LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17: Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes reacts during his team’s game against the UCLA Bruins during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UCLA won 86-73. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Hartman: Pulling the plug on Matta era tough call, but right one

And so the deed is done — Thad Matta’s time as men’s basketball coach at Ohio State is over.

Though surprising, pulling the band-aid off now was the right call… at least assuming Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith finds the right replacement.

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If not, then perhaps a lame-duck season would have been preferable in the long run, but it’s impossible to say at this point.

Seeing how the 2017-18 Buckeyes would avoid again falling short of the high standards (two Final Fours, five Big Ten titles, 10 NBA draft picks) set early in the Matta era is nearly as hard.

It’s possible to be fair without being prudent, but since Smith announced in March that Matta would be back for another year, the outlook has grown dimmer.

One member of a highly-rated 2018 recruiting class defected, reserve center David Bell transferred and point guard Jaquan Lyle left the team.

Even if remaining commits Dane Goodwin of Upper Arlington and Justin Ahrens of Versailles sign in November, they can always ask for their release anyway.

Matta’s Buckeyes were connected via reports to several players, including 2017 prospects and college transfers, who might have been able to give his team a needed injection of talent right away, but all went elsewhere.

That seemed to seal his fate in Smith’s eyes, a change of heart that is perhaps even more justifiable than the March stay of execution.

RELATED: Former players react to Matta’s exit from Buckeyes

PHOTOS: Thad Matta through the years at Ohio State

Monday, Matta admitted recruiting has been a struggle and physical limitations have had an effect.

It’s a damn shame, but it’s also reality.

The timing is odd, but Smith deserves credit for taking the bull by the horns and beginning a discussion about making a change now. That’s a tough decision that took open-mindedness to consider and courage to carry out.

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17: Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes reacts during his team’s game against the UCLA Bruins during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UCLA won 86-73. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Photo: Staff Writer

Kudos, too, go to Matta for accepting his fate. I doubt anyone would have blamed him if he had insisted on pushing on, or at least trying to make it work for one more year.

He’s a proud man who is not yet 50.

But Matta professes to love the Buckeye basketball program, and his exit should be all the proof anyone needs to believe him.

Not that anyone ever doubted Matta’s commitment. He just wasn’t getting the results anymore.

Was he a victim of his own success? To a certain extent, yes, but that’s life in big-time college athletics. 

Thirteen years ago when I first heard Ohio State had fired Jim O’Brien (not the one who coached at UD), my first reaction was, much like Monday, of shock.

Next I thought they should hire Thad Matta.

Ohio State was out one Final Four coach, but what about the guy down I-71 who had just come within three points of making one with Xavier?

Lo and behold, he ended up being the man they picked, and the rest is history.

Now there is no such obvious candidate (if there was recently, he’s in Bloomington now), but on the bright side the program isn’t facing any NCAA issues as they were then.

Regardless, Matta deserves the appreciation and admiration of the Buckeye faithful even if the future is uncertain for both him and the program he is tearfully leaving behind.

As the search for his replacement begins, all there is to do in the short term is follow his lead one more time.

When asked Monday about his feelings in the three days since he and Smith discussed the end of his OSU tenure, Matta wasn’t as glum as he was earlier in their press conference.

“I’ve done nothing but thought of the good times, and that’s all I will think about,” he said. “One thing you can rest assured, I’ve made enough good memories here to last me.” 

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