WASHINGTON — The list of things that upset Thad Matta on Wednesday night is probably rather long.
But after his Ohio State team fell to Rutgers by a 66-57 score on the opening night of the Big Ten Tournament, Matta's most vocal criticism wasn't of his team's poor shooting, lack of toughness or horrendous performance at the free-throw line.
Instead, Matta sounded off on the need for his athletics director, Gene Smith, to release a statement giving the head basketball coach a vote of confidence earlier Wednesday.
"I think it's ridiculous that we have to do stuff like that," Matta said. "Gene and I met a couple weeks ago. It's amazing what people do nowadays. This is a very fickle business that we're in. Unless you're intimately involved on a day-to-day basis, people choose the negative side of things. It's what they do. Obviously, gas is poured on the fire. It is what it is.
"You know, it's sad that sports has come to where you got to do stuff like that. Just coach your team. If they like it, they bring you back. If they don't, they don't. But it's amazing. Really is."
Smith expressed public support after Matta's job status had become a talking point. That might seem crazy for a head coach as accomplished as Matta, but this has been the worst season of his tenure at Ohio State, the first one of his Buckeye teams to fail to win 20 games. Wednesday's loss to Rutgers bottomed out Ohio State's overall record at 17-15.
Things have been going downhill for the past few years at Ohio State. In the past four seasons, the Buckeyes have finished fifth, sixth, seventh and 10th in the Big Ten standings.
This will be the second straight season without an NCAA tournament berth, the first time under Matta there have been back-to-back seasons without an invite to the Big Dance. It's a first for the program since a three-year drought from 2003 to 2005, the last of those seasons being Matta's first on the job.
But Matta's tenure at Ohio State has undoubtedly been a resounding success. In 13 seasons he's taken the Buckeyes to nine NCAA tournaments, including a pair of Final Fours and an appearance in the national championship game in 2007. His teams have won a total of five Big Ten championships.
Though even if Smith and athletics directors across the country aren't into the "what have you done for me lately?" thinking that so many fans and observers possess, there's no doubt that this season has been a very different one for Matta in Columbus.
He was asked after Wednesday's game if this was as tough a season as he'd ever had, and the 17-year Division-I head coach had to answer yes.
"I would say so, yeah. Just from the daily battles that we've had just in terms of getting guys ready to play, that sort of thing," Matta said. "We've said it all along, when this team has played not just great basketball, but consistent basketball, we've been a heck of a basketball team. We've beaten some pretty good teams this year. You know, tonight we weren't ready to fight at the level we needed to fight, for whatever reason.
"Rough one, no doubt."