Former Ohio State coach Thad Matta was the first candidate interviewed by Georgia shortly after the firing of Mark Fox.
Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Thad Matta either had change of heart, or he just played Georgia

Let me start by giving you a peek behind the blogger’s curtain.

Early this morning I wrote a short column detailing why I believed Georgia’s hiring of Thad Matta was a major step forward for the basketball program. Whether one believed in Matta, he was clearly the best available proven basketball coach on the open market -- at least this side of an FBI investigation -- and his hiring would show that the Georgia administration finally was making a serious commitment to the sport.

I never posted that blog. I was waiting for the news to break. Instead this broke: “BREAKING NEWS:  Thad Matta turns down Georgia’s $16 million offer to coach basketball team”

The Bulldogs may still end up getting the right coach for the job. But this is a bad look for the school. It’s a bad look for athletic director Greg McGarity, who seemingly had focused on only one candidate. McGarity shot high: That’s good. But Matta strung things along for a few days, traveled back and forth from Indianapolis to Athens twice, and ultimately said no.

Matta told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman: “It was the most difficult decision because Georgia is a tremendous opportunity for a coach to build a great program. Unfortunately, I just don’t feel that I am completely ready at this point to give Greg McGarity and Georgia what they deserve."

Nice sentiment.

A little late.

Tom Crean may still be a viable candidate. Perhaps so is College of Charleston coach Earl Grant. If this search is wide open now, then Georgia State’s Ron Hunter is worth a look.

But here’s my question: Was McGarity prepared for this? Because he should have been.

Two days ago I wrote about a Matta’s $9 million buyout at Ohio State. He already had received nearly half that in the form of a lump sum payment last December and was scheduled to receive the balance in $100,000 monthly payments through June 2020. But the buyout agreement stipulated that Matta must make “reasonable and diligent efforts to obtain a comparable employment position as soon as practicable."

In other words, Matta had to at least give the appearance he was pursuing a coaching or broadcasting job (taking either would void much of Ohio State’s financial obligations).

Matta had done a little dance with Ole Miss. Then he walked away. It wasn’t exactly the same situation at Georgia. His interest seemed sincere. But when somebody has a buyout situation like Matta does, there are a lot of reasons for a candidate to to talk himself out of a job. A person in that situation has to get absolutely everything they want. And then some.

Even then, they may think: “You know, I’m still getting paid for another couple of years. Maybe I’ll wait to see if (School X) job opens.”

Matta has had severe back problems. His health likely impacted his ability to recruit and coach the last few years at Ohio State. But there also has been speculation he may prefer the Pittsburgh job because he’s already familiar with the recruiting landscape, and it’s in the ACC. We’ll know soon enough.

All that’s certain now is many believed Georgia had found its next head coach and that coach said no. So the school is back at square one and McGarity must now go to Plan B. Assuming there was a Plan B.

Listen to the, “We Never Played The Game” podcast. Check out the podcast show page at AJC.com/sports-we-never-played-the-game. Subscribe on iTunes or, Google play, StitcherTuneIn, or listen from the AJC sports podcasts page or the WSB Radio on-demand page.

About the Author

Jeff Schultz
Jeff Schultz
Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.
X