Thad Matta ’90 grew up watching his father, Jim, a high school athletic director and coach, explain Xs and Os and discuss training philosophies. “I was raised in a gymnasium,” Matta says. “I was the little kid sitting in the locker room after a win or after a loss listening to the coaches.”
Matta began his college career at Southern Illinois University but soon realized it wasn’t the right fit. He and his father then drove two hours southeast from his hometown of Hoopeston, Illinois, to Hinkle Fieldhouse, and quickly felt at home inside Butler’s historic arena.
“I walked around the corner, looked in the gym and thought, ‘I’m coming here. This is it for me,’” Matta says. “From that moment on, I was infatuated with Hinkle Fieldhouse.”
He majored in Physical Education and suited up for the Bulldogs from 1987–1990, starting his final two seasons and becoming a captain as a senior.
The seemingly insignificant moments stand out. He reminisces about the bus rides after a big win, going to the library with a study group, and the friends he made along the way—many of whom he remains in touch with today.
“Several times a week, I call a Butler classmate regarding real estate, finances, taxes, or health,” Matta says. “It’s all guys I went to school with who went on to become a success in some form of life. That is, in the end, why you go to college: to build those relationships.”
Following college, where he met his future wife Barbara (Britton) ’93, he embarked on a decade-long career as a collegiate assistant coach, which included stints with the Bulldogs from 1991–1994 and 1997–2000 under then Head Coach and now Athletic Director Barry Collier ’76.
“I was here at that stage of my life in college and right out of college,” Matta says. “I had the good fortune to meet great people, from the Butler grads I lived with to the guys I was in a running club with who all lived around here. Our daughters were both born here.”
In 2000, he became Butler’s Head Coach and led the Bulldogs to the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now Horizon League) tournament and a regular season championship. Matta then spent three seasons at Xavier before taking over at Ohio State.
From 2004–2017, he lifted the Buckeyes to heights the program hadn’t ascended in decades. Today, with 337 victories, Matta is the winningest coach in Ohio State men’s basketball history. He led the Buckeyes to Final Fours® in the 2007 and 2012 NCAA Tournaments and won 15 total Conference championships during his tenure as Head Coach.
Matta began a four-year hiatus in 2017, and the family returned to the Indianapolis area.
He purchased Butler Men’s Basketball season tickets and enjoyed the fan experience. It allowed him to stay close to the game he loved without the stress he and his family endured for 17 years. He was able to spend more time with his daughters, Ali ’21 and Emily ’22, who both chose to attend Butler. “It’s funny because we didn’t make them go to Butler or anything like that. It’s neat—the experiences that they’ve had here, the thought of them following in their parents’ footsteps. I use the word special a lot here, but it’s just a neat experience for all of us,” Matta says.
In 2021, Matta became the Associate Athletic Director for Basketball Administration at Indiana University. Then, the following spring, when Collier offered him the chance to return to Butler as the Men’s Basketball Coach, Matta jumped.
As the first year of his mission to rebuild the Butler program wraps up, Matta marvels at the love and support fans and alumni show the program.
“When I played here, if we had 2,000 people in attendance, it was a huge game, and back then, Hinkle sat 14,000,” he says. “Now, the brand of the University has grown. The two Final Fours in the Horizon League were Cinderella stories that gave Butler basketball and the whole University a name.”
The fundamental traits that first attracted Matta to the school remain. “I don’t think this place is just a factory for student-athletes,” Matta says. “I love the holistic approach that the entire University has, what its core values stand for, and what a liberal arts education can do for a student. I believe in it. I believe in everything that Butler stands for.”
That makes the University an easy sell. Matta offers prospective recruits the chance to earn the same education and college experience that transformed his life.
“I lived it,” Matta says. “Anything that I’ve asked our players to do, I’ve done myself here, which goes a long way as a coach.”
He looks forward to future seasons coaching in front of a packed Hinkle Fieldhouse, knowing he’s representing his alma mater and giving back to a community that’s already endowed him and his family with so much.
“I’ve had the privilege to coach in damn near every college venue in the country,” Matta says. “This place just means the most to me.”