At one point during his lone year at Ohio State, Greg Oden termed associate head coach John Groce “a genius” for his ability to explain the game.
On June 27, Groce was officially introduced as the next head basketball coach at Ohio University. The new title ended an eight-year partnership with OSU head coach Thad Matta, one that began when Groce became an assistant under Matta at Butler for the 2000-01 season.
At a press conference in Columbus to discuss the hole left behind on the OSU coaching staff, Matta pointed to Groce as a coach who was his opposite: able to be cool and analytical to Matta’s often frenetic pace.
But if Groce is the genius, and Matta and he are opposites, what does that make Matta?
“An idiot,” the head coach said with a laugh. “An idiot that knows how to hire.”
Although that is obviously simplifying things by a wide margin, the Buckeyes now have a big hole to fill on their coaching staff. OSU retains assistant coaches Alan Major and Archie Miller, who will be entering their fifth and second years, respectively.
Now begins the hunt to find a replacement.
“We have to open it up,” Matta said. “I really can’t comment. We’ve got a great feel for what we want to do. I know in my mind I knew this day was coming. We’ll continue to move forward and hopefully we don’t miss a beat.”
However, Matta did say that Brandon Miller would be a potential candidate and that they have a pool of potential candidates. A former Bulldog who played point guard for Matta during the 2000-01 season, Miller served on staff at OSU under Matta for three seasons before accepting an assistant coaching position at Butler.
After citing a laundry list of things Groce brought to the table, Matta was asked what sort of qualifications he would be looking for in a replacement.
“The big thing as you go out … is Ohio State is so unique,” he said. “(We have to) find people that have that understanding of what this university stands for, have an appreciation for the job that we’re trying to do and see the vision of what we’re trying to do and appreciate the great basketball that’s played in this state. If we find someone like that, we’ll find what we’re looking for.”
Groce’s departure did not catch Matta by surprise. Routinely listed as one of the top assistant coaches in the country, Groce had long been pegged as an assistant coach with a bright future as a head coach.
According to Matta, it was simply a matter of finding the right fit for the native of Muncie, Ind. – and Ohio University is that fit.
“In this profession we all have to do things to better ourselves and John was wavering a little bit whether or not he wanted to do it and I think that was just such a strong passion he had for Ohio State,” Matta said. “In the end, I said, ‘John, Ohio University is a tremendous opportunity. It’s a tremendous job.’ I really believe he’s the guy for the job.”
At a press conference introducing him as the new Bobcat coach, Groce said it was partly with Matta’s urging that he opted to take the position.
“Thad called me and told me that the Ohio job was opening up and that this was a great opportunity and I should pursue it,” macreportline.com quoted him as saying. “After I met with everyone I spoke again with Thad and he said the question wasn’t whether I should take the job but why wouldn’t I take the job.
“When doors open you can choose to bust through, put one foot in the door or back away. I decided to bust through the door. It was really a no-brainer decision.”
As the coach always present on the sidelines with a clipboard or holding up the team’s dry erase board to signal plays, Matta joked that both Major and Miller were practicing their talents to see who would replace Groce in that arena.
His departure comes just four days before the calendar turns over to July, a month renowned in basketball circles for its hectic pace. Coaches crisscross the country, going from camp to camp to check out prospects and build relationships with potential future players.
With Groce gone, the Buckeyes lose one part of the machine that has helped consistently churn out highly ranked recruiting classes since Matta took over. While that will no doubt hurt OSU’s recruiting efforts, Matta said all three coaches on staff are certified recruiters and will simply pick up the extra slack. No more than three coaches are permitted to be on the road at one time.
Now, as he prepares for a future without his trusted go-to guy and close friend, Matta likened the situation to that of being a parent.
“I think John and I had more than a working relationship, we had a great friendship,” he said. “Those are the things that you miss. But like when you love your kids, at some point you’ve got to let them go do their thing.”