Ohio State basketball coaching candidates: Greg McDermott, Dusty May names to watch

Most expected Ohio State to be in the market for a new men’s basketball coach at some point. Valentine’s Day was sooner than anyone anticipated — the freshly unemployed Chris Holtmann chief among them — but there’s no time to waste when you’re eyeing the more coveted, no-brainer replacement options out there.

That’s the only logical reason to jettison Holtmann with six regular-season games remaining, as Ohio State did Wednesday, no matter how grumpy and restless the fan base had gotten. It’s not any cheaper of a move. It’s not going to reanimate a program that’s 9-25 in Big Ten play the last two seasons, that hasn’t won a road game in more than a calendar year.

But it does provide clarity and a chance to work back channels over the next month. Which in turn might put a new coach in place soon enough to work the critical 45-day transfer portal window that opens after Selection Sunday, among other roster-building exercises. (And it does give Holtmann his own unwanted head start. Does anyone know a good real estate agent in the DePaul neighborhood?)

Ohio State is transitioning from the retiring Gene Smith to the newly hired Ross Bjork in the athletic director’s chair, and one has to imagine this is a search in which both men have a voice. Which one is loudest will be interesting.

Job evaluation

Here are some not-so-fun facts about a gig anyone in the industry would consider overloaded with promise: Ohio State has one men’s hoops national championship, ever, and that came in 1960. It has reached the Final Four just three times since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams (and beyond). The Buckeyes haven’t won a regular-season or conference tournament championship in a decade. There’s something bizarre about a front-porch program at a school flush with resources struggling with consistency at an elite level.

Maybe the number is arbitrary, maybe not, but the pattern is emblematic: This is the 10th time in 11 seasons Ohio State will finish with double-digit losses. It lost nine the other year.

It is not easy to win national titles. They only give one out every season. So none of this will stop candidates from seeing what could be. But they also should arrive with a clear-eyed appraisal of what has been.

In the end, the college athletics scales have tilted so far in favor of the Big Ten and the SEC that a job in one of those leagues promises a level of stability and funding not found elsewhere. And if Ohio State higher-ups decide they really, really want to be absolutely elite in men’s basketball, you’d expect this is one of the schools where decision-makers can put plenty of money behind their intentions. (According to the latest U.S. Department of Education data, Ohio State spent about $12 million on men’s hoops in 2021-22. For context, that’s more than Michigan spent but about $10 million less than Kentucky laid out.)

It’s a very good job. The results, historically, nevertheless haven’t matched the potential. Warning sign? Opportunity of a lifetime? That’s in the eye of the beholder.

Call list (in alphabetical order)

Dusty May, Florida Atlantic head coach. The Owls moved up to Conference USA and backed up their Final Four run last spring with a 19-5 record as of Wednesday morning, registering as a top-30 team on KenPom.com and a top-20 unit in Evan Miyakawa’s ratings. In short: Neither Florida Atlantic nor its 47-year-old coach is a flash in the pan. And the Illinois native who attended Indiana is going to be a candidate for most jobs — especially those in the Big Ten — until proven otherwise.

Greg McDermott, Creighton head coach. It’s felicitous timing if McDermott wants a change and a job with every resource (theoretically) at his disposal. He’ll be 60 in November and therefore positioned, career-wise and energy-wise, for one more big push. He’s thoroughly a Midwest guy and a cultural fit. He’ll put an aesthetically pleasing product on the floor. For whatever it’s worth, in the immediate aftermath of the Holtmann firing Wednesday, McDermott’s was the first name many outside observers connected with this opening.

Niko Medved, Colorado State head coach. For a coach who has prioritized quality of life as much as quality of job, this would seem to check all the necessary boxes. He’s in a virtual tie with May in the Hot Mid-Major Coach To Watch rankings, such as they are. If Ohio State doesn’t have any luck with power-conference candidates, it’s hard to imagine a search going past a quality option like this.


It’s always sunny in Fort Collins for Colorado State coach Niko Medved

Porter Moser, Oklahoma head coach. The question of whether Moser could succeed at the high-major level has been answered. While a 6-6 record in conference play this season might not be eye-catching, life in the Big 12 has to be graded on a curve; this team should give Moser his first NCAA Tournament appearance in three years in Norman. It’d be expensive to pry him away, and the relative sanctity of the SEC awaits Oklahoma next season, but maybe Moser simply wants to slide back into more comfortable territory.

T.J. Otzelberger, Iowa State head coach. If anyone is going to stay in Ames forever, it might be Otzelberger. He met his wife there. He works for one of his best friends in athletic director Jamie Pollard. It’s taken just two full recruiting cycles to marry Otzelberger’s suffocating defense with enough offensive aptitude to contend for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The power of the Big Ten, relative to all but one other league, is probably the only reason this would be Otzelberger’s move.

Jerome Tang, Kansas State head coach. Again, a 5-6 record in any other league and a spot on the very fringe of NCAA Tournament contention might not seem attractive otherwise. But, again, it’s the Big 12. And Tang turned this program into an Elite Eight unit in his first year. There’s an energy to how Tang operates — which is critical at a school where football fills every spot in the top 10 of most important sports — and bringing his version of the Baylor model to Columbus is hardly a bad idea.

And the hire is…

Ohio State should start with an overwhelming offer to McDermott and/or May and hope its search ends there, one way or another. Simple as that.

(Photo of Greg McDermott: Mitchell Layton / Getty Images) 

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