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Ohio State fires Chris Holtmann: Buckeyes basketball coach dismissed in midst of seventh season



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Ohio State fired men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann on Wednesday amid a tumultuous season that took another downturn with the team’s ninth loss in its last 11 outings, the school announced Wednesday. Holtmann and the Buckeyes fell to 14-11 this season after a 62-54 loss at No. 20 Wisconsin on Tuesday which kept the team one game out of last place in the Big Ten standings with a 4-10 conference record. According to the school, Ohio State still owes Holtmann $12.8 million from his current contract. 

“I want to express my appreciation toward Chris for the first-class program, and the well-respected program, he has run here at Ohio State,” OSU athletic director Gene Smith said in a statement. “He and his wife, Lori, are wonderful people. I thank each of them for their seven years here in Columbus and I wish them well.”

Associate coach Jake Diebler will take over for Holtmann on an interim basis. Future Ohio State athletic director Ross Bjork  will head up the search for Hotlmann’s full-time replacement. Bjork isn’t scheduled to take over as AD until July 1, but will report to work on March 1 to serve in an interim role as senior advisor to Smith.

The in-season ouster comes as a stunner as Holtmann, 52, was not long ago considered one of the top 10 coaches in college basketball. The Buckeyes hired him away from Butler in 2017 to replace coach Thad Matta, and he took the team to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances to begin his tenure. (And likely would have been five if there had been an NCAA Tournament in 2020.)

Holtmann leaves Ohio State with a 137-86 overall record and 67-64 in the Big Ten during a troubling few seasons in Columbus, Ohio, that went sideways. After going 107-56 through his first five seasons, Ohio State was 30-30 and 9-25 in league play between last season and this season 

The Buckeyes went to the NCAA Tournament in 2021 and 2022 but never made it to the second weekend of the Big Dance, with three second-round exits for the program under his watch coming in 2018, 2019 and most recently in 2022.

Ohio State went 16-19 in 2022-23 and finished 13th in the Big Ten in its first losing season in nearly two decades . This season has been a near equal mess with the team on track to finish 13th again in the conference regular season race and another missed NCAA Tournament all but certain.

Holtmann rose over the last decade to prominence after rebuilding Gardner-Webb from a perennial loser into a 21-win team in the short span of three seasons from 2010-2013. Butler then hired him away as an assistant in 2013-14 before tapping him as its interim head coach then as its head coach, replacing Brandon Miller. He led the Bulldogs to a 70-31 record in three seasons and three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, culminating with a trip to the Sweet 16, its first since 2011. 

1. Unexpected early exits unhelpful

For Holtmann’s predecessor, Thad Matta, unexpected early exits — led by an unexpected one-and-done season from D’Angelo Russell — was part of his undoing that derailed the program’s continuity. The same was true of Holtmann. Holtmann recruited and developed E.J. Liddell into a star and caught lightning in a bottle in four-star recruit turned one-and-done Malaki Branham, both of whom left early for the NBA after the 2021-22 season. Former four-star guard D.J. Carton also left the program after a strong freshman season in 2019-20 to deal with mental health issues before transferring to Marquette. And last year, Brice Sensabaugh — who entered college as a four-star recruit ranked just barely inside the top-100 — was a surprise one-and-done after leading the team in scoring.

Holtmann also missed on some additions who were expected to be helpful but largely were not led by former Ivy League Player of the Year, Seth Towns, who failed to stay healthy and fell short of being impactful when he was healthy. The team also added former Oklahoma State guard Isaac Likekele in 2022 before using him sparingly amid the team’s worst season since 2003-04.

2. Winds of change blowing

Long-time Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is set to retire at the conclusion of the 2023-24 academic year and new athletic director Ross Bjork is in line to succeed him, making Smith the potential ax man to pave the way for his predecessor to start anew. Smith, who has been at the helm of the Buckeyes since 2005, took over as AD less than a year after Thad Matta was named as the men’s basketball coach in 2004. The decision makes way for Bjork to make his own hire, as Smith did with Holtmann in 2017. 

3. Big moves in Big Ten?

On the same morning that Ohio State moved to fire Holtmann, the athletic director of the school’s biggest rival, Michigan’s Warde Manuel, curiously gave men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard a vote of confidence despite his own recent struggles.

“I have not really thought about any changes in our men’s basketball program at this time,” Manuel said. “I want to support Juwan (Howard).”

Howard and Michigan have taken a downturn of epic proportions the last two seasons as well. The Wolverines went 18-16 last season and are dead last in the Big Ten this season with an 8-17 record. Holtmann’s job didn’t seem terribly secure as this season rolled along, but had you told someone that Howard would keep his gig longer than Holtmann kept his a few weeks ago, it would have registered as a major surprise. 





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