Monte Mathis’ career as a full-time college basketball coach would have to wait. When he graduated from the University of Toledo, where he was a two-year letterwinner as a walk-on guard for the Rockets, Mathis knew coaching basketball was in his blood, but a game of a different nature was still dangling the proverbial carrot in front of his future-focused eyes.
Just as much a baseball standout during his prep days as he was a basketball star, Mathis decided to pursue his career on the diamond. For three summers he played minor league baseball in the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox organizations.
During the winter months of those three years, Mathis, a Cincinnati native, got a start on his coaching career at the high school level as an assistant at Woodward High School.
“Even when I was playing baseball, coaching stayed in my blood,” Mathis said. “I thought about it a lot, but just didn’t know when it would happen.”
Those thoughts of being a coach first began to materialize when Mathis was in a Toledo basketball uniform.
“When I was playing, I always thought about being a coach,” Mathis said. “I really enjoy the different intricacies of the game – the X’s and O’s. Being a walk-on, you’re always running the plays of the other team, so you really had to be on your toes because you not only had to know what the other team was doing, but you had to know what your own team was doing, as well.”
When Mathis decided to end his baseball playing days, so too ended his days as a high school coach. He spent one season each at South Alabama and McNeese State before putting in a call to Stan Joplin, who had been an assistant coach at Toledo while Mathis was playing for the Rockets. After several seasons as an assistant at Michigan State, Joplin had just accepted the head coaching position at Toledo and Mathis soon joined the coaching staff at the Mid-American Conference school.
While back at Toledo, Mathis gained valuable experience and helped rejuvenate the program. “Getting the program up and going again was very rewarding,” Mathis said. “We were able to win more games each year we were there and made a postseason appearance. It was also the first time I was on the road recruiting and had a chance to learn all the ins and outs of the recruiting process, which has helped me to this day.”
After four seasons with the Rockets, Mathis made another career move. This time the move was to Columbus and a spot on O’Brien’s staff at Ohio State. Some things changed dramatically for Mathis, of course, but some things stayed very much the same.
“It’s funny, in college basketball, your job as an assistant pretty much stays the same as far as things you do on a daily basis no matter if you are at a mid-major school or a place like Ohio State,” Mathis said. “Being on the road recruiting, compiling scouting reports, coaching at practices and games doesn’t change a whole lot. But it’s like night and day when you talk about facilities and budget. You go from 9,000 seat Savage Hall to The Schottenstein Center, which seats almost 20,000 and is a state of the art facility-now that is quite a difference.”
Going from a one-time minor league baseball player to an assistant basketball coach at Ohio State might also appear to be a big difference. That is, until one sees how it helped Mathis get started in the career that now helps make the Buckeyes a successful program.