Butler’s Chris Holtmann was a name that was mentioned throughout the Ohio State search to replace Thad Matta, though it was rarely at the top of the discussion.
Names like Brad Stevens, Sean Miller, and Billy Donovan echoed back and forth over the canyon, while mentions of Chris Holtmann rarely found themselves bouncing back. It was there, however, and it was a name that began looking better and better over the last 48 hours.
Searching for a basketball coach in June can be found in the Athletic Director’s Handbook under the chapter “Don’t”. Yet that is where Gene Smith found himself, and by all accounts, he did as well as he could have, and perhaps better than many think.
Let’s look at five things to like about Chris Holtmann.
1. He wins
Holtmann went to Butler as an assistant for Brandon Miller in 2013. Miller stepped away for health reasons following that season and Holtmann was then promoted to head coach. Miller was the bridge between the extremely successful Brad Stevens and Holtmann. In that one season under Miller, however, Butler went 14-17 and just 4-14 in conference play. In Holtmann’s first season, he righted the ship with a 23-11 record overall and 12-6 mark in Big East play. The Bulldogs finished No. 2 in the conference and earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. After a first-round win over Texas, they fell to No. 3 seed Notre Dame 67-64.
In his second season, Butler experienced a bit of a dip in conference play with a 10-8 record, but their 22-11 record overall was essentially the same as the previous year. As a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament, they defeated No. 8 seed Texas Tech. They lost to No. 1 seed Virginia by eight points in the next round.
This past season, the Bulldogs went 25-9 and 12-6 in conference play, finishing second in the conference once again. Butler earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they secured victories over No. 13 Winthrop and No. 12 Middle Tennessee. They fell to No. 1 North Carolina 92-80 in the Sweet Sixteen.
2. He recruits
In his first year as Butler’s head coach, Holtmann secured the No. 103 class in the nation, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. He was the third head coach in three years and the foundation was anything but solid. His second recruiting class, however, ranked No. 45 in the nation, which was the highest ever for Butler.
The 2017 class was even better, finishing No. 34 in the nation, ahead of schools like Kansas, Indiana, Syracuse, Michigan State, Pitt, and Ohio State. In fact, they were 37 spots higher than Ohio State in the 247Sports Composite team rankings in 2017.
One of the reasons they were higher than the Buckeyes was because of 4-star swingman Kyle Young. Young is from of Massillon, Ohio and he chose Butler over an offer from Thad Matta and Ohio State.
Also notable, Ohio’s class of 2018 is very good and signing those top players will go a long way toward a quick turnaround for the Buckeyes.
Butler produces some pretty good coaches, including the one that Ohio State is currently replacing now in Thad Matta. Before Matta, however, there was Barry Collier, who went 196-132 (.598) at Butler from 1989-2000 before leaving for Nebraska. He is now the athletic director at Butler. Matta then followed Collier for one season, going 24-8 (.750) before leaving for Xavier. Todd Lickliter then took over, producing a 131-61 (.682) mark. He then left for Iowa.
Brad Stevens took over for Lickliter and only managed to take Butler to two NCAA Championship Games in his six seasons. He finished with a record of 166-49 (.772) before leaving for the Boston Celtics. Brandon Miller then stepped in for one season, producing a 14-17 (.452) record.
Collier nearly finished with a .500 record at Nebraska, which is saying something. Lickliter flamed out at Iowa, producing a 38-57 record in three seasons with the Hawkeyes. Matta and Stevens, however, have the kinds of track records that will propel Holtmann a bit at Ohio State.
4. New blood
Let’s face it, the old blood wasn’t doing it. The Ohio State basketball program is about to get a reboot, and this is a program that is completely prepared for it facilities-wise. While I have no doubt that Thad Matta appreciated everything that Ohio State built for his program, it wasn’t being used to its full capacity. Under Holtmann, it will be.
There is a lot to show off at Ohio State and Holtmann will have some fun doing just that. There is also going to be a change over with some of the staff, which is a necessity because Matta wasn’t getting as much help as he needed in his last few seasons.
This is a program whose players are not progressing, and that needs to change. It will change. For that alone, Buckeye fans should be excited.
5. He’s not Greg McDermott
With all due respect to Greg McDermott, he was not the hire that the fan base wanted. I mentioned earlier in the week that when you see three names lumped together in this search, there will be two put in there on purpose that you won’t want so that it makes the third name (that you don’t mind all that much) look more attractive. Ohio State reportedly interviewed three candidates — McDermott, Chris Jent, and Chris Holtmann. I rest my case.