Ohio State fires Chris Holtmann after seven seasons; where do Buckeyes go next?

Chris Holtmann was given a pass for one rebuilding season with a young team in Columbus. But you don’t get two of those at Ohio State University

The Buckeyes have fired their head men’s basketball coach in the midst of his seventh season, multiple reports confirmed on Wednesday afternoon. Ohio State started the year at 12-2, highlighted by a win over Alabama, but a 2-9 stretch in the last 11 games, with the latest defeat coming Tuesday night at Wisconsin, 62-54, was the nail in the coffin for Holtmann’s tenure. 

Why did this ultimately happen? Holtmann never broke through in Columbus. He helped guide the Buckeyes to the NCAA Tournament in four of his first five seasons (the tournament was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19), but there was one problem. Ohio State never made the second weekend of the tournament, winning three combined games but never reaching a Sweet 16. When Holtmann ushered in a top-10 recruiting class in 2022, the thought was that last season could feature some growing pains, but that the upside would lead to a big leap in 2023. 

Last year? A 10-3 start ended up in a 16-19 campaign. This year? The Buckeyes are second-to-last – to only Michigan – in the Big Ten standings. 

What adds insult to injury for Ohio State is the fact that the Buckeyes extended Holtmann in 2022 through the 2027-28 season, and according to Front Office Sports, will owe him roughly $14 million. 

But when you combine the standards of one of the biggest brands in college sports with a climate of pressure and name, imagine and likeness dollars at stake, an athletic director is going to make a move during the year to ensure that those dollars don’t go away and that the people paying them are seeing change happening in real time. It bears noting that outgoing AD Gene Smith, who hired Holtmann, made this move. Smith is retiring in June after 19 years, with athletic director-in-waiting Ross Bjork set to take over in Columbus. Everybody knows Ohio State is a football-first school, but basketball should never be as bad as it is right now in Columbus. This program made four straight Sweet 16 appearances from 2010-13, went to the national title game in 2007 and appeared in Final Fours in 2007 and 2012. 

Holtmann, who led Butler to three straight 20-plus win seasons, including a run to the Sweet 16 in 2017, will land somewhere. He just could not find a way to get through the key hurdles necessary at Ohio State, and the inability to defend in the last two years was a formula for disaster in the Big Ten. 

As for what’s next in Columbus? This is a top-25 job in college basketball because of the amount of money circulating in that athletic department and the fact that Thad Matta took that program and put it among the heavyweights year in and year out during his tenure from 2004-17. It’s a highly attractive job and there will be a deli line of candidates. According to sources close to FOX Sports, here are five names to watch out for on the list: 

Sean Miller, XavierOnce upon a time, Miller took over for Matta in 2004 as Xavier’s head coach when Matta left for the Buckeyes job. Could we see another departure to Columbus from Cincinnati? Miller has a record of 455-170 in his career and has reached four Elite Eights. He took Xavier to the Sweet 16 last season, and with his NCAA allegations well in the rearview mirror, he is well regarded as one of the top coaches in the sport. 

Lamont Paris, South CarolinaParis would be my national coach of the year today. The Gamecocks were picked to finish dead last in the SEC preseason poll, and he’s got them off to a 21-3 start to the year and a top-15 ranking. Paris is also from Findlay, Ohio, and has Big Ten experience as an assistant for Bo Ryan and Greg Gard at Wisconsin from 2010-17. 

Greg McDermott, Creighton – The Bluejays’ head coach has had a remarkable 14 years in Omaha with two Sweet 16 trips in the last three seasons and the program’s first Elite Eight in the modern era in program history. If McDermott is seeking a change in scenery, he would have to be one of the Buckeyes’ first phone calls. 

Dusty May, Florida AtlanticMay isn’t going to stay at FAU forever. Could this be the job that springs him to a high-major? It’s certainly possible after his Owls made history last year, reaching the Final Four. 

Mick Cronin, UCLA – I don’t think this is likely, but you never know if Cronin would want to get back to his home roots of Ohio and depart UCLA for a situation with strong NIL, upside and Midwest presence. Also, this year has been a tough one in Westwood and the Bruins are about to make the move to the Big Ten, which means some challenging travel ahead. Cronin has reached the Sweet 16 in each of the past three years and led UCLA to the Final Four in 2021.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on X at @John_Fanta.

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