
Dye—who was also an accomplished Nebraska athletic director later in his life—finished an unremarkable 53-34 with his alma mater, with only the one NCAA tournament trip in 1950.
Even Dye's most noteworthy recruit didn’t do the Buckeyes much good: Neil Johnston only scored nine points per game in his best college season before becoming a Hall of Fame center (and three-time NBA scoring champ) with the Warriors.
If it weren’t for Jim Jackson, Randy Ayers would’ve been lucky to finish at .500 in his Ohio State career.
The star swingman (who arrived with Ayers’ first class of freshmen) led a pair of Big Ten champions that finished a combined 53-10, accounting for nearly half of Ayers’ 124 career wins and his only Elite Eight appearance.
Those two years aside, Ayers’ best record at Ohio State was 17-13, and he finished under .500 in his last four seasons. Since leaving Columbus, Ayers has bounced around the NBA in various capacities, and he’s currently an assistant with the Hornets.
In absolute terms, Eldon Miller did a perfectly solid job as Ohio State’s head coach, posting a career record of 174-120 and making four NCAA tournaments.
However, given the talent he was working with, it’s hard not to be disappointed that he couldn’t manage better than a pair of Sweet 16 finishes for his time in Columbus.
Miller was an exceptional recruiter, reeling in some big-time ballplayers—among his stars were Clark Kellogg, Herb Williams, Kelvin Ransey and Tony Campbell. For all that, he never won more than 21 games in any one season at the Buckeye helm.
One of the instigators in the creation of the NCAA tournament, Harold Olsen took his Buckeyes to the title game of the very first Big Dance in 1939.
He made three other NCAA tournament appearances in his career, though the fact that they were all Final Four berths is less impressive if one notes that the field consisted of only eight teams at the time.
The longest-serving head coach in Buckeye history, Olsen piled up a career mark of 273-205 over his 24 seasons.
The historical difficulty of winning in the Big Ten is underscored by the fact that even Olsen—a legitimately outstanding coach at a time when basketball was an afterthought in much of the conference—went just 150-129 in league play.
Thad Matta has come up short of a national title in two Final Four appearances to date, but it’s hard to fault his performance in the regular season. He’s amassed a 221-65 record for a .773 winning percentage that no other Buckeye coach can touch.
Matta has also raised the bar for recruiting in Columbus, bringing in a national Freshman of the Year (Jared Sullinger) as well as the only Buckeye ever chosen No. 1 in the NBA draft (Greg Oden).
If he keeps up his current pace, he’s likely to secure the school record for victories sometime near the end of the 2014-15 season.
By any measure, taking a school to three consecutive NCAA title games is an extraordinary accomplishment for a coach.
To have done it—as Fred Taylor did—in an era when it took a conference championship just to earn a spot in the Big Dance is mind-boggling.
Taylor’s inaugural recruiting class brought him one of the greatest frontcourts in college history, Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek.
Those two Hall of Famers carried the Buckeyes to the only national title in program history in 1960, then fell just short in a pair of championship-game clashes with Cincinnati in the following two seasons.
On top of his dazzling postseason performance—which included yet another Final Four in 1968—Taylor also holds the Ohio State record with 297 career victories.