Georgia offers Thad Matta: What This Means
Thad Matta came to Athens and interviewed for the Georgia Men’s Basketball Head Coach vacancy with Athletic Director Greg McGarity. Matta left Athens with some Georgia swag and a pizza? Thad Matta is reported to have received an offer from Georgia and it will be known in the next 24 hours whether he will accept. There’s a lot to box up here and it does not require an awkward Ernie Johnson product plug where he uncomfortably lies about how great Pizza Hut’s pizza tastes.
— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) March 13, 2018
Why didn’t Ole Miss offer Thad Matta?
Thad Matta interviewed with Ross Bjork, the Athletic Director at Ole Miss. Matta left and did not receive an offer, in fact, it was reported on March 7 that he was no longer a candidate for the Ole Miss vacancy. What did Ross Bjork not see in Matta that Greg McGarity did?
Matta was certainly interested in Ole Miss and he interviewed for the position, it’s not a case of Matta not being interested. He simply was not offered.
It’s entirely possible that Matta was not a priority and that Ole Miss wanted to go through a few more candidates. The early interview with Matta declared that Matta was back on the market, but with the 2017-18 Season unfinished, Ole Miss felt that they did not have to rush into anything. Bjork was right not to rush into anything because it’s a process and coaches are not going to be interviewing mid-season.
The focus for Ole Miss has shifted to Middle Tennessee Head Coach Kermit Davis, who is reportedly very interested in the position.
Update: Some may take issue with this segment and one particular reporter made it seem like Thad Matta was never interested in Ole Miss and that Ross Bjork was some sort of a rube. He’s not. Matta was interested in what Ole Miss had to say, but also had the intention of peacocking himself. Bjork was interested in Matta’s status, but also had the intention of giving the Ole Miss job greater publicity and credibility. Bjork was trying to expand his pool of options beyond Kermit Davis and pleading to Mike White. Mission accomplished in the terms of the underlying reasons for the interview, Thad Matta got his publicity and Tom Crean’s name was associated with Ole Miss (his name is thrown around with every available job now). It was possible for Matta and Bjork to be on the same page and come to some sort of an agreement, after all, Matta could have just waited for Georgia, Pittsburgh, UConn and others to get into contact with him. There was interest, but not enough interest and Bjork did not pull the trigger to make an offer. However, it does say something that Bjork did not pursue Matta aggressively after the visit to Oxford. If Matta was truly their guy, he would have tried to make it happen. The exact details of the interview are completely unknown.
After two serious interviews, is Matta just fulfilling a contract provision?
Thad Matta has a 3 year, $9 Million buyout on his contract. One of his contract provisions states the following.
“Coach is required to mitigate Ohio State’s obligations by making reasonable and diligent efforts to obtain a comparable employment position as soon as practicable.”
This means that Matta must make a good-faith effort to get another coaching position or a broadcasting gig with a television network to continue receiving his buyout money. Matta could do two interviews, make outlandish demands and say ‘no’ to the schools that offer him. Matta could then resume life for the next 11 months and go through the same cycle again.
Getting paid millions of dollars to go on a pair of interviews, rehabilitate and then enjoy life for a long window of time is tough to turn down.
Is Matta really ready for the grind?
The term ‘healthy’ is thrown around a lot in a very vague way and here’s how we’ll define healthy:
- Thad Matta is able to perform all aspects of his job.
- Thad Matta does not require any of the coping mechanisms and devices to do his job.
- Thad Matta can be fully engaged as a Head Coach.
- Thad Matta is an aged version of who he was before the botched back surgery.
Is Matta healthy? Nobody really knows. Matta was able to walk around and smile while he was in agony.
Nine months away from coaching and he wants to jump back in. Thad Matta may be “rejuvenated” and in “physically better condition”, but is this good enough? Has Matta really overcome the issues?
There are a lot of questions here and to pretend that he’s magically cured because he is looking for Head Coaching job and he impressed Greg McGarity would be a bit naive.
If Matta Says ‘Yes’, That Contract is Going to Be Interesting
This is a gamble of a hire because Matta’s physical condition is the wild-card. Matta’s deterioration played a role in Ohio State’s decline in performance.
Will the grind get to him? The fall from 2011-12 to the very end was obvious and gradual. Nobody knows which Thad Matta is coming to Athens. Is Georgia getting the Thad Matta before his back surgery, immediately after back surgery, during the early stages of the agony phase or during the later stages of his time at Ohio State? It’s unclear as to his condition and it would be a guarantee that Assistant Coaches like Steve Smith (should he remain at Clemson), Antoine Pettway, Charlton Young, Korey McCray and Christian Webster would try to make it seem like Thad Matta was gravely ill regardless of his condition. Will Matta have to do an Ironman Triathlon with each recruit to prove that he’s going to be okay?
How long of a contract will it be? What type of a buyout will it include? Is there going to be a Head Coach in Waiting situation?
Setting Expectations for Thad Matta should he accept
Expecting Matta to be in Athens for more than a decade would be tough to envision. However, he could be seen as a caretaker coach who can get Georgia back on the right path again. Putting Jonas Hayes on the staff to possibly succeed him allows for a continuity when Matta chooses to walk away. Matta has been successful everywhere he has been, it’s a matter of what condition he is in and how long he can do it for.
Matta would inherit a full cupboard of a roster. This is a far better situation than what Frank Martin, Rick Barnes or Ben Howland inherited. Matta is being handed a roster that is better than what Avery Johnson received. The roster should remain intact given that they will likely get the opportunity to ‘play’.
At this time, Ashton Hagans intends to be a part of the Class of 2019 and if there’s a possibility of NBA entry, he may never wear a Georgia uniform. No one could blame Hagans for taking the money, he can get an education at any time he desires.
Offensively, Matta is open to his assistants installing an offense rather than forcing an offense down everyone’s throats. It’s would be a very big departure from Mark Fox. There’s no adherence to orthodoxy, if the adjustment has to be made, it will be made and executed the best way the staff can do so. There’s no biases when it comes to adjusting to a roster. Matta has a track record of doing this in the later stages of his time at Ohio State, which makes sense given his inability to be fully engaged at practice.
Matta used his assistants a bit differently than Mark Fox during his later years at Ohio State. Mark Fox with some assistance from Philip Pearson dictated the offensive and defensive strategy. The roles with Fox had more to do with frontcourt and backcourt responsibilities. When Yasir Rosemond was in Athens, he and Pearson oversaw the backcourt and Jonas Hayes was responsible for the frontcourt. Matta actually treated it more like a Football Coach, which ought to make the lingo very interesting with the predominantly Football-oriented base at Georgia. Assistant Coach Greg Paulus, was in essence, an Offensive Coordinator under Thad Matta. Paulus installed the Pindown Flare Motion Offense. The offense does change and so do the sets run or lack thereof. Matta used to run a patterned weave Offense with Jared Sullinger.
Offensively, anything’s possible…
The distinct possibility of Jonas Hayes installing the UCLA High Post Offense (for those craving a taste of the past) exists with a coach like Thad Matta since his offense changed year-by-year. There could be a Dribble Hand-Off Motion Offense that resembles Florida’s Offense as well. There’s a lot of flexibility and the idea of same-old, same-old really does not exist and this makes things very interesting.
Defensively, Thad Matta changed with the times, rosters and the offensive freedom of movement rules. If Man-to-Man Defense does not look good, he’s willing to go with a Zone Defense. Back in 2009, he did not like the way the team played Man-to-Man Defense and he had the team play 3-2 Zone Defense.
Will Thad Matta use a Full Court Press? When he has to do so, he will. He’s not a pressing coach, but he’s a radical departure from the past two coaches in that he will use a Full Court Press to give the team a jolt.
In many ways, everything is very much up in the air and this is a gamble. However, if it works out, there are tailgaters in Myers Quad for an extra 3-4 months every season and Downtown Athens gets a bit of a boost of foot traffic. If it does not, the question of “What did Bjork know that McGarity did not?” comes up (rightly or wrongly) and it’s a problem for the next Athletic Director to handle.
Are we still going to do the Cayman Islands Classic? So many questions to be answered.