Ohio State Basketball: Comparing and Contrasting Thad Matta and Urban Meyer
Most schools truly excel at only one of the two major collegiate sports.
Just look at last year’s champions—Alabama is as dominant as it gets on the football field, while Kentucky is the bluest of blue bloods in basketball. But get the Tide on the hardwood or the Wildcats on the gridiron and it’s not quite as pretty.
However, Ohio State is different. Barring last year’s tattoo-spoiled football season, the Buckeyes have recently been regular championship contenders in both basketball and football.
In fact, you can make the argument that only the Florida Gators have enjoyed more overall combined success in these two major sports in the past ten seasons (much of it at Ohio State’s expense).
Many of those accomplishments can be directly tied to a certain football coach that Buckeye fans are now quite familiar with.
A major factor contributing to Ohio State’s football and basketball prominence has been the coaching each team has received. Thad Matta has restored the Buckeyes’ basketball program, and Jim Tressel was the school’s best football leader since Woody Hayes.
While Tressel has since departed, it’s safe to say Ohio State still has an excellent football coach in Urban Meyer. Rarely does a school have such a major figure in the head-coaching position for both of its primary sports.
With that in mind, here is a comparison of the Buckeyes’ two leading men.
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The only way to ensure sustained success in the world of college sports is to stock the cupboard with future stars. Both Thad Matta and Urban Meyer are among the best in their crafts at doing just that.
According to Scout.com, Matta brought in the No. 8 ranked class in 2011, No. 3 ranked class in 2010, No. 2 ranked class in 2008, No. 7 ranked class in 2007 and No. 2 ranked class in 2006.
The 2006 class was referred to as the “Thad Five,” and included Greg Oden, Mike Conley and David Lighty. The freshmen recruits were the primary contributors on the Buckeye team that made it to the national title game.
As for Meyer, per Scout, he brought the top-ranked class to Florida in 2010 and 2007. He also recruited the No. 2 class in 2006, No. 12 class in 2008 and No. 11 class in 2005.
Meyer also rescued Ohio State’s 2012 class, which ended up as the No. 3 ranked group in the nation despite the sanctions that the NCAA had applied to the school.
While Meyer may have more top-ranked classes under his belt, both Matta and Meyer consistently sign some of the best recruiting classes in the country almost every year.
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Herm Edwards famously said that "you play to win the game!" Well, Urban Meyer and Thad Matta must have gotten the memo.
In 12 years of coaching, Matta has a 323-96 career record, including a 221-65 mark at Ohio State. He is also the fastest Buckeye basketball coach to 200 victories and has won at least 20 games every season.
What’s more, Matta has the 17th-best career winning percentage in college basketball history. That puts him ahead of coaching legends such as Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino, Lute Olson and Phog Allen.
As for Meyer, it is an unbelievably rare occasion for one of his teams to lose a game. He holds a 107-23 career mark in 11 seasons, and his .823 winning percentage is good enough for 10th best in college football history.
Just to put that in perspective, Nick Saban is 41st on the all-time list, Woody Hayes is 28th and Bear Bryant is 21st.
Few coaches (and even fewer current coaches) even come close to winning at the rate that Matta and Meyer do.
Getting Players to NBA/NFL
If you were a high school football player between the years of 2005 and 2010 and wanted to go to the NFL there wasn’t a much safer bet than playing for Urban Meyer at Florida.
He saw 29 of his Gators drafted, including an incredible nine in the 2007 draft and nine in the 2010 draft. Seven of the 29 draftees were first-round picks.
Moreover, a handful of Meyer’s players at Utah were drafted, including 49ers’ starting quarterback and 2005 No.1 overall pick Alex Smith.
As for Thad Matta, eight of his Buckeyes have been selected in the NBA draft. Seven were first-round picks, three were taken in the top-four overall selections and the 2012 draft marked the sixth straight season a Buckeye has been drafted.
While players such as Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos can probably be classified as “busts” at this point, others such as Evan Turner and Mike Conley Jr. have played critical roles on playoff teams.
From a pure numbers standpoint, Meyer has Matta topped for getting players to the professional ranks. Of course, there are far more rounds in the NFL draft than the NBA’s, as well as more football positions.
However, both Buckeye coaches have made a habit of helping their players reach the pinnacle of their sports.
This is where a bit of contrasting comes into play, although for the most part both Matta's and Meyer's resumes in this department are sterling.
Thad Matta has won eight regular season conference championships in only 12 years of coaching. Furthermore, he has six conference tournament titles under his belt. His team often plays its best basketball down the stretch of the season, and he has been to 10 NCAA tournaments.
As for Meyer, he has led his team to eight bowl games in 10 seasons of coaching. Most impressively, his teams have a 7-1 record in those bowl games and a 3-0 mark in BCS games. He also has four conference championships under his belt, including two from the daunting SEC.
In a vacuum, both of these resumes are incredibly impressive. Considering the fact that both coaches have made a habit of routinely defeating their rivals, there is little doubt that both can be considered clutch.
However, Matta has reached two Final Fours but has not quite scaled the national title mountain yet. On the other hand, Meyer has led his team to two national championship games and came away with double-digit victories in each.
Something tells me Ohio State fans remember one of them all too well.
photo appears on sportsillustrated.com
Despite the incredible run of Big Ten dominance that Thad Matta’s basketball program has enjoyed (three conference titles in a row and five in the past seven years), he doesn’t seem to register on the national radar as much as other college basketball coaches.
When people think of college basketball coaches, names such as Roy Williams, John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski probably come to mind before Matta.
In fact, Athlon Sports recently composed a list of the best college basketball coaches in the game, and Matta was listed as 14th, despite the fact that he has a much better resume than many of the coaches ahead of him on the list.
ESPN ranked Matta in the ninth position, which is probably more accurate but still doesn’t scream excellence. However, ESPN hits it right on the head when it says Matta would instantly move up everyone’s list if he can just bring home that one national title ring.
With Urban Meyer, it is a completely different story. Meyer has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, is the lead role in ESPN All-Access specials and is considered by many as one of the premier coaches in college football this side of Nick Saban.
Meyer is a rock-star coach, which is a formidable transition for an Ohio State program that was under the direction of the sweater-vested Jim Tressel for years.
Although both Matta and Meyer have impressive resumes littered with conference championships and All-American players, perhaps the biggest difference between the two coaches is the level of national attention that Meyer receives.
As long as both coaches continue to win, I think Buckeye Nation will be alright with wherever these two coaches register on the national radar.