What’s next for Ohio State basketball after the firing of Chris Holtmann?

COLUMBUS — When he was introduced as head coach of the Ohio State basketball team June 12, 2017, Chris Holtmann credited Thad Matta for the way he ran the Buckeyes during his 13 years on the job.

“The standard he set here is incredible,” Holtmann said of the man who won a school-record 337 games, five Big Ten championships and made two Final Fours.

“I think everybody understands the records, accomplishments, championships on the floor. Those speak for themselves,” Holtmann said. “The academic success, the kind of young men he brought in, the class and dignity and integrity with which he led this program, is a great example for all of us.”

But Holtmann was standing on the floor of the Schottenstein Center that day because Matta’s program went into decline.

His first eight teams won five Big Ten titles, made two Final Fours and one trip to the national title game, but Matta’s last four teams all lost more games than the previous season.

That led Smith to decide a change had to be made.

After introducing Holtmann, Smith made clear his expectations for Buckeye basketball: Compete for (and sometimes win) championships, and do some damage in March.

Almost seven years later after relieving Holtmann of his duties, Smith said nothing had changed in his view.

“All my programs have the same standard,” he said Wednesday night. “The blessing that we have at The Ohio State University is to recruit to this platform, to recruit to Columbus, the resources that Buckeye nation provides us.

“So the standard for men’s basketball is the same. Be in the hunt. Periodically win the championship, and then go deep into the postseason. That hasn’t changed. And so that hasn’t been accomplished. We need to do better.”

Holtmann’s first team finished a surprising second in the Big Ten, and he was named the conference coach of the year.

That turned out to be as good as it got.

The Buckeyes dropped to eighth in 2019, finished fifth two years in a row then fourth before slumping to 13th last season.

He got a mulligan of sorts for running out a young lineup of mostly highly recruited players last season with an expectation of better results this year.

Those weren’t delivered, though, and Smith saw the product on the floor being bad enough to turn it over to interim head coach Jake Diebler for the last six regular season games and the postseason.

Then what?

Well, Smith will only be around until the end of June.

He announced last year he plans to retire, and Ohio State introduced Ross Bjork as his successor in January.

Bjork, who is coming to Columbus from Texas A&M, begins March 1 at Ohio State in an interim advisory role, but Smith said he will lead the search for Holtmann’s replacement.

“I’m gonna be all in with Ross,” Smith said. “I’ll be honest, forthright, authentic and genuine and tell him that we’ve got to find somebody that has the X’s and O’s and those talents and skills, but they’ve got to fit our values. They’ve got to fit our culture. So I’ll be involved. It’ll be heavy.”

He wouldn’t speculate on what Bjork might be looking for in a coach, but Smith expressed confidence in the current roster, which includes productive sophomores Roddy Gayle Jr. and Bruce Thornton.

“I think the young men have played hard,” Smith said. “They’ve given a lot. But the reality is the body of work over this last year, I felt that they needed something different from a leadership point of view to give them that chance.

“While they’re young, there’s a lot of minutes on that floor. A lot. And so they still have six games and the tournament. So I wanted to give them a shot. And that’s what they have.”

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