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With Matta and Fife gone, it’s full speed ahead into the Woodson Era

It’s Mike Woodson’s program.

Syndication: The Herald-Times Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

As Luke wrote up yesterday, Butler men’s basketball announced Thad Matta as the new head coach yesterday, ending his tenure as Mike Woodson’s Associate Athletic Director for Men’s Basketball Administration.

Both Matta and former assistant coach Dane Fife were brought to Bloomington seemingly to help Woodson adapt to the college game in his first year coaching at this level with their wealth of experience in the conference and recruiting the Midwest.

While the Fife experiment didn’t quite work out, Woodson wasn’t shy about his reliance on Matta in his first couple of months on the job.

“They probably think I’m crazy as hell, but that’s what we do in terms of trying to get information, trying to learn…He sits in all of my meetings and we talk basketball. That’s very healthy and good for me,” Woodson said of Matta in October.

The office role also suited Matta, who was dealing with health issues at the time and unsure of his future in coaching. Before Woodson was announced as coach, there were even rumors that Indiana had reached a deal with Matta to become head coach, forcing Matta’s camp to publicize the fact that he was only interested in returning to the coaching ranks under the right circumstances.

Now, five years since he last coached at Ohio State, Matta has found the ideal coaching scenario just up the road in Indianapolis. Indiana fans should rejoice in the fact that Matta, a coach with a 439-154 lifetime record, is out of the Big Ten and took the Butler job only after the final edition of the Crossroads Classic.

Matta poses the biggest threat to Indiana as a recruiter, given his history at storied Midwest programs like Butler, Xavier, and Ohio State. Matta’s best teams with the Buckeyes were always full of Indiana talent, like the 2006-07 squad led by Lawrence North’s Greg Oden that reached the Final Four.

Indiana’s new assistant, Brian Walsh, is no stranger to recruiting the Midwest though, and was instrumental in landing guys like Gabe Cupps despite being limited in his role as recruiting coordinator. In his introductory press conference, Walsh mentioned his deep ties to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois recruiting circles dating back to his time under Archie Miller at the University of Dayton.

As a coach, Walsh also hopes to be something of a shooting specialist, something the Hoosiers have sorely needed since Tom Crean’s firing in 2016. Walsh was a career 38% 3-Point shooter in his time with Xavier and Akron as a player and believes this current Indiana roster has the talent to shoot better.

“You know, it’s a lot of mental, especially at this place where it’s packed and the shots mean a lot,” Walsh said, addressing concerns that this group was not talented enough to improve from behind the arc.

With Matta and Fife now gone, it’s clear that this is Mike Woodson’s program going forward. He now has a year of college coaching under his belt, and fans could see the way he was forced to adjust to the flow of the college game as the year went on. He became more willing to use timeouts to stop opposing team’s runs and tweaked his substitution patterns according to the team’s needs as the season went on.

While one can debate the efficacy of allowing a head coach to operate as the program’s CEO when it comes to things like hiring a replacement (cough, Coach K, cough), it’s harder to argue with the on-court results. Scott Drew, Jay Wright, Coach K, and Roy Williams - who have collectively won every national championship since 2015 - are all synonymous with the programs they coach, exercising full control of recruiting, coaching, and disciplinary issues while at the helm.

With a roster full of Archie’s recruits and a coaching staff that clearly had some internal issues, Mike Woodson was still able to end Indiana’s longest tournament drought in program history. He now has a coaching staff entirely of his own construction and the recent recruiting efforts, with a heavy focus on athletic guards, indicate a new direction for Indiana’s men’s basketball program. Things should only go up from here.