Matta welcomed at Ohio State

Wednesday, July 7th 2004, 10:47 am
By: News On 6

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ This time, Thad Matta came into the arena through the front door.

Two days after sneaking in a rear door at Value City Arena before he interviewed for the job, the former Xavier coach and Illinois native was introduced Friday as Ohio State's new coach.

He takes over a team shaken by the sudden firing of coach Jim O'Brien for giving money to a recruit and a program under NCAA investigation.

After telling Matta ``you are a new Buckeye,'' Ohio State president Karen Holbrook challenged him to improve the team. She noted it's been 44 years since the school's last basketball championship _ longer than Matta has been alive.

``I'm fully aware of the state this program's in,'' Matta said. ``I took this job for one reason and one reason only, to bring Ohio State basketball back to national prominence.

Ohio State went 14-16 a year ago and finished ninth in the Big Ten with a 6-10 record, missing the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.

Athletic director Andy Geiger said O'Brien told him April 24 that he had given $6,000 to recruit Aleksandar Radojevic in 1999. Six weeks later, Geiger dismissed O'Brien, touching off a nationwide search.

The NCAA is looking into allegations of improper payments, contact with agents and academic fraud by players.

Geiger received permission to talk to Matta more than two weeks ago. Matta said last week that he had no interest in the job. He returned to Columbus early Wednesday morning to meet with the informal search committee, Geiger and Holbrook, and was offered the job early that evening.

Matta, who turns 37 Sunday, is a Hoopeston, Ill., native who is 102-31 in four years as a head coach. He went 24-8 in 2000-2001 at his alma mater, Butler, before jumping to Xavier where his teams went 26-6, 26-6 and 26-11. The Musketeers advanced to the NCAA regional finals in March _ the school's best NCAA showing. All four of Matta's teams have played in the NCAA tournament.

Matta will receive a base salary his first year of $760,000, with a $300,000 signing bonus. The seven-year contract also pays him $2 million in deferred compensation. The salary includes compensation for TV and radio shows, summer camps and his cut of Ohio State's Nike contract.

Matta is expected to bring Xavier assistant coaches John Groce and Alan Major to Ohio State.

Stuck with a 10-9 record late last season, Matta and the Musketeers won 16 of their next 18 games. Along the way, they won an unprecedented four games in as many days in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, blowing away No. 1-ranked Saint Joseph's by 20 points.

Matta served as an assistant coach at Indiana State, Butler, Miami (Ohio) and Western Carolina before taking over as coach at Butler in 2000 when Barry Collier left for Nebraska.