Mike Woodson held his introductory press conference as Indiana's new head coach on Monday and presented a clear vision for his program. While it was nice to hear from the IU alum about what it means to be back at his alma mater, the most important man in the room didn't speak. Thad Matta will be the key to this entire endeavor and Woodson's success or failure will hinge on Matta's behind-the-scenes word.
Matta was hired as Indiana's associate athletic director for men's basketball administration, and I've been told the position will essentially be the school's men's basketball czar. He will help Woodson build the program from the ground up and fill the gaps that Woodson's lack of college coaching experience may leave exposed. His addition fundamentally changes the complexion of the Woodson hire for Indiana.
The former Ohio State coach is one of the elite program builders of the last two decades. He built solid foundations at Butler and Xavier, then turned Ohio State into a national powerhouse before health issues derailed his career. He's only 53-years-old, and is one of the smartest basketball minds of his generation. He's an enormous addition to Indiana's athletic department.
Woodson is well-regarded in NBA circles. He's lauded as a great Xs and Os coach, and former players rave about his ability to connect with everyone he meets. But at 63-years-old and with no college experience, many question whether he's prepared to jump into the everyday grind of college basketball and building a new culture. That's where Matta comes in. Few in the country are as adept at building that program infrastructure as the Illinois native who happened to grow up as an enormous Indiana fan.
Matta won, and won big, at every spot. In his lone year at Butler the Bulldogs won the conference's regular season and tournament titles, in three years at Xavier he won two regular season titles and two Atlantic 10 Tournament championships. Then at Ohio State he reached the Final Four twice, was national runner-up in 2007, made the Elite Eight in 2013, and won five Big Ten regular season titles and four Big Ten Tournament titles. Things fell off during his last few years with the Buckeyes as back and leg injuries hampered his ability to recruit and coach on-court at the same level.
While he can't coach the team for Woodson, his guidance behind the scenes will help immensely. If he stays for a few years to help the new coach's transition, this could be an incredible pairing.
If Woodson fails at Indiana it won't be because he wasn't given the tools to succeed. In hiring Matta, Indiana has provided him with an elite partner to build a program with. We'll see what they can do.