Thursday, July 8, 2004

A familiar feeling for XU



Paul Daugherty

Nobody who has coached men's basketball at Xavier has ever been anything but happy there. They all leave anyway. Ambition grabs them. Or ego or money, or a pull to try something new. All of the above. It's just the way big-time coaches are.

Thad Matta is the latest to make a name for himself on Victory Parkway, then pull up stakes like a Triple A all-star heading for The Show. If you're a basketball coach, Xavier is the girl you date for years but never marry.

When does XU get to be some coach's dream job?

The better question is: Would XU want a guy whose lifetime ambition was to coach Musketeers basketball? Mightn't that guy be a little less ambitious than the average Thad Matta, a little too content?

History will always repeat itself at Xavier. In three years, or five, we'll be writing the same stuff about Sean Miller or Bobby Gonzalez or whichever bright, young light gets this very appealing job. Xavier hitches its wagon to coaching novas, then hangs on for as long as it can. The ride has always been starry, if never as long as everyone would like.

Xavier has prided itself on hiring basketball coaches who were more than just coaches. That's what separated Skip Prosser from the coaching rat pack. He had other interests and passions. He was as comfortable discussing Irish history as the box-and-one. He fit Xavier's image of itself like leather on a basketball. (So, for that matter, would current Prosser assistant Dino Gaudio.)

Thad Matta is just a coach. As such, he was OK with saying a week ago he wasn't interested in the Ohio State job. This is standard stonewalling procedure for coaches who are just coaches. Saying anything else might have affected recruiting. We can't have that.

In the afterglow of the Elite Eight run, Matta was Xavier's No. 1 fan. He couldn't say enough about the administration. What a pleasure it was, Matta said, to be part of the Xavier "family."

At least until the ink dried on the divorce papers.

You could be mad at Thad, for dumping you on the way to what might have been a Final Four altar. That's a little na‘ve. With every XU win in March, Matta's toes edged a little closer toward the Cintas Center door. You can't have it both ways at places like Xavier. Winning games equals losing coaches. Inevitably.

I do wonder about people always seeking a higher mountain, though, whether they're coaches or any other career climbers. I wonder if the view is always better. Prosser left XU after seven years because he felt his work there was done. Matta can't say the same.

Contentment and ambition don't share the same house. Maybe Matta thinks Elite Eight is as good as it gets at Xavier. Maybe he wants to play Broadway while he can still dance.

The money's better at Ohio State. Twice as good, supposedly, though Matta wasn't starving. At some point, a person goes from needing more cash to wanting it. Matta is into the wanting-it stage. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Who wouldn't want to double his take-home doing what he loved?

Awhile ago, I got a job offer from a big paper on the West Coast. I called an old friend who'd been in the business 30 years. What do you think?

"Is your family happy in Cincinnati?" he asked. "Are you?" Yes and yes, I said. "Does the paper treat you well?" Yes again. "Then what's your problem?" he asked.

"It's L.A.," I said.

"Do you go to most of the same events in Cincinnati you'd go to in Los Angeles?"

Yup.

"What's your problem?"

Good question. Maybe one Thad Matta asked himself. Then his ambition or his ego or his wallet cast its deciding vote. Or maybe it was the challenge of making Ohio State basketball as good as Xavier. All of the above, probably. It's the way big-time coaches are.

Regardless, Matta's gone from Xavier. Not the first. Certainly not the last.

E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com




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