Ohio State officially announces hire of Jake Diebler as head coach

IMG_7408by:Andy Backstrom03/17/24


COLUMBUS — Ohio State has promoted interim head coach Jake Diebler to full-time head coach. The school announced the news Sunday.

Diebler will receive a five-year contract and is the 15th head coach in program history.

“Jake Diebler possesses all of the characteristics we were seeking as we conducted a very comprehensive and thorough search for a new head coach,” incoming Ohio State Athletic Director Ross Bjork said in a statement. “Those include coaching ability, passion, energy, program knowledge, character, integrity and ties to Ohio.

“As an Ohio native, the son of a longtime Ohio high school coach and with deep connections to Ohio State, Jake knows what it takes to lead this program on a championship course.”

Ohio State considered high-profile names such as Xavier’s Sean Miller, Creighton’s Greg McDermott, South Carolina’s Lamont Paris and Florida Atlantic’s Dusty May. McDermott and Paris have recently signed extensions with their current schools. Perhaps most notably, the Buckeyes were in continued contact with May, who led Florida Atlantic to a Final Four last year and has the Owls on the verge of another NCAA Tournament this season.

The Columbus Dispatch reported earlier this week that May and Diebler were the leading candidates.

Diebler is the choice, and Ohio State has made that news official.

“Throughout the search, every time we analyzed what was best for the program, our decision kept leading right back to Jake,” said Bjork, who currently serves as Ohio State’s senior advisor for intercollegiate athletics and spearheaded the coaching search. “The way he has led the program since February 14 has been exemplary and is only the beginning of what lies ahead for Buckeye Basketball. The future is exciting, and I cannot wait to watch him lead this program.”

University president Ted Carter added in the program release: “Our Buckeyes have rallied and shown true grit on the court with Coach Diebler, who has exhibited impressive leadership with the team. In addition to his multiple wins since being named interim head coach, he’s been an inspiration to the players. I’ve gotten to know Jake and I’m confident he will continue to lead the team admirably.”

Diebler has led the Buckeyes to a 6-2 record since taking over for seventh-year Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann, who was fired on Feb. 14 with four years left on his deal and six games remaining in the regular season.

Under Diebler’s direction, the Buckeyes finished the regular season 5-1, rejuvenating an increasingly frustrated fan base and making something out of what seemed to be a second straight lost year for a program that, before this season, had missed March Madness only seven times this century.

The Buckeyes upset Purdue, a projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament; ended a program-record, 17-game road losing streak with a buzzer-beating win at Michigan State; and then won another game on the road at Rutgers following back-to-back home victories.

Diebler ushered tweaks to Holtmann’s system. Previously the team’s associate head coach and offensive coordinator, Diebler made it clear that he wasn’t going to engineer wholesale changes — he didn’t have the time to, anyway. The small changes he did facilitate, however, made a big difference.

In practice and in games, Ohio State has upped its intensity with Diebler at the helm. That’s led to a rotation that consistently stretches 10 players deep and frequently brings out the best in role players — most notably freshmen Devin Royal and Scotty Middleton — who disappeared at times earlier this season.

More depth has meant more accountability, and substitution based on that accountability, allowing the Buckeyes to play harder, and faster.

Take the Buckeyes’ regular season push: They averaged 12.3 fastbreak points in those six games. Ohio State created more transition opportunities for itself with improved defense. More aggressive play resulted in an uptick in opponent turnovers. Opponents averaged 3.5 more giveaways per game in that six-game window than in Holtmann’s last 12 games. And, most importantly, Ohio State entered the Big Ten Tournament having allowed a mere 65.8 points per contest under Diebler, a stark improvement from the 74.9 points per contest the Buckeyes conceded in Holtmann’s final 12 outings.

Then Ohio State kept Iowa, which boasts the Big Ten’s third-best scoring offense, below its scoring average. Plus, 21 of Illinois’ 77 points in the quarterfinal came at the charity stripe, thanks to a 14-foul disparity. The Fighting Illini shot just 41.9% from the field in the physical yet whistle-happy thriller.

Although the Buckeyes didn’t make the run they needed to break through the NCAA Tournament bubble, they did reach 20 wins and put themselves in position to earn a seed in the NIT.

Diebler also filled in while Holtmann was out with the flu earlier this season against New Orleans and led the Buckeyes to a 78-36 win. Back on Jan. 9, 2022, when Holtmann was out with COVID-19, Ohio State beat Northwestern under Diebler, 95-87.

Plus, Diebler stepped into the head coaching role when Holtmann was ejected for arguing a foul call late in the first half during a Feb. 2 home game versus Wisconsin last season. The Buckeyes made things interesting despite a 16-point halftime deficit but fell, 65-60.

As a player, Diebler became the OHSAA career leader in assists and steals during his three seasons at Fostoria High School and one at Upper Sandusky High School, where he and his brother Jon won a Division II state title under their father Keith. Jon went on to become Ohio State’s all-time 3-point record holder. Jake played at Valparaiso from 2005-09 and started every one of the Beacons’ 98 games over his final three seasons. He then served as an assistant at his alma mater before joining Ohio State as a video coordinator in 2013, his first of two stints with the Buckeyes.

Before Diebler’s second go-around in Columbus, he worked as an assistant at Vanderbilt from 2016-19. Then Holtmann hired him.

Now, Diebler is replacing Holtmann full-time after an inspiring month at the helm.

“It’s a blessing and a privilege to serve this program and I’m excited for this opportunity,” Diebler said in a statement. “I’d like to thank Ross Bjork and President Carter for believing in me and the vision that I have moving forward. Ohio State basketball is special and means so much to me and my family. I look forward to serving the entire Ohio State basketball family as best as I possibly can.”

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