UGA Basketball

Georgia loses out on top candidate for men's basketball opening

Thad Matta.
Thad Matta. AP

The search continues.

In an interview with ESPN, former Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said he will not become the head coach for the Georgia men's basketball team.

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

With Matta off of the table, Georgia is likely to turn its attention to Tom Crean, the former head coach at Indiana University. Crean was let go after the 2016-17 season and spent the past year in broadcasting.

Matta has been dealing with health issues stemming from back surgery in 2007 that led to a disability in his right foot. That issue apparently affected his ability to recruit, which led to his ouster at Ohio State last summer. Even so, Georgia was confident in Matta's coaching abilities.

He was offered a contract believed to be worth over $3 million per season.

Matta was previously Ohio State's head coach from 2004-17, where he made it to nine NCAA tournaments, five Sweet 16s, three Elite Eights and two Final Fours. His 2006-07 team at Ohio State reached the national championship and featured stars Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. The Buckeyes fell to Florida in that game.

During his time with the Buckeyes, not only did Matta routinely lead them to the NCAA tournament, but he did so by landing six recruiting classes in the top 10, according to the composite rankings. He also has a reputation of running a clean program, which is integral to what Georgia is looking for in this coaching search.

Matta met with Georgia officials Monday and was spotted by the Athens Banner-Herald at the Athens-Ben Epps Airport boarding a plane for Indianapolis. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Matta made a return trip with his wife Tuesday.

Whoever the next coach is will replace Mark Fox, who held the Georgia men’s basketball head coaching position for the past nine seasons. While Fox was credited with running a clean program and becoming competitive within the SEC, his teams reached the NCAA tournament just twice during his tenure. In addition, Fox was never able to win an NCAA tournament game with the Bulldogs.

Fox was fired Saturday after failing to lead Georgia to the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive season. The Bulldogs players elected to decline an invitation to the NIT following the decision.

In addition to Crean, College of Charleston's Earl Grant will be a name to watch. Grant's Cougars made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999 and are facing Auburn in the first round.