UGA Basketball

How Georgia went from Thad Matta to Tom Crean in a span of three days

Tom Crean is photographed after landing in Athens on Georgia's team plane.
Tom Crean is photographed after landing in Athens on Georgia's team plane. Georgia Sports Communications

When Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity went to sleep Tuesday night, he thought he had his new men’s basketball head coach.

Thad Matta, who spent 13 seasons with Ohio State from 2004-17, was set to become the program’s new leader. The only thing left to do was sign a contract. Needless to say, McGarity felt confident the Bulldogs were getting their guy.

By Wednesday morning at 10:30 a.m., things changed. That's when Matta then called McGarity with a message he didn’t expect.

“Thad called and said, ‘Greg, I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. I’m not ready to get back in it,’ ” McGarity said. “I about fainted.”

McGarity said Matta’s medical history – which includes a botched back surgery that left him with a disabled right foot – was not why he had the late change of heart.

“He just said he wasn’t ready to get back in it,” McGarity said. “It’s like if you ever interviewed for a job before and sometimes you go to a place, and it’s incredible. You get so excited. You get back home and all of a sudden the excitement may wear off and you start to bear down and (say), ‘Can we really pull the trigger?’ I know he didn’t sleep much that night.”

While it seemed like Georgia was back to square one in its coaching search, it had its other top option still available.

Georgia had previously reached out to gauge interest in former Marquette and Indiana head coach Tom Crean, who was McGarity’s second option behind Matta. Crean was aware of this and was completely fine about it.

A few hours after McGarity got off the phone with Matta he called Crean. The two spoke for over two hours and agreed to an in-person interview. This time, on Thursday, McGarity and UGA President Jere Morehead flew down to Crean’s home outside of Sarasota, Florid.

After speaking with Crean for six hours, the two sides knew it would be a good fit. That night, Georgia announced it had its new head coach.

“I've been an admirer from afar, especially when you look at what's happened with the different sports teams because when you're in a sports family like I am, you're paying a lot more attention than just to basketball,” Crean said.

McGarity's mission for Georgia's next basketball coach was clear: He wanted either Matta or Crean.

While Matta was ranked No. 1 on the list, it didn't matter which coach the Bulldogs signed of the two. With Georgia looking to reach the NCAA Tournament on a more consistent basis, McGarity wanted a proven Power 5 coach as opposed to one from the mid-major level.

“In this case, for us at this time, I felt we needed to have someone who had been there and done that,” McGarity said. “Someone with a record of either of those men is outstanding. We could have taken a run at someone else but you’re really taking a chance then. To limit the chances of being unsuccessful was in the back in my mind. That’s why a priority was put as far as those who had the ability and demonstrated experience of success.”