Matta’s comeback includes rekindling Butler’s winning ways

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Thad Matta’s first term as head coach at Butler lasted one season.

This time around, he hopes to stick around a little longer, with a familiar script that helped the Bulldogs reach unprecedented heights in the decade since he left.

On Wednesday, more than 20 years after Matta left his alma mater, the 54-year-old former Ohio State basketball coach was reintroduced to a fan base that embraced him for three seasons as a player, six seasons on the corps. technician and that memorable season directed the show.

It seemed like it never left.

“What I love about Butler is that Butler is old school in a new world,” Matta told the welcome car crowd gathered inside Hinkle Fieldhouse. “Here you have what you deserve, you have to go out and earn it. That’s what I love about Butler University.”

The Bulldogs also appreciate Matta.

They like the fact that he’s a proven winner with championship pedigree who has a deep understanding of Butler’s unwavering principles. Matta said Wednesday that he coined “The Butler Way” a day after then-coach Barry Collier accepted the Nebraska job, putting Matta in line as a replacement.

“I had no idea The Butler Way would stay the way it did,” Matta said, eliciting laughs. “There is something special about a Butler guy. So when the call came, he wanted to go back and be Butler again.”

This will be a very different situation than the one Matta inherited in 2000-01.

Back then, the Bulldogs were an emerging middle power. They posted a school record 24 wins in Matta’s first and only season, won the Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournament title and beat Wake Forest for their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1962.

When Butler lost to Arizona in the second round and Matta left for Xavier, many thought the Bulldogs had peaked. But as Matta continued to win with the Musketeers and later at Ohio State, where he posted a school record 337 of his 439 career wins, Butler’s program continued to rise.

Despite going through five coaches and two conference changes over the next 17 seasons, the Bulldogs made 11 more NCAA tournament appearances, a streak that included back-to-back national runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2011.

Now Matta must rebuild a program that hasn’t appeared in an NCAA tournament since 2018, though they likely would have made it in 2020 when the event was canceled due to COVID-19, and hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 in five years. . Butler is also coming off his first consecutive losing seasons since 1988-90.

So Collier, now Butler’s athletic director, fired his former player, LaVall Jordan, last week and replaced him two days later with his former assistant. Jordan, 42, was Butler’s first black basketball coach and is only the second coach the Bulldogs have fired in 96 years. Joe Sexson, Collier’s predecessor, was the other in 1989.

Collier believes Matta is uniquely qualified to help restore Butler’s winning ways.

“We looked all over the world for this type of man and we found him across the street,” Collier said, referring to Matta’s nearby home.

Yes, Matta said, he had other head coaching offers in the past five years, but none of them felt right. Additionally, there were lingering questions about Matta’s health.

He agreed to leave the Buckeyes after 2016-17 due to concerns that chronic ailments related to back surgery he had in 2007 affected Ohio State’s results. Matta used a taller chair to support practices and games for several years, and his final season in Columbus, Ohio, marked the only time he failed to win at least 20 games.

Chris Holtmann later left Butler and was hired as Matta’s successor.

Meanwhile, Matta spent the next four years in retirement before joining Indiana coach Mike Woodson’s staff last spring. With his health improving, it didn’t take long for Matta’s competitive juices to start flowing again.

“People always asked me if I would come back and I always said I would if I found the perfect situation,” he said. “I didn’t know what the perfect situation was.”

Two days after Jordan’s firing, Collier made the offer, and Matta didn’t hesitate to accept.

Now comes the hard part.

While Matta hasn’t decided whether to use the chair or prioritize hiring an experienced assistant head coach in case physical ailments return, he plans to work on the transfer portal, try to keep players on the current roster of Butler on campus and finish the work he and Collier began so many years ago.

“I’ve done everything you can do as a coach, except one: a national championship. I’ve played for it,” Matta said. “I say it from the point of view of where is the objective and what is the mission. This show has reached that level and that’s what we’re after and that’s what we’re after.”


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