Matta: 'I love this university'

Citing Thad Matta’s many achievements in his nine years as the Ohio State men’s basketball coach, athletic director Gene Smith announced some amendments to Matta’s contract on Monday.

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Smith said Matta’s pay would increase from $2.9 million to $3.2 million per year. He did not receive an extension, however. His contract still runs through the 2018-19 season. Since his arrival in July 2004, Matta has received automatic renewals for each of his five Big Ten championships. (Check out Smith’s full comments in the video box above.)

Smith said he initiated these talks with Matta last January and before his 2011-12 team won a co-Big Ten title and advanced to his second NCAA Final Four. These changes are subject to approval by the OSU Board of Trustees at their meeting next week.

The contract includes academic bonuses and more stringent wording about NCAA violations. The new contract specifically requires Matta to report anyone who "may potentially have violated" NCAA rules. That was obviously a reaction to the chain of events that led to football coach Jim Tressel’s departure in 2011.

OSU has done away with its free car program for coaches. Instead, Matta will receive a stipend to pay for two cars. Also, his number of hours in university private jets for recruiting purposes has been increased to 20 hours a year.

“I think we all know that Thad has done a marvelous job since he has been our coach here and with our basketball program,” Smith said. “When you think about the academic accomplishments of the young men in our program, the APR going from 911 to 972, 17 of our 22 players who have exhausted their eligibility have graduated and gone on with their lives. He has just created a great culture for the program academically.

“Competitively, he has been very successful. They’ve won five Big Ten championships, including three in a row … two Final Four appearances. He’s just done a marvelous job.

“When you look at the final package of what we ask him to do to graduate his players, develop them holistically and win games, he has been phenomenal.”

Smith said the pay increase keeps Matta among the 10 highest paid coaches in college basketball.

“I have always tried to keep coaches like Thad in the top 10,” Smith said. “That thing keeps moving. I’m committed to having a coach who is paid consistent with his peers and our expectations.”

OSU released a list of some of Matta’s key accomplishments, including:

* Raising the school’s APR ranking from 911 to 972.

* Seventeen of the 22 players who have exhausted their eligibility have graduated from OSU. Perhaps the crowning moment in this regard came in March 2011 when David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale, Jon Diebler and Nicola Kecman all graduated the same day as an NCAA Tournament game against George Mason. Four of the five such players who did not graduate accepted professional contracts.

* Matta’s teams have won 20 or more games in all eight of his previous seasons at OSU – a school record.

* He has reached 30 wins three times (2007, 2011 and 2012).

* Under Matta, OSU has a .772 winning percentage – the best among all OSU coaches with three or more years on the job.

* OSU has won five Big Ten titles, three conference tournament championships, six NCAA Tournament appearances, three straight Sweet 16 bids, two Final Fours, one NCAA title game appearance and the 2008 NIT title.

* He has also had seven players drafted in the first round of the NBA draft (Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos, B.J. Mullens, Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger).

Speaking at his regularly scheduled interview time on Monday, Matta said he was pleased with the contract upgrades.

“First and foremost, all of the things that are in there are things that I live by in terms of my responsibility to this university,” Matta said. “I don’t know how much drastic change there is to that. That’s how I want to operate.”

Matta arrived at OSU in 2004 with the program in the throes of an NCAA investigation into wrongdoing by his predecessor, Jim O’Brien, his staff and his players. OSU served a one-year postseason ban in 2004-05 and has been in the NCAA in six of the seven years since then.

“One of the things I am most proud of is what we’ve built here from where we started,” Matta said. “We were at Ground Zero nine years ago in terms of the uncertainty of our program. We’ve been fortunate with the teams we’ve had and the job the coaches have done to build this program.

“I am a lot more proud of that than I am of a contract. It comes with the territory nowadays with what universities are doing and what coaches are getting.”

Matta then added, “I feel as blessed as I can be to be at Ohio State. I love this university. I am grateful in terms of what they have allowed me to do and taken care of me throughout my time here.”

Matta, 45, was asked if he is amazed that he is locked up for six years into the future.

“Now with how recruiting has changed, you are legitimately thinking big picture in terms of building and sustaining your program,” Matta said. “As crazy as it sounds, it’s not that far off. It’s frightening.”

Ohio State is in the midst of a multi-million renovation and addition at the Schottenstein Center. A new practice facility and new locker rooms are part of this project. He said the ongoing projects should be complete by the summer.

Between the commitments to Matta and the new building projects, Smith discussed OSU’s investment into the future of the program.

“I came here in 2005 and had the good fortune to inherit Thad as the coach,” Smith said. “It all ties to his vision and how it aligned with my thought that The Ohio State University should have a basketball program that is consistently chasing championships.

“Over our years, we’ve had some peaks and valleys. When Thad outlined his strategy – which, frankly, he has attained to some great degree – we talked about the assets we need to keep us there. The facility renovation was a part of that. Adding the practice gym was huge. The Schottenstein Center has grown in its use. We have a number of outside events that come in and displace our men’s and women’s teams to other venues.

“From an academic perspective – and particularly now that we’re in semesters – we will have two gyms where each team can manage their academic schedules a lot easier, particularly when there is ice on the floor.”

Smith said OSU also made enlargements and improvements in the weight room and athletic training areas. There are also plans for the office suites to be enlarged and renovated, but Smith said that will be part of a Schottenstein Center renovation that will also revamp the event management and ticket office areas.

Stay tuned for a Lee Caryer column on Saturday’s big day of college basketball as well as our OSU-Iowa preview.

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