This Week In Ohio State Sports: As the coaching staffs turn

This week in Ohio State sports was not lacking drama... unless you were at the women’s basketball game Wednesday night.

The second-ranked Buckeyes did not mess around with Nebraska, sending the 16-9 Cornhuskers home with an 80-47 loss that was noteworthy for a few reasons:

The win was Ohio State’s 12th in a row, it kept the Buckeyes in first place in the Big Ten with four games to go, and this Nebraska team was last seen upsetting then-No. 2 Iowa on Sunday.

So let’s start there before examining the state of the men’s basketball team and maybe a little football talk:

1. Kevin McGuff’s team looks like a well-oiled machine.

That was never more evidence than his being able to say after the Nebraska game he was mostly worried about getting good minutes for his bench and developing depth while beating a solid conference foe.

No doubt this is what he envisioned when he was hired in 2013: Not just a winner but a mix of local and national talent able to win fill the scoresheet and bully teams defensively.

His early Ohio State teams won, but not with defense. It was outscore or be outscored.

After an early flourish, the Buckeyes endured three downs years, and it was certainly fair to wonder if McGuff’s program had already peaked with the last of record-breaking scorer Kelsey Mitchell’s teams.

Was he headed toward the fate Chris Holtmann met this week?

Nope. Quite the opposite.

McGuff rebuilt his roster with a combination of in-state stars and out-of-state talent and has the program humming again, including an Elite 8 appearance last season.

2. McGuff said last week he learned something about roster building after his first few seasons.

Getting the right players is more important than piling up great prospects, something he was able to do early on.

“I think it goes back to we’ve recruited the right kids and put together a team instead of a collection of players,” McGuff said last week. “Because that kind of fell apart on us there for a year or two. I think we’re just doing a better job identifying people that fit our program, our culture, our university.”

3. This is particularly interesting in light of what’s happened with the men’s program.

Gene Smith fired not one but two of Ohio State’s all-time winningest basketball coaches in his time as director of athletics.

McGuff replaced Jim Foster, who picked the program up out of the dumps and dominated the Big Ten for the better part of a decade but struggled in the NCAA Tournament, in 2013.

Four years later, Smith pulled the plug on the Thad Matta era after 13 years that included some of the program’s best.

Holtmann got off to a fast start in Matta’s place, but that fizzled, and his recovery hasn’t gone so well. Now it’s over.

4. I never covered the men’s team on a daily basis, but I shared the sentiment many of my colleagues have expressed about Holtmann.

He seems like a nice man, and it’s a shame things ended this way.

He gave great press conferences, often sliding in sly comments you had to really be paying attention to appreciate.

He was able to elevate his teams at Butler and his early Ohio State teams above their apparent talent level.

That’s not enough at Ohio State, though, and the question was always if he could recruit and coach the type of talent it takes to win the whole thing, not just get good results from decent players.

He started getting the better recruits, but his best teams on paper had some of his worst results. Why that might be is hard to pinpoint without being in the gym, but Smith’s decision to make a change seems appropriate. The squad really looked listless for much of the last few weeks.

5. A question I have going forward: Just how good is this job anyway?

I’ve been hearing for 20 years Ohio State is a sleeping giant in men’s basketball, but the fact of the matter is the Buckeyes have one national championship 85 years of NCAA Tournament play.

The Buckeyes’ 11 Final Fours are sixth in the country, but seven came before we landed on the moon, and Jerry Lucas’ crew accounted for three of those.

There is no doubt Ohio State should be good at basketball, a perennial Big Ten contender, but I am not sure if this is really an elite job.

Matta was fortunate Ohio produced a string of NBA big men early in his tenure, but the state has not provided as much talent recently, at least not in abundance, and he might have simply been in the right place at the right time to reel in Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. while Indiana was down.

(Agree or disagree? Email me your thoughts!)

6. And then there’s football…

If Ryan Day was feeling the heat after losing to Michigan for a third time, he seems to be doing everything in his power to avoid Holtmann’s fate.

After fortifying the roster with some eye-popping transfers and getting most of his draft-eligible juniors to return to school, Day hired not one but two former college head coaches to run his offense.

We’ll never know what Bill O’Brien would have done as Ohio State offensive coordinator, but the Chip Kelly era should be fascinating for several reasons.

If he just reinvigorates the running game while maintaining Day’s passing prowess, this unit will be tough to stop.

Then just yesterday we learned Day has locked up the Ohio State defensive coaching staff for multiple future seasons, extending coordinator Jim Knowles and secondary coach Tim Walton (who has become an ace recruiter) and bringing back line coach Larry Johnson for two more seasons.

About the Author