Wilson, Stallings visit campus

Updated: July 7, 2004, 2:31 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Xavier's Thad Matta interview with Ohio State on Wednesday morning, making him the favorite to land the job, multiple sources told ESPN.com.

Matta follows Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings and Rice coach Willis Wilson, who interviewed Tuesday in Columbus.

Matta's decision to interview is a reversal of previous public statements. Two weeks ago, the coach told ESPN.com and the Cincinnati Enquirer that he was not a candidate and that he would remain at Xavier, where he has a contract through 2013.

Matta arrived at Value City Arena on Wednesday morning and then traveled to university president Karen Holbrook's house.

He has coached Xavier for three seasons. The Musketeers reached the Elite Eight in March, where they lost to Duke. Matta coached Butler for one season before replacing Skip Prosser at Xavier.

Matta was seen as a favorite by many when Jim O'Brien was fired June 8 but appeared to take himself out of the running. Matta's reversal, sources told ESPN.com's Andy Katz, stunned the Xavier administration.

Ohio State officials would not disclose what they discussed with Matta on Wednesday, and Matta has declined comment.

If Matta is offered and accepts the Ohio State job, assistant Sean Miller will take over Xavier.

The Tuesday interviews were the the second for Stallings and Wilson. The Columbus Dispatch reported that each met with Holbrook, who will decide which candidate is hired, as well as Buckeyes athletic director Andy Geiger.

Pennsylvania coach Fran Dunphy and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jim Cleamons have also met with Ohio State officials, including Geiger, off campus.

Wilson first interviewed with Geiger June 29 in Texas; Stallings interviewed June 30 in Nashville.

"We're in the same position that we have been," Ohio State sports information director Steve Snapp said. "We will not comment on any aspect of the search until it's over."

Multiple sources told ESPN.com last week that Ohio State would not make a hire before this week, after the finalists are able to meet with Holbrook, who had been on vacation last week.

Former UCLA coach Steve Lavin and Duke associate head coach Johnny Dawkins are not being considered for the Ohio State job, despite reports in Columbus-area news outlets suggesting otherwise.

Geiger said O'Brien, who coached the Buckeyes for seven years before being fired, admitted he gave a recruit $6,000 in 1999.

NCAA and Ohio State investigators also are looking into allegations that former Buckeyes player Boban Savovic received thousands of dollars and had bills, housing and food paid for by a woman who worked for a couple who were Ohio State boosters.

Wilson, 44, has a record of 168-176 in 12 years as the head coach at Rice. He has never taken the Owls to the NCAA tournament, although they are 41-21 the last two years.

Wilson is a 1982 graduate of Rice, where recruiting has suffered because of stringent admissions requirements. He was among the finalists at Illinois a year ago before Bruce Webber was hired.

Wilson spent eight years as an assistant at Rice and one year at Stanford under Mike Montgomery. Geiger is a former athletic director at Stanford.

Cleamons is a former Ohio State player who has won eight NBA championship rings as a player and coach.

Sources said Stallings and Wilson both felt positive about their initial interviews but weren't told they would be the next coach. Geiger brought two candidates to campus when he searched for a coach in 1997. Then-Boston College coach O'Brien got the job that time. The second choice was Stallings, who was then the coach at Illinois State.

Sources said Vanderbilt is proactively trying to sign Stallings to an extension. Since the Ohio State search began, the Commodores have been updating Stallings almost daily on the progress of the new deal.

Sources said Geiger told the coaches that he doesn't want the search to stretch too deep into the week. Neither Wilson nor Stallings is under pressure and can wait out the Ohio State process, even if it carries into the evaluation period that starts Thursday. Both coaches are scheduled to be in Indianapolis on Wednesday for the National Association of Basketball Coaches annual meeting.

Sources said Ohio State is looking for a coach from a strong academic background who recruits higher-caliber student-athletes, thus a list that includes coaches from Rice and Vanderbilt. Geiger isn't expected to be the Buckeyes' athletic director long term as he gets closer to retirement, but he wants a coach who will be in Columbus for years to come.

Information from ESPN.com's Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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